Taming the Fire Horse

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

in East Asian Publishing and Society
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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.

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References

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11

Ikegami, Bonds of civility, 286-323; Berry, Japan in print.

12

Cited in Chartier, The order of books, 9.

17

Kornicki, The book in Japan, 149-153.

29

Saikaku gakkai, Kōshokumono sōshi shū: fukusei, kaisetsu hen, 394. One should avoid using the transcription appearing in the accompanying volume (Saikaku gakkai, Kōshokumono sōshi shū: honbun, sakuin hen) since it appears to have been censored. The current phrase ‘seibun wo morashinuru’, for example, is inaccurately transcribed as ‘zeinaru wo tsukushinuru’.

37

Tezuka, Yūjimo denki, 1v.

43

Asō and Fuji, Kōshoku gonin onna, 236; Asō and Fuji, Nanshoku ōkagami, 104; Chikamatsu zenshū, vol. 1, 271-272.

50

Inoue Toyotarō, Wakayama shingaku, 37. Moreover, Heigo meiben 丙午明弁 [Clarifying the Fire Horse] (1845) states that esoteric soothsayers, Buddhist and Shinto priests would trick people out of their money by performing ‘age-changing ceremonies’ (umaredoshi o matsurikafuru) (Koizumi, Kinsei ikujisho, vol. 17, 347). Little information can be found on this practice amongst the commoner population, but amongst the aristocracy it seems that these ceremonies were frequently performed for a variety of reasons including improving one’s career opportunities or creating a more compatible match with one’s spouse (Takebe, Kazu no miya, 6-7). However, it seems that these ceremonies were not ‘foolproof’. Even though the Fire Horse born imperial princess Kazu no Miya had one year added to her age when she was two, her original Fire Horse status nonetheless became a matter of debate when she was scheduled to marry the shogun Iemochi, who had also been born as a Fire Horse (Tōkyō daigaku shiryō hensanjo, Iike shiryō vol. 25, 107). In the end, however, there were no objections to their marriage, and in fact, it was concluded that the combination of two Fire Horses was greatly auspicious.

51

Three Fire Horse years later, in 1966, another Fire Horse woman would tell of her similar experiences: ‘Even though I thought I was convinced that the Fire Horse superstition was groundless, when my husband lost his right eye, and broke his back, I could not help but think it was my fault for being born in the year of the Fire Horse’ (Asahi gurafu, 12: 3 [1965], 13-14).

60

Suzuki, Ezōshiya, 65. Moreover, Hashiguchi Kōnosuke mentions that in the case of books as well, 2000 copies would be considered an exceptional bestseller, and that most works would sell within the range of tens or a few hundred copies (Hashiguchi, Wahon nyūmon, 203).

61

Suzuki, Ezōshiya, 71.

76

Ueda, Senkai, 20-30, 108, 109. The book Kanming yizhang jin was attributed to the Buddhist monk-astronomer Yixing 一行 (683-727) who lived during the Tang dynasty. In Japan, however, his work was most likely accessed through Baba Nobutake’s 馬場信武 (?-1715) adaptation published in 1705 (and republished in 1787) as Kanmei isshō kin wage 看命一掌金和解.

86

Konno, Nihon meishin shū, 167.

87

Drixler, Mabiki, 156, 232, 240. Since Drixler’s focus is on the content of these pamphlets, rather than their distribution and reception, he remains prudent and stresses that the question of direct causality is hard to prove.

Figures

  • Copy of Anti-Fire Horse ema created in Tenmei 5. (National Diet Library)
    View in gallery
  • Anti-Fire Horse pamphlet distributed in Tenmei 6. (The Kyoto University Museum)
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  • Hinoeumadoshi umareko no satoshigaki (Variant C). (Chiba University Library)
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  • Hinoeumadoshi umareko no satoshigaki (Variant E). (Tokyo Medical University Annex Library)
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  • Hinoeumadoshi umareko no satoshigaki (Variant H). (National Diet Library)
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  • Hinoeumadoshi umareko no satoshigaki (Variant F). (National Museum of Japanese History)
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