Enlightening Illustrations


Published in 1666 in the early part of the Edo period, Kinmo zui (Enlightening illustrations) is the first illustrated encyclopedia produced in Japan. The compiler, Nakamura Tekisai (1629‒1702), was born into a merchant family in Kyoto. He became a self-taught Neo-Confucian scholar, but he was also acquainted with a wide range of subjects beyond Neo-Confucianism. He led a reclusive life devoted to the ideal of kakubutsu kyuri (the investigation of things and penetration of principle). Tekisai and Ito Jinsai (1627‒1705) were considered the preeminent scholars of their generation. In his preface, Tekisai states that he compiled the encyclopedia in order to teach his own children the names and shapes of things in a way that was easy to understand. His research ranged from heavenly bodies to plants, animals, and weights and measures. The work contains illustrations, names, and simple explanations of about 1,500 items, which are grouped into 17 categories, such as astronomy, geography, dwellings, people, clothes, tools, animal, plants, and so forth. Although Tekisai drew on earlier Chinese and Japanese encyclopedias, his work is highly praised for its scholarly value, as he is known to have verified everything with his own eyes as well as consulted many knowledgeable people during the work’s compilation. The substantial influence of these volumes is clear from the succession of educational illustrated encyclopedias that followed its publication. The German naturalist Engelbert Kaempfer (1651‒1716), who visited Japan as the doctor of the Dutch East India Company in 1690‒92, also included several illustrations from this work in his The History of Japan, an indication of how useful it was to the understanding of Japan in Europe in the 18th century.

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20 volumes (bound in 14 books) : illustrated ; 27 centimeters

Last updated: January 9, 2018