The Unification of the Written Word in Modern-era Japan - Discuss Japan
Discuss Japan > Back Number > No.32 > The Unification of the Written Word in Modern-era Japan
Discussions, Culture, No.32  Apr. 20, 2016

The Unification of the Written Word in Modern-era Japan

Dr. Miura Atsushi

Dr. Miura Atsushi

Dr. MIURA Atsushi: Today, I will be speaking with Dr. Campbell, who emphasizes the importance of documents and materials written in scripts such as kuzushiji (cursive-style Japanese script) and hentaigana (obsolete or nonstandard variants of Japanese phonetic hiragana characters); writing styles that could be referred to as a kind of Japanese writing heritage from before the Meiji period, and which to most ordinary Japanese people are now unreadable.







Dr. Robert Campbell

Dr. Robert Campbell

Dr. Robert CAMPBELL: For example, when most ordinary Japanese people go into a soba noodle shop and see the word kisoba written in kuzushiji-style hiragana, most of them can read it, right? But that’s because it’s a soba shop. As another example, poems and such are often scribbled onto the wrapping papers of Japanese-style wagashi confectionaries, in a very elegant, flowing hiragana script; but these are acknowledged more as an element of design, and people don’t actually bother to read these and appreciate the poetry before eating the sweets, do they?






Miura: No, they don’t [laughs].

Campbell: But up until around only one hundred years ago, and going way back over a thousand years into Japanese history, those character forms could be found everywhere, as a normal part of peoples’ everyday lives, right?

Miura: We don’t really have much awareness of them, but they still exist in our daily lives even now, I think.

Campbell: They do still exist now, just barely, as what I suppose you could call a kind of marker, or symbol, that serve to indicate the “Japanese-ness” of certain things or spaces; but these written forms are gradually being discontinued and becoming extinct.

From the Meiji period onwards, the bakuhan system (the feudal system that existed during what is now referred to as Japan’s “early modern era”) was abandoned, and the Japanese people were rearranged into a single nation state; and various other reforms were carried out with regard to both “hard” (tangible) and “soft” (intangible) aspects of Japanese society for the purpose of unifying the country into a single nation.

Through education, and simultaneously via the mass media, the Japanese government implemented an extremely large and significant stroke of innovation; making it such that everyone would use word separation (as was seen in Western countries at the time) and unifying the various forms of Japanese script into a single, uniform, print-style typeface.

What I am referring to now is Japanese as a written language, but at the same time the government also created a common spoken language. And although until that time a major divergence or distance had existed between written Japanese and spoken Japanese, by 1890 the goal of the so-called genbun-itchi movement — i.e. to unify the spoken and written languages — had been completed.

Many Japanese people had, of course, been aware — since at least the seventeenth to eighteenth centuries — that the Japanese archipelago existed as a single geopolitical unit. It was just the fact that it existed in a state with over 300 miniature domains or nations; and when it came to the question of who (or what) it was that provided a stable foundation for people to go about living their daily lives, the answer lay with the various different han (feudal domains) or tenryo (territories under direct control of the shogunate) rather than the single nation of Japan.

Miura: We have a sort of tendency to imagine Japan — in some vague way — as having existed as a single entity even during the Edo period and before it, but in actual fact that wasn’t really the case, then, was it? So rather than as a whole nation of Japan, people’s sense of identity was tied more to, what? The various regions they came from?

Campbell: As “a person from Higo (modern day Kumamoto Prefecture)” or “a person from Edo (modern day Tokyo)” and so on…

Miura: They were diverse in terms of both the languages they spoke and in terms of their various cultures, weren’t they?

Campbell: Yes, very much so. Imagine just how much the culinary and linguistic cultures that these people would have encountered — had they taken to the road and traveled for half a day, or maybe a couple of days — would have differed from their own. There were actually written notes called tegata, similar to the visas used today; and it wasn’t the case that everyone, regardless of sex or age, could travel the entire country freely as they wished (as they can today). However, at the same time as this, the Japanese populace has also been consciously aware of the outside world since the Edo period, and this has simultaneously fostered a sense of identity as “Japanese.” But as part of the rapid-fire barrage of reforms carried out during the Meiji period, there was a need for Japan to standardize the Japanese language; for the purpose of creating things — particularly such as teaching materials to achieve the realization of a national, public education system — and various other unified philosophies and objectives as a pre-modernistic nation (a so-called nation state).

Miura: I think all of that was necessary for Japan to go forward as a modern nation on the same footing as the United States and Europe; but Dr. Campbell, it’s your opinion that something was also lost precisely because of that, isn’t it?

Campbell: Yes, that’s right. It’s not exactly the case that the cultural heritage that had existed until that time has been completely disavowed or negated, but it has been gradually sliced away at, piece-by-piece. The written characters and styles of Japanese writing, as well as the styles of speech used when giving a public address or when doing business went on to be leveled down into a single, standard form within the space of just a few decades.

Miura: I see. So, exactly what kind of things are we talking about here specifically… this kind of “wealth” — or perhaps I should I say “cultural heritage” — of Japanese language that has been cut away, discarded, and gradually forgotten?

Kuzushiji and Original Materials and Documents

Campbell: The thing that both Japanese people and persons like myself without Japanese citizenship conducting research into Japan’s 256-year-long Edo period are equally most concerned about is that the written language system that we refer to as so-called kuzushiji, which was in use until around the Meiji 20s (c. 1887–1896), has become too distant from the living, breathing Japanese of the present day, and that people are rapidly losing awareness of the need to read it, or the need to be able to read it.

Miura: I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I can’t read it easily either [laughs].

Campbell: To put it briefly, I think we are in a very sad and — globally speaking — quite rare state of affairs, in which Japanese speakers today, including researchers, who have th
e academic interest and want to look at the original source materials, are unable to access documents written a mere 110–120 years ago.

Miura: Yes, it’s true. My area of specialty is French art history… but looking back over the French documents there is no major difference between those from the latter half of the nineteenth century and those from the earlier half.

Campbell: So you can read things like the letters written between Van Gough and his younger brother Theo, correspondences between art dealers and painters, or diaries, right?

Miura: Yes, I can read written materials such as that properly, without feeling too much strangeness or discomfort. Of course, reading documents filled with the author’s individualistic quirks is hard work, but I don’t feel too much difficulty when looking at them from a grammatical or written linguistic standpoint.

Campbell: As an example for comparison from around the same era, I have brought with me one of the materials that I own and use in my research, which I would very much like you to take a look at, Dr. Miura. Right before the beginning of the bakumatsu era (the closing years of the Edo period) a young man with hopes of becoming a painter was living in what is now the city of Onomichi in Hiroshima Prefecture. A number of intellectuals in the town — who aspired towards the nanga style of painting — were studying poetry, literary writings and of course kanbun (Chinese-style literature written entirely in kanji characters and using Chinese grammar) together, and conducting a certain artistic enterprise. To that end, they invited a renowned teacher from Kyoto to visit their local area. During his stay, they would learn various things from him, have him paint sekiga (impromptu pictures painted on request at gatherings, etc.,) and share them amongst their members.

The item that I have in my hands is a small book of writings and pictures called Chikukin-gakaizu. Chikukin is the young man’s name, i.e. pseudonym. A gakaizu is a kind of picture diary or journal; for example, when a famous master such as Rai Sanyo or Uragami Shunkin had been invited to come from Kyoto he would look after them, listen to various things the masters said during their sittings, and learn various techniques while watching from behind as they painted. There are many light-color washes, painted on the paper using mineral pigment paints, but if we take a look from the start… for example, here it says “Sensuitei ni oite” (meaning “at Sensuitei”).

Miura: I can make out “oite” and “sen”… but as for what it says underneath… [laughs]

Campbell: These are the people who gathered here on this occasion.

Miura: So these are names then, right?

Campbell: They are all listed by their pseudonyms. Chikukin is very modest, placing himself at the edge. Here, in the kamiza (the seat where the most important person sits) is painted Shunkin, who is the most important person here. Shunkin was the son of Uragami Gyokudo, who was in the Kyoto area. This is a record of these people eating, drinking and enjoying each other’s company. It continues on in a very matter-of-fact sort of manner. There isn’t really much in the way of actual written text, but still.

Miura: Well, certainly it isn’t the case that I can’t read any of it at all, but…

Campbell: Yes, you seem to understand quite a bit of it.

Miura: There are continuous strings of kanji… so it’s similar to kanbun then?

Campbell: Yes, it’s close to kanbun, but if you keep looking at it then you see the odd kana (Japanese phonetic characters) here and there. These are entries into a diary that has been continued from a long time ago, kept just as they were at the time. I wanted you to see today, Dr. Miura, as an art-history expert, just how important items like this are as a record of the past. This is a source that has not yet been presented to others, which I found and obtained from an art dealer in recent years. There are many materials like this in Japan, and you can’t reach information such as this by looking at artists’ complete works or anthologies or printed collections of pictures. But the situation we have now is that even if I were to take a picture of this and post it up on my website as it is, while some experts might be able to read it, most people would be unable to decipher it.

Miura: Japanese art history is built based upon that which was learned from the West, and works by linking from one important painter to the next in some way or another; but through materials such as this, the specific details of the groups or circles that calligrapher-painters moved in, for example, become apparent, don’t they? But we don’t know the actual relationships such as this between painters very well. I would very much like you to do some work for me, deciphering some buried materials and sharing them with me.

Campbell: Thank you, that’s very encouraging. I would really like to do that to the extent of what I can find and within the time available to me, and I am currently teaching students here; but what I wanted to stress here was that there are still massive amounts of materials like this that remain.

The Conversion of Historical Sources to Printed Type, and the Discontinuation of Culture

Miura: So, around what percentage of materials like this from the Edo period and earlier have been converted into printed type?

Campbell: Well, there aren’t exactly any statistics for this. You see, there isn’t one single place where we can submit the materials to each time we convert them to print, where they are all put together and compiled. Still though, there are records of addresses for old books and literature — similar to the union catalogues in the West — recording what kind of books exist and where they are kept. These have names such as the Kokusho somokuroku (General Catalog of National Books), or the Kotenseki sogomokuroku (Union Catalogue of Early Japanese Books); and many materials that do exist in printed form are recorded in these catalogs. We specialists present materials to them a little at a time, and the records are revised and updated on an almost daily basis, but that’s hardly a significant amount. I think we can say without a doubt, based on a consensus of the fellow researchers around me, that at least 90% of existing materials have yet to be transcribed.

Miura: In other words, the amount of materials that have been converted to print and made accessible to we ordinary people is around only 10%. That means that we have been building an image of the period based on only 10% of the existing materials, then, doesn’t it?

Campbell: Exactly. I think that is the most important point to be made here today. I would prefer that everyone could appraise and value wonderful historical materials like the gakaizu that I have had you take a look at here today. Because present-day Japanese people have discarded the ability to read them, almost all of the more ordinary, everyday materials shedding light on the daily lives of the so-called common people and so on have now become indecipherable. And so we go home and watch taiga period dramas on TV every Sunday night and read lots of interesting novels by Shiba Ryotaro, but almost all of these are based on historical materials that had already been converted to print. That means that we are looking at the bakumatsu period through the filter of these materials
alone. For Japanese people who like their history, that simply isn’t fair, is it [laughs]?

Miura: Yes, I agree it’s a terrible shame.

Campbell: Firstly there is the fact that Japan’s own historical culture and writing is being discontinued and isolated. If sound sources still remained from that time then it would be fine; or perhaps some photographs. There are photographs taken in Japan from around the 1850s bakumatsu period onwards, but none dating back before that. This means that the only way to grasp the fabric of daily life in earlier periods is through written media, and through painted pictures and drawings. But as you are well aware, Japanese paintings have an inseparable relationship with copious amounts of written characters, and if we cannot read those characters than we are almost entirely cut off from those sources of information.

Miura: Yes, it’s one type of cultural extinction. You showed me that gakaizu just now, but do you have any other examples that are a bit closely related to everyday life?

Campbell: Sure… You can think of this piece as being from around almost the same period. This is an example of what we call a tatamimono (a folding item). It’s a single-sheet, polychromatic woodblock print. This one would probably have been printed using three or four separate wood blocks. There would be an original picture manuscript drawn by hand, which would be turned over and placed face down over a piece of wood. A wood carver would then carve out the wood block, and a printer would print, say, 100 copies, which would then be put into circulation. It’s basically the same media as ukiyo-e prints. I think that the one I’ve brought with me today is probably most likely a kubarimono; something that would be handed out free to people. It’s an Edo hanagoyomi (floral calendar).

Miura: So does it show what flowers are blooming where throughout the year, starting from the top?

Campbell: Yes. Plum, cherry, peach… and carrying on through fall and winter according to the timeline. This also has a list of place names for where famous cherry trees are located. It was manufactured in 1845, by an Edo publishing house called Izumiya Hanbei. People could take this home with them as a souvenir or gift when they returned to their various hometowns, and even for people living in Edo itself…

Miura: It’s actually useful, isn’t it?

Campbell: It also tells us about the way in which the people of Edo perceived their city geographically and spatially.

Miura: For someone like me, looking at this conjures up a bit of a different world inside my head… that this is how it is if we look at Edo from the perspective of flowers and hanami (cherry blossom viewing).

Campbell: That’s interesting. There are other single-sheet prints and tatamimono depicting, for example, things such as hiyokechi (open spaces between buildings to act as fire breaks) or Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples; but these have surely almost without exception not yet been converted to printed text. With the so-called cultural enlightenment that took place in Japan during the Meiji period, a renga-gai (“brick town” or “brick street”) was constructed in Ginza; there were catastrophic events such as the Great Kanto Earthquake and the fires of World War II; and amidst various phases of economic growth the space that is now the city was completely replaced and transformed, to the point that trying to experience now what kind of city Edo really was — from inside Tokyo itself — is extremely difficult in comparison with cities like London or New York. This hanagoyomi communicates to us directly, from the perspective of an ordinary person, what the lost space of Edo — which cannot be reconstructed — was like. There are about eight lines of text written here, and these characters are not too far detached from present-day Japanese script… but each individual hiragana character has been simplified into a cursive style using a different character variant, and hiragana and katakana characters have been mixed together. Even for a reader who has had a Japanese public school education…

Miura: “But they didn’t teach us that at school…[laughs].”

Campbell: Yeah, that’s what they always say to me. My freshman year students always say, “But they didn’t teach us that at school…[laughs].” If you were to go to view the cherry blossoms, and went out from Yotsuya in the western part of Edo, out of the okido (great wooden gate) that existed there at the time (and the memory of which still remains in the place name today), you would find the great post station of Naito Shinjuku. That was the boundary of the Edo city limits. They say that when people committed a crime and were sentenced to Edo barai, they were banished from the city and not allowed to enter past that point. By reading materials such as this, you can get a real feel and understanding for what the geography of Edo was like, in terms of its limits, laws and customs, feelings and distances.

Wahon Literacy

Miura: Little by little, our image of what Edo was like becomes more real and tangible, doesn’t it? I think that looking at materials like this is very interesting… but they are not readable to us present-day Japanese. So the question now is, “What should we do in the future?” isn’t it? Of course, teaching kuzushiji at elementary school would be the ultimate solution, but I’m sure it wouldn’t be that simple.

Campbell: I personally think that we shouldn’t discard the possibility of education. Nihon kinsei bungakukai (the Japanese Early Modern Literature Society), of which I am a member, is an academic society made up of over a thousand Edo-period literature experts in various regions around Japan and all over the world. Around two or three years ago, the society began an awareness-building movement called Wahon Literacy[1], for reading and making use of wahon (old classical Japanese books). We print newsletters and also make them available and open for viewing on the Internet. Society members go out to visit elementary and junior-high schools — particularly junior high schools — and give lessons on demand; for example on trying to read Hyakunin isshu (a classical Japanese poetry anthology of one hundred waka written by one hundred different poets) written in kuzushiji. Another thing is spreading the word to people. We think it is really important for everyone to see that by becoming able to read even a little, they can deepen the appeal of historical culture for themselves; to realize that in order to further refine their interest, awareness and feelings, they must work to acquire even a little more ability to read these texts; and to understand that the fact that Japanese people have now become unable to read their own history is something that is rare and unusual, even on a global scale.

Miura: It’s a little belated, but I myself too am using a smartphone app called the Hentaigana App, which was developed in a joint effort between UCLA and Waseda University, and learning them a little everyday, when I’m on the train and so on [laughs].

Campbell: Our friends at UCLA put in a lot of hard work and built that app towards the end of last year. It can be used in both English and Japanese, and I think it’s pretty well made. It basically shows the way in which each individual hiragana is simplified into cursive form, actually br
eaking down an old copy of Genji monogatari (The Tale of Genji) and showing each individual character.

Miura: Originally, are these characters continuous strings?

Campbell: Yes, in many cases they are originally continuous strings.

Miura: I think this app makes it easy to remember the readings and the original kanji characters that they are derived from. Only, is it still not possible to actually read the script just by memorizing these?

Campbell: Unless you read continuous flowing sentences it doesn’t translate into actual, practical reading ability, but they are planning to add that on in the future. This app is extremely well made, though, and is already beginning to gain attention in the United States.

Miura: So, more and more people from other countries will learn to read kuzushiji to a higher level than Japanese people…

Campbell: Not so much to a higher level than Japanese people… The same applies to myself, but overseas, until I came to study in Japan, I was never taught that it was even necessary to study Japanese in the form of kuzushiji. It just so happened that at the graduate school where I studied there was a professor who was conscious of that need, and he taught me; but in most academic courses there was none of that. For the period of several hundred years between the final years of the Middle Ages and the beginning of the Meiji period, the majority of testimonial evidence of peoples’ minds, daily lives and history remains in the form of untouched historical materials. As a by-product of this age of globalization, study groups overseas are also being held on the Internet and so on, and researchers both in Japan and abroad — including ourselves — are collaborating to study those materials.

Miura: This app is also an outcome of that, isn’t it?

Campbell: Yes, it is. I myself also have been traveling to UCLA twice every year.


Preserving and Passing on Japanese Writing Heritage

Miura: Another initiative that I know about is how Toppan Printing is using OCR to read kuzushiji and convert them into printed type.

Campbell: It’s such a massive amount that it’s probably fair to call it a “100-year national endeavor” (a Japanese expression for a long-sighted plan). Converting the legacy of Japanese literary sources into useful and beneficial materials for both present and future people who read Japanese will require a colossal amount of work. If we were to transcribe them all by hand (which is something I have been doing since I was in my twenties) and introduce them to the world little by little there’s no way we would be able to do it in time, so a joint development project was launched a few years ago by the National Institute of Japanese Literature (NJIL)[2] and Toppan Printing with the aim of getting computers to recognize large numbers of kuzushiji patterns via OCR and decipher them. They are working mainly with hand-duplicated, manuscript-type copies of The Tale of Genji written in hiragana, but their system is currently managing to read the target materials at around an 80% rate of accuracy.

Miura: They’re doing pretty well, then.

Campbell: When the drafts are finished, the remaining 10% or so has to be looked at and tidied up by humans. They definitely have to be proofread.

Miura: So they can produce a decent rough draft, then? And then the experts go on to refine it. And so texts that we couldn’t read until now are turned into readable form as printed text…

Campbell: The National Institute of Japanese Literature is an extremely interesting institution, of the kind that doesn’t really exist in any other country. They collect together any and all materials — either originals or photographs thereof — relating to the literary arts from the beginnings of the country’s history right up until the Meiji period. They even go as far as traveling overseas to gather these materials, sort, organize and accumulate bibliographic data. Then they make all this open to residents of Japan and to the rest of the world. It’s an inter-university research institute corporation (an independent administrative agency), and the literature that we are talking about now will eventually all be accumulated there.

Miura: So at this present time we really only know about a portion of it, then?

Campbell: Most of the original and reproduced documents are in Tachikawa City in Tokyo, so you can either go there to see them or you can view a very rich and abundant range of resources online, of which more and more are gradually being made available.

Miura: It’s just a question of whether or not we can read them, though, isn’t it?

Campbell: Yes. Around ten years ago, I launched a project at the University of Tokyo’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences regarding the Kuroki bunko, a collection of theatrical materials and literature relating to theater music from the Edo period. We converted all of this massive collection of materials into image data, stored it all in a database together with the corresponding bibliographical information, and made it available for the whole world to view and make use of via the University of Tokyo’s servers[3]. It was a very important thing that we were able to make these valuable materials — which were known only to a handful of experts — available to the public. But in reality, the only people who can really make use of them are people who can read the extremely unique characters used in joruri (traditional Japanese narrative music) maruhon books, or of the type used on kabuki theater signboards. These materials included, we must continue to advance the development of OCR technology and, at the same time, train people’s eyes to look at these materials, which is really the beginning and end of it all. By doing so, I think that we will be able to demonstrate to the world how rich and fruitful Japanese history is; something actual and tangible that poses various challenges, both for Japanese residents and for humanity as a whole.



The Structure of Modern-day Japanese Culture

Miura: I see. I think that’s a very important thing. If we shift our perspective a little, we were just saying that there was a cultural discontinuation or extinction at the time of the Meiji Restoration; but actually, if we put it another way Japan has constantly incorporated foreign cultures and languages, and had a history of incorporating various knowledge and language from China since olden times. It’s the culture of Japanese people processing imported foreign cultures in their own unique way. If we think of it like that, I think we can also take the view that the early Meiji period was a very rich and abundant age, in which Japan had a triple-layered structure where the languages and cultures of Japan itself, China and the West were all intermixed.

Campbell: I think that was really the true cultural state of the early Meiji period, of what is referred to as the so-called
dawn of the modern era for Japan. In other words, most of the people who helped to achieve Japan’s modernization during the Meiji 10s (1877–1886) and 20s (1887–1896) reached the age of reason and received their educations during the final years of the Edo period, learning the existing, traditional culture of Japan amidst the age of cultural enlightenment that was the first decade of the Meiji period, and went on to assimilate elements of nineteenth century Western society and the Chinese world into their own culture. If we pull that together with what we have been talking about today, then, things like writing systems and language. For that reason, although there is some debate over when and where the modern literature of the Meiji period originated from, if we suppose that it launched itself forward from around the end of the 1880s, then that means that its main players all read and wrote kuzushiji; could only exchange correspondences in that form; and all shared that same feeling. They all had a visual feel for cursive script.

Miura: There were still enough of them remaining, weren’t there? People who could read kuzushiji; who could read foreign languages; and could also read Chinese writings.

Campbell: Even when he went overseas, Mori Ogai, for example, wrote his Berlin and Liepzig journals on shore and onboard his ship, created classical Chinese poetry, and also wrote Maihime (The Dancing Girl) and many other novels after his return to Japan. He was constantly thinking about modernization and how Japan could improve and enhance itself, to put itself on a level footing with Western society; yet it wasn’t the case that he was denying or disavowing the things he already had. On the contrary, he took pride and confidence in them and utilized them in his endeavors.

Nagai Kafu, who was of a slightly younger generation and remained active after World War II into the 1950s, went to study aboard in the United States at the beginning of the twentieth century, right around the time of the Russo-Japanese War. During that time, he regularly sent picture postcards to his companions in Tokyo, who were hosting a literary society. He really liked picture postcards. (There was a boom going on for picture postcards in Japan at the time, but still…) Here are some interesting postcards that he bought at random and wrote to his companions. By the way, the full texts of all his postcards are included in Kafu zenshu (the complete Kafu collection) by Iwanami Shoten publishing. It’s a really superb collection, the compilation of which began from right around the time he died.

Miura: Only, the original images aren’t included, are they?

Campbell: Yes, that’s right… only one or two are shown. You can see if you look here that there are ten of them, all written with a fountain pen.

Miura: I think it’s very interesting when the image and the written characters are combined like this. Only, you have to be able to read the content properly. There are some that are easy to read, and some that are difficult.

Campbell: Yes, the script varies depending on the situation and to whom they are addressed. There are clear differences in the way the post cards were written. Even though they were written by the same person writing during the same period there are various different types; some that were written very cursively in the same way as if he was writing using a calligraphy brush, and some written using word separation.

Miura: So these are the postcards that Kafu favored… Lots of them are of women. Interesting, aren’t they? You get the feeling that the old cultural heritage had not yet fully disappeared, that we are still shifting gradually towards a new age; the feeling that we are transitioning little by little towards the unification and standardization of language, don’t you?

Campbell: Yes. Amidst all of that, there was still this kind of sensitivity and skill. Extrapolating backwards over a period of several hundred years from then, and we really do have an astronomical number of letters, texts and literature that were written, but which haven’t yet been read.

The Role of School Education

Miura: So they’re basically buried, aren’t they? Digging them up and leaving them for future generations is an important job… is there still a possibility of utilizing the educational arena to enable Japanese people to read these materials even a little more? You were talking about lessons by visiting lecturers earlier, but if students came into contact with these scripts even a little during their compulsory education, I think things would be different…

Campbell: I think it’s a possibility. Looking at characters actually written by one’s cultural ancestors, for example during integrated study periods or during Japanese class, has a power of appeal that is different from just looking at normal, printed text.

Miura: Because most people don’t even know of their existence, right?

Campbell: In America, there are various versions of the 1776 Declaration of Independence as a document; and around the time of junior high school we are shown photographs of them as pictorial plates, and read the words, written by various people of the time using feather quill pens.

Miura: That kind of thinking doesn’t exist in Japanese education, I think.

Campbell: I think it’s important to incorporate that kind of thing into Japanese kokugo lessons at school in order for children to learn about the force of words written in excitement amidst various circumstances, the sure feelings and sentiments that the people had when they wrote them, and so on.

Miura: Thank you very much for today. The things that we Japanese don’t know…

Campbell: Please don’t say “we” like that [laughs].

Miura: Ok, well I would really like to cooperate in spreading the word more in the future.

Campbell: I think that having people like yourself — whose field of research lies “overseas” — understand this and spread this serious message to even a few more people is crucial.

Miura: I’m not an expert who reads kuzushiji, but I find it very interesting, and I really felt that it’s a wasteful shame as a Japanese person (not to be able to read them). I hope for your continued help and support in the future.

This conversation was conducted for Discuss Japan on 14 January 2016.