Origins of Japanese Epigraphy: Inscriptions of the Ancient Capitals (Kokyō ibun; 1818/1912)
In 1818, the antiquarian and philologist Kariya Ekisai (1775-1835) edited an annotated compendium of pre-Heian epigraphs in the pioneering work Inscriptions of the Ancient Capitals (Kokyō ibun). Preceded by a two-century-long renaissance in the study of Japanese antiquity, this work joined a number of proto-archaeological treatises by collectors and aficionados who had begun to investigate the physical artifacts of the distant past. As a philologist, Ekisai focused on the texts of the inscriptions in his commentaries, but he also considered the provenance and physical conditions of the objects that bore them: stelae, cinerary urns, Buddhist images, and so on. Nearly a century later, in 1912, the linguist Yamada Yoshio (1875-1958) and the metalworker Katori Hotsuma (1874-1954) augmented the earlier collection with their Inscriptions of the Ancient Capitals Continued (Zoku kokyō ibun), printed alongside an edition of Ekisai’s earlier work. Together these two books remain, even today, fundamental sources for pre-Heian Japanese epigraphy, but they showcase radically different conceptions of scholarship and its audiences, and also contrasting technologies of reproduction (manuscript and rubbing versus moveable type and lithography). Inscriptions on stone and metal, along with paper-and-ink rubbings of the same, may seem to be ancient textual modes, but in this context they prove to be unexpectedly ephemeral, mutable, and up-to-date.