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Knowledge and Techniques in Medieval and Pre-modern Japan

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Directors : Nicolas Fiévé (EPHE) and Annick Horiuchi (UPD)

Permanent Members : Claire-Akiko Brisset (UPD), Matthias Hayek (UPD), Charlotte von Verschuer (EPHE)
Associate Members : Christophe Marquet (Maison Franco-Japonaise, INALCO).
Post-doctoral students : Emmanuel Mares ; Yumiko Takagi ; Guillaume Hurpeau

This project is an extension of two other programmes : Translation of the Nihon sankai meisan zue (Famous Sea and Land Products in Japan) and the Four-Language Glossary of Agricultural Techniques revealing the wealth and sophistication of production techniques and their underlying concepts. The present project aims to further extend this field of study using the combined skillset of the CRCAO’s members. Emphasis will be on the development of knowledge in specific domains wherein transmission was secret and passed on from master to disciple. This study, based on printed and manuscript works, should provide a better appreciation of the scope and organization of this knowledge.
The combined expertise of the team covers the following domains : agricultural techniques, architecture, landscaping, culinary and table art, painting, calligraphy, divination techniques, mathematics, astronomy, and medicine. The approach will be interdisciplinary and involve collective reflections on the role of these practices in the culture and economy of medieval and pre-modern Japan ; particular attention will be paid to technical language and to the reality of the practices through fieldwork.
We will rely on a selection of texts and works known for their wide dissemination or their founding role, as well as introductory works and handbooks that provide detailed descriptions of the techniques. The aim will be to translate extracts or entire works and the translations will then be made available in both digitised and paper versions to researchers and the wider public. The translation work will consist of two categories : the translation of medieval texts and that of pre-modern texts, and will be conducted by sub-teams of researchers and doctoral students with the aim of sharing knowledge, standardizing translation procedures and creating a lexicon of technical terms. The translation sessions will provide an opportunity to reflect on notions such as art, procedure (jutsu), technique, transmission of knowledge, innovation, genius, research, optimization, efficiency, etc. in the Asian context. We will also pay particular attention to the modes of knowledge transmission, the filiations of the founding texts, knowledge dissemination with the advent of printing, as well as to the physical aspect of books (prefaces, index, illustrations, diagrams, tables, size and format), and the terminology specific to each domain. We will collaborate with scholars in Chinese studies for a better understanding of Chinese-origin terminology and we will compare the procedures and terminology used in the different fields covered by the study.

Texts selected for the study

1. Texts devoted to food habits from the monk Shogen’s Sezoku ritsuyôshû (Collection of Texts on Things Profane ; 13th to 17th centuries), and tea from Miyazaki Yasusada’s Nôgyô zensho (Complete Works on Agriculture, 1697) (Director : C. von Vershuer).
2) Baba Nobutake’s Baika shin.eki shôchû shinan (Guide in one’s hand to the Plum-blossom Changes in the Mind, 1687) and the chapters dealing with astronomy, the calendar and divination in the Wakan sansai zue (Illustrated Sino-Japanese Encyclopaedia, China and Japan, 1713) (Director : M. Hayek).
3) Fujiwara no Koreyuki’s Yakaku teikinshô (Compilation of the Family’s Secret Teachings (of the Sesonji School of Calligraphy) For my Beloved Child), the oldest extant treaty on calligraphy, (late 12th century) (Director : C.-A. Brisset).
4) Chapters devoted the ornamentation of reception rooms and the art of tea making in the Kundaikan sôchôki (Catalogue of Princely Treasures in two volumes, 1559 edition) by Nôami and Sôami (Director : N. Fiévé).
5) Hayashi Moriatsu’s Gasen (Net of Paintings 1721), the first printed treatise on painting (Director C. Marquet),.
6) Yoshida Mitsuyoshi’s Jinkôki (Inexhaustible Treatise) one of first printed manuals for abacus calculation techniques (Director : A. Horiuchi).