IDENTIFYING JAPANESE FIRST EDITIONS, ETC.
23rd, 2007. My thanks to Craig Harris for helping me to recover the
images for these pages, which I thought had vanished without hope of
This is the short-page version, with links to each page. If you
want to print it out, or if you prefer to view it all as one continuous
here to go to the long-page version.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
IS THE BOOK COMPLETE? (See below)
LOCATING THE PAGE WITH THE PUBLICATION DETAILS
EXAMPLES OF PAGES GIVING PUBLICATION DETAILS
IN JAPANESE BOOKS
JAPANESE DATES (1)
JAPANESE DATES (2)
BOOKS WHICH ARE PART OF A SERIES
OF PUBLISHING STATEMENTS (1)
OF PUBLISHING STATEMENTS (2)
These pages are not for
experts; they are for people who do not speak Japanese but who,
for one reason or another, have an interest in books written in
Japanese. The aim is to explain as simply as possible and with a
minimum of technical terms how to identify points which matter to
a book collector, like the date the book was published, and whether
it is a first edition.
THE BOOK COMPLETE?
as important as identifying the edition is the matter of whether
the book is complete. This is not as straightforward as it sounds.
Prior to the 20th century most books were issued in a soft binding,
with pages folded concertina-style and sewn at the spine (fukurotouji
binding). If you have one of these in your hand it is at least
a complete book (though check the section on books which are part
of a series to see if it is one of a set). More recent books, however,
are frequently issued in a slipcase and - even more common - with
a wraparound band. To be complete, a Japanese book issued with such
a band should still retain the band. To see what these bands look
like, CLICK HERE.
Identifying first editions of Japanese books is usually a fairly
straightforward matter (most books carry a statement with details
at the back). Books which do not carry a publishing statement are
generally either reprints or single volumes from a series (often
- especially in the case of older books - it is only the last volume
of the series which carries the publishing statement).
Unlike Western publishers, Japanese publishers usually follow very
similar conventions, and show not only the day, month and year the
book was published, but whether it is a first printing or a later
printing. The only thing they do not
usually tell you
is whether the book has been previously published by another publisher.
To find out whether a given publication is actually the first time
the book has appeared in printed form you will need to have software
to enable you to read and write Japanese and enter the details on
the NACSIS website,
but inputting the information will present difficulties unless you
can get help with the transcription (i.e., you need to be able to
know how it is pronounced in order to be able to type it). If you
don't want to go into it that deeply, there is also a chance
that you can find the book you are looking for in the western alphabet
on the OCLC
website, but again you need at least to know how the title is
If you're going to take things that bit further, and try to
work out some of the Japanese characters yourself, you'll probably
want to whittle down the amount of work you need to do. If you focus
on the page that gives the publication details you will probably
be able to get all the bibliographical information you need. You'll
also need some decent tools. Gakken publish a book called A New
Dictionary of Kanji Usage,which covers the basic characters and
their most common collocations, and once you get a bit more advanced
Sharp do a kind of all-singing-all-dancing electronic dictionary
called a Zaurus, that you can write the Japanese characters into
and it will read them for you, tell you how they're pronounced,
what they mean and how they collocate. It will even find all the
characters that have a certain basic component (for those characters
that are too complicated to write in accurately).
But that's all for the more serious scholar. For now, I just
want to give enough information so that anyone who's got a passing
interest in Japanese books can start to find their feet. If you're
collecting the works of your favourite author in every language
under the sun, or you have Japanese ancestry but no knowledge (or
little knowledge) of the language, or you're fascinated by Japanese
woodblock print books and want to own a couple of examples,
or whatever - this web page is for you. Study it for an hour or
two, and you should be able to work out the date of most of the
Japanese books that come your way.