The advent of stenographic books

I’ve been reading more about how stenography helped bring modernity to Japan in the Meiji era. The details are in Seth Jacobowitz’s book, Writing Technology in Meiji Japan – a Media History of Modern Japanese Literature and Visual Culture. The book examines transformations wrought upon Japan’s literature, language and visual culture as a result of new technologies. Among the many themes in the book, it discusses the role of stenography (sokkijustu) in bringing both parliamentary debates and tales told by oral storytellers to a broad audience through the medium of newspapers. In the case of the storytellers, stenographers sitting just off-stage were able to take down their words virtually verbatim, allowing publishers to profit from mass sales of sokkibon (stenographic books) by the more popular storytellers.

One of the earliest storytellers to have a book version of his story onto the market was Henry Black’s mentor, Sanyûtei Enchô, with his tale The Peony Lantern. Most of Henry’s extant tales have their sokkibon versions, which makes it relatively easy for researchers.

Seth Jacobowitz’s book, Writing Technology in Meiji Japan, is published by Harvard University Asia Center (Harvard East Asia Monographs 387), USA, 2015. It is an excellent resource for those looking at Meiji era social history.

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