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A new facet of early-modern ephemera: the world of kobanzuke. Dr Laura Moretti

Click for full image: Kobanzuke from Naniwa miyage 浪花みやげ offering teachings about frugality. Private collection, Suzuran bunko.
Click for full image. Kobanzuke from Naniwa miyage 浪花みやげ offering teachings about frugality. Private collection, Suzuran bunko.
As part of the massive-scale production of commercial publications, early-modern Japan witnessed the flourishing of a variety of ephemera. Around the 1830s Osaka became the hotbed for the production of the so-called kobanzuke小番付, small-size single-sheet prints that display a plethora of contents and page-layouts. From ranking charts to riddles, from abridged versions of popular literary works to snippets of practical knowledge, from easily digestible teachings to humorous parodies, the world displayed in these materials is truly multifarious. Shioya Kihei, Kawachiya Heishichi and Wataya Kihei are key-figures in the production and distribution of these cheap materials, often selling them as Souvenirs of Osaka (Naniwa miyage 浪花みやげ). While kobanzuke proved extremely popular up to the beginning of the twentieth century, virtually nothing is known about them. This research project reconstructs the extremely complex publishing history of these materials, while mapping the contents and understanding the cultural significance of these ephemera.

            The project started thanks to the generous support of a British Academy /Leverhulme Small Research Grant. This allowed me to retrace all the extant copies of Naniwa miyage across a number of public and private collections in Japan. Moreover I have been able to secure other funds to purchase some of the copies that still appear on the antiquarian market. This systematic work of collation has allowed me to understand how Naniwa miyage came to life and how it was published for more than thirty years. I have presented the preliminary findings in 2017 in Japan (Kinsei bungaku kai conference) and I am now working on publishing them for a Japanese peer-reviewed journal. The next step will entail work on the contents of kobanzuke with a view to offer also transcriptions and translations of a good portion of them. As part of the funded project, Ms Elena Follador has already helped transcribing and translating a selection of kobanzuke