Takadachi 高館, 1625

Artist: unknown

Title: Takadachi 高館

Date: 1625

Medium: Monochrome moveable type and woodblock printing; ink and color on paper

Publisher: unknown

Gift of: Arthur Tress Collection. Box 69, Item 13, https://franklin.library.upenn.edu/catalog/FRANKLIN_9977502838303681

This impression of Takadachi belongs to an early genre of printed books known as tanrokubon. Featuring both printing and hand coloring, tanrokubon are important in the history of the book in Japan as a bridge between hand-painted manuscripts and later fully printed books. The most prominent colors for these books were tan, the bright red-orange featured in this volume, and roku, a deep green, hence the name tanrokubon, or red-green books. The largest market for these books was in the Kan’ei era (1624-1644), but it eventually faded as demand changed.

Takadachi tells the story of the last days of the famous twelfth-century samurai Minamoto no Yoshitsune (1159-1189), adapting it for a seventeenth-century audience. Hunted down by the forces of his half-brother Minamoto no Yoritomo (1147-1199), Minamoto no Yoshitsune and his loyal followers make their last stand at Takadachi fortress in the north of Japan. Realizing their inevitable defeat, Yoshitsune and his forces prepare for battle and hold a last feast. When the enemy takes the castle and kills all of Yoshitsune’s retainers, Yoshitsune commits seppuku (ritual suicide) to avoid dishonorable capture. 

Many of these twelfth-century events were regarded as mirroring those of the 1615 Siege of Osaka, when the Toyotomi faction was defeated by the Tokugawa coalition. The authors of Takadachi used the tale of Yoshitsune to draw a parallel with the fate of the Toyotomi. This practice of translation and historical allusion was common throughout the Edo period, as it avoided possible prosecution by shogunal authorities interested in consolidating and controlling the historical narrative.

This book features script produced using movable type instead of woodblocks. Movable type was known in Japan since the late sixteenth century, and movable-type books on political, historical, and literary themes were produced in the first half of the seventeenth century. Movable type, however, came to be used less, due to a variety of reasons, and after the 1640s it was rarely employed. Movable type was reintroduced into the publishing industry during the modernization of the Meiji period (1868-1912).


Selected Reading:

Araki, James T. The Ballad-Drama of Medieval Japan. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1964.

Asahara Yoshiko, and Kitahara Yasuo, eds. Mai no hon. Shin Nihon koten bungaku taikei 59. Tokyo: Iwanami shoten, 1994.

Chance, Linda H. and Julie Nelson Davis. ​​“The Handwritten and the Printed: Issues of Format and Medium in Japanese Premodern Books.” Journal for Manuscripts Studies, 1:1 (2016), 90-115.

Yoshida, Kogorō. Tanrokubon: Rare Books of Seventeenth Century Japan. Translated by Mark A. Harbison. Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1984.

Posted by Judith Weston