[Nara : Kōfukuji?, ca. Kamakura period (1185–1333)?].
A cutting presumed to have been taken from a Kamakura period Kasuga edition of the Dai Hannya-kyō (or Dai-Hannya Haramitta-kyō (Great Perfection of Wisdom Sutra)). The ex-owner has added a tipped-in description reading simply “Kamakura Period, Cutting from a Kasuga Edition of the Dai Hannya-kyō, One Sheet” in Japanese. The word 'Kasuga-ban', meaning 'Kasuga edition', usually refers to texts printed at Kōfukuji in Nara during the Heian and Kamakura periods.
"The Kōfukuji temple was an important center of learning of the Hossō sect... The temple was also an important center of sutra printing and rapidly developed sophisticated printing techniques. In the late Heian period (12th c.), it published important texts of the sect, strengthening its status as a center of Buddhist scholarship... Books printed at the Kōfukuji temple are known as Kasuga-ban because of the later custom of ritually presenting copies of the books to the Kasuga Grand Shrine. As some of the earliest printed books to be specifically meant for reading (as opposed to other purposes), the Kasuga editions represent a major turning point in the history of Japanese printing. The production of Kasuga books peaked during the Kamakura period (1185-1333). In particular, the years 1222 to 1227 (Jōō and Karoku eras) saw the printing of a 600-volume edition of the Dai-hannya haramitta-kyō, the largest text (or compilation of texts) in the Buddhist canon. The characters used for these editions, known as wayō (Japanese-style), replicate the writing in handwritten sutras and the pages are un-ruled; the replica of the manuscript is so perfect that, at first glance, it is easy to mistake it for a handwritten book".¹
As K.B. Gardner points out, however, while the term Kasuga-ban in the narrow sense denotes editions which are known to have been printed at Kōfukuji, “there are many whose origin is in doubt. They closely resemble the products of the Kōfukuji in their use of jet-black ink, printed in thick strokes, but their place of publication is not stated and some of them may well have been printed at other monasteries of the Nara region. Thus the term Kasuga-ban became used more loosely, in a wider sense, to denote publications of the Nara monasteries in general, not only of the Kōfukuji. The printing of Kasuga-ban in this broader sense flourished throughout the Kamakura period and up to the end of Muromachi (c1570)".² Therefore while it is presumed that this cutting belongs to a Kōfukuji printing, this is difficult to confirm without comparison to other Kōfukuji copies as it is unclear which definition of Kasuga-ban the ex-owner adhered to when he or she wrote the caption.
This particular cutting consists of 25 columns of text, with all but one column consisting of 17 characters (the other consisting of six characters). While it is probable that the sutra was originally bound as a scroll, creases in the paper show that at some point it was folded into the more convenient format of an accordion-folding orihon.
A sample of early Japanese woodblock-printing that would be useful as a learning resource for students of Japanese book history.
One cutting, mounted on paper. Sutra backed with orange paper to repair considerable wormholing. Margins trimmed. Overall good to very good. Sutra paper measures 23.7 x 47.3 cm; mounting measures 35.5 x 51 cm. Text in Japanese.
1 'The Kasuga-ban Editions', Future Learn [website], https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/japanese-rare-books-sino/0/steps/31226, (accessed 26 February 2020).
2 K.B. Gardner, 'Centres of Printing in Medieval Japan: Late Heian to Early Edo Period', Japanese Studies: Papers Presented a Colloquium at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, 14-16 September, 1988, London, The British Library, 1990, p. 159.