The setsuyōshū are a kind of dictionary with encyclopedic elements. When the genre first surfaced in the Muromachi period (1336-1573), however, they only contained a dictionary part. These dictionary-only setsuyōshū were copied by hand and were used by the elite (priests, nobility) for artistic and bureaucratic purposes. Such setsuyōshū are usually referred to as "old-book setsuyōshū" 古本節用集.
In the Edo period (1600-1868), however, the genre underwent major changes. Because factors such as the commercialization of the printing press, ever increasing literacy skills among the people, more time for leisure in times of peace, and improved economic conditions, books were printed and published in ridiculous amounts. Along with this revolution of the printing culture, publishers started to add more and more information to the setsuyōshū genre, making them into everyday encyclopedias. These books were immensely popular, and we can assume that most people who were economically fit had access to one. They were the go-to source whenever people needed information quickly, much like a Wikipedia of the day. These kinds of setsuyōshū are commonly called "encyclopedia-type setsuyōshū" (百科型節用集).
The entries in the dictionary are organized on two levels. First it is organized in the iroha-order (the ABC of pre-modern Japan), as opposed to the gojūon-order (the ABC of modern Japan). On the picture above you can see the first syllable i (い). Underneath each syllable, the entries are organized according to various categories. The number of categories used varied between different editions, but the 13 categories used in the Eitai Setsuyō Mujinzō seems to have been the most standard. The categories are as follows:
- 乾坤: Stands for heaven and earth or the universe. Includes words on the sun and the moon, celestial bodies and stars, rain and snow, winds and clouds, and other natural phenomena, as well as famous places, palaces and so forth.
- 時候: Stands for seasons or time. Includes various names for the seasons, months, days and so forth.
- 神仏: Stands for gods and buddhas. Names of gods and buddhas are included here, as well as names for temples and shrines.
- 官位: Means office and rank. Names of official positions, court titles and so forth are included in this category.
- 名字: Means name and includes exactly that, names.
- 人倫: Means human relations. Words on family, friendship, etc.
- 支体: Stands for limbs of the body. Includes words about the human body.
- 食服: Means food and clothes and includes words in those categories.
- 器財: Means tools and utensils. Hammers, spades, pots and pans. You name it, it's in this category.
- 気形: Means living things and includes words on animals.
- 草木: Stands for grass and trees and includes words on plants etc.
- 数量: Means quantity or volume. Includes number words and measurements.
- 言語: Simply means language or words. Includes mostly what does not fit in elsewhere like verbs, particles etc., but also common phrases and flowery words.
One of the important things we can deduce from the study of these books is how a new knowledge culture emerged in the early modern period. Whereas a lot of the typical information in the setsuyōshū - such as the tea ceremony or etiquette - were reserved for the elite in pre-Edo times, this kind of information now had become mass culture. Thanks to the improved informational networks such as the gokaidō road-network the books also spread to the far reaches of the country where it would be hard to come by in earlier times. The setsuyōshū genre can thus be said to be a testimony of a spread of knowledge and information both "downwards" socially and outwards geographically.
That's it for this brief introduction of the setsuyōshū genre. I will post more detailed descriptions of some of the information in the books in the near future. I've included a small gallery of some setsuyōshū pages below. All images used in this post are from the Eitai Setsuyō Mujinzō from the Library at the University of Oslo and are taken by myself.
Berry, Mary Elizabeth. Japan in Print: Information and Nation in the Early Modern Period. Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 2006
Eitai Setsuyō Mujinzō. Kyōto: Katsumura Jiuemon ...[et al.], 1849.
Kornicki, Peter F. The Book in Japan: A Cultural History from the Beginnings to the Nineteenth Century, Handbuch Der Orientalistik, 5. Abteilung, Japan. Leiden: Brill, 1998.
Yokoyama, Toshio. "Even a Sardine's Head Becomes Holy: The Role of Household Encyclopedias in Sustaining Civilisation in Pre-Industrial Japan." In SANSAI: An Environmental Journal for the Global Community, 41-57, 2006.
———. "In Quest of Civility: Conspicuous Uses of Household Encyclopedias in Nineteenth-Century Japan." Zinbun 34, no. 1 (1999): 197-222.