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Stylistic originsWoodblock-printed illustrated literature
Cultural originsEdo and early Meiji Japan
Akahon (赤本), aohon (青本),kurohon (黒本), kibyōshi (黄表紙), gōkan (合巻)
Related genres
Gesaku (戯作)

Kusazōshi (草双紙) is a term that covers various genres of popular woodblock-printed illustrated literature during the Japanese Edo period (1600–1868) and early Meiji period. These works were published in the city of Edo (modern Tokyo).

In its widest sense, the term kusazōshi includes the genres of akahon (赤本), aohon (青本), kurohon (黒本), kibyōshi (黄表紙) and gōkan (合巻); in the narrow sense it may refer uniquely to gōkan.[1] Kusazōshi belong to the group of works of popular fiction known as gesaku (戯作).

Early Kusazōshi (up to c. 1775)[edit]

Characteristics of early Kusazōshi[edit]

The term early Kusazōshi usually refers to akahon, kurohon and aohon, all of which were published before 1775.

At this period the pictures were considered to be of more importance than text. The text itself was mainly written in hiragana, although some kanji also appear. These early works are not of a high literary value, and are often derivative. However, they are often of interest to scholars from other fields as they provide a unique insight into the life, customs, and interests of the ordinary people of the time.

The size of Kusazōshi is referred to by the term chūhon, similar to the modern B6 size of paper. The volumes are made up of pieces of folded paper bound together, and each piece of paper is known as a chō ().

It is thought that these early works were enjoyed by a wide readership, and were especially appreciated by women and children.

Later Kusazōshi[edit]


Koikawa Harumachi (恋川春町)'s kibyōshi entitled Kinkin Sensei Eiga no Yume (『金々先生栄花夢』) marked a new era in the development of kusazōshi. Kibyōshi developed out of the earlier aohon, and in fact the form of the books of these two genres is exactly the same. Works of these genres are conventionally categorised by the date of publication, with works dated before 1775 deemed aohon and those published in or after 1775 kibyōshi.

At first sight, Kinkin Sensei Eiga no Yume appears to be a simple retelling of the Chinese tale of Lu Sheng ((廬生), in Japanese: Rosei), a young man who falls asleep in the Zhao capital of Handan, and dreams of glory but wakes to find that the millet at his bedside has not even begun to boil. However, in the manner of a roman à clef the reader is given visual and textual clues that the characters actually represent contemporary figures such as the kabuki actor Segawa Kikunojō II (瀬川菊之丞(二世)), and these figures' personal lives are parodied.[2]

This is a development which changed the course of the kusazōshi genre profoundly, and henceforth it is thought that the works were increasingly read by educated male adults.[3]


Gōkan were longer works, published from around 1807 until 1888.


  1. ^ Earl Miner, Hiroko Odagari and Robert E. Morrell, The Princeton Companion to Classical Japanese Literature (286): Princeton University Press, 1985
  2. ^ For a transcription into modern Japanese characters and a detailed commentary of this work, see: Sugiura Hinako (杉浦日向子) Edo e yōkoso(『江戸へようこそ』): Chikuma Bunko (ちくま文庫), 1989.
  3. ^ For details on how the development of the genre was viewed by one contemporary observer, see Matsubara Noriko's website on the kusazōshi illustrator and writer Tomikawa Fusanobu at http://www.cam.hi-ho.ne.jp/noriko-matsubara