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Taming the Fire Horse

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The Free Distribution of Anti-superstition Pamphlets in Early Modern Japan

image of East Asian Publishing and Society

Despite the increasing popularity of studies of early modern Japanese print culture, the field has primarily restricted itself to examinations of the commercial print industry—a bias that has come at the price of ignoring a wide variety of non-profit publications that, based on the frequency with which they appear in the archives, clearly played an important role in people’s lives. This article aims to highlight and clarify the significance of these non-profit publications through a case study of so-called sein, or freely distributed single sheet pamphlets. Concretely, I will focus on how these pamphlets were used in the campaign against the superstition that women born in the year of the Fire Horse ( hinoeuma) were a curse upon their husbands, leading them to an early death. By examining these pamphlets as they were distributed before and during the two consecutive Fire Horse years of Tenmei 6 (1786) and Kōka 3 (1846), I will show that the pamphlets were able to achieve wide circulation through a combination of extended networks of human resources, a variety of media strategies, and the phenomenon of sponsored variant woodblocks.

Affiliations: 1: Kyoto University vansteenpaal.niels.5w@kyoto-u.ac.jp

10.1163/22106286-12341277
/content/journals/10.1163/22106286-12341277
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2015-08-03
2017-11-21

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