If you are researching premodern Japan or simply pursuing calligraphy for fun, you should become familiar with kuzushiji 崩し字, or cursive characters, in your primary resources. This is a highly specialized skill that takes a great deal of time to master, but is also quite a bit of (frustrating) fun for those who enjoy puzzles or have a knack for discerning characters. For a basic introduction to kuzushiji and a glimpse at what it can look like, please refer to this article at Naruhodo なるほど.
There are a lot of resources out there for researchers and enthusiasts, but they are rarely found in one convenient place that is kept up to date. One exception is the University of Pennsylvania’s website, which we will build upon with other resources in this post. Unfortunately, the majority of kuzushiji resources are Japanese-language only, but some English is interspersed here and there.
For text resources, specialist Okada Mariko, responsible for the kuzushiji workshop held at the University of Michigan in 2013, put together a useful set of books for studying kuzushiji on your own, which are as follows:
- くずし字で「百人一首」を楽しむ (WorldCat)
- くずし字で「東海道中膝栗毛」を楽しむ : 古文書入門 (WorldCat)
- くずし字で「おくのほそ道」を楽しむ (WorldCat)
- 一週間で読めるくずし字. 古今集・新古今集(WorldCat)
- 一週間で読めるくずし字. 伊勢物語 (WorldCat)
- 古文書くずし字 200選 (WorldCat)
- 覚えておきたい, 古文書くずし字 500選(WorldCat)
- 基礎古文書のよみかた (WorldCat)
There is also a number of suggested books listed on the Komonjo Navi site listed below, including dictionaries and period-specific guides, which can be found here.
About Kuzushiji/Basic Introductions
These sites provide simple introductions to kuzushiji and in many cases practice materials you can use to get started with basic forms.
くずし字解読講座テキスト一覧(古文書解読) Kuzushiji Kaidoku Kōza Text Ichiran (Komonjo Kaidoku)
Shizuoka Prefectural Central Library put together a series of essays related to kuzushiji, beginning with a basic introduction and moving on to reading practice materials that go step-by-step guiding the reader through the unfamiliar with increasing difficulty. These essays and practice materials are available in PDF format, which is very helpful for those who may want to download the articles or read them on tablets for easy access.
くずし字を学ぶKuzushiji o Manabu
Waseda University offers audio course instruction (Japanese only) on kuzushiji by Professor Nobuyuki Kanechiku in thirteen episodes. Although we haven’t listened to them, they are undoubtedly a very valuable resource, since instruction by Japanese specialists is rarely available outside of Japan. Downloading these episodes is free of charge.
変体仮名あぷりThe Hentaigana App
The Hentaigana App was just released this year through a collaboration between UCLA and Waseda University. It offers a convenient way to start learning and practicing kuzushiji recognition. The Waseda archival collections are some of the most useful for practicing kuzushiji reading in premodern documents. They have also been seamlessly integrated into the app to practice over 320 hentaigana, including photographs and detailed information of primary sources, a review mode, and an integrated hentaigana dictionary.
This app is designed to make to introduce total beginners to the concept of kana variants (hentaigana) and kuzushiji. It also allows readers with elementary knowledge to challenge themselves in reading the movable-type edition of Hojoki (in kanji hiragana majiri) as well as texts printed later on in the Edo period.
古文書なび Komonjo Navi
古文書なび provides a basic introduction to kuzushiji and komonjo reading, including books and guides useful for beginners, explanations about the structure of premodern documents and their writing styles, materials for beginners, and some basic practice materials such as calligraphic cards of the Hyakunin isshū.
These sites provide reference materials, such as dictionaries or commonly used character forms. They may be difficult to use at first, but are immensely helpful once you familiarize yourself with their individual methods for looking up characters.
古文書事始ネット Komonjogoto hajime netto
This site offers a searchable database of characters. They can be arranged by hiragana syllable, onyomi, or kunyomi, and the code for the characters associated with a syllable in komonjo writings. You can also search by radicals for a given kanji, which then narrow down the field of characters. The page also includes instructions for looking up character strings and offers some limited examples for komonjo practice.
Kuzushi ji Cross Search (Historiographical Institute of the University of Tokyo)
This site allows you to directly input characters into a searchable database, which yields a series of different versions of that character in kuzushiji. One of the benefits of the results on this page is that they are drawn directly from primary sources, with that source listed, so it is possible to compare different calligraphic hands and styles. Below the basic search results there are also direct links to the full image of the source and the archive from which it was drawn.
Database of Kuzushiji くずし字字典 (Historiographical Institute of the University of Tokyo)
This database, also by the Historiographical Institute, draws on the same materials as above. While it does not include the direct links to the archives from which the kuzushiji images came, it has the added benefit of a “related search” section in the results, which provides links to similar phrases and characters.
江戸時代の変体仮名・変体仮名一覧表 Edo Jidai no Hentaigana- Hentaigana Ichiranhyō
These pages provide basic charts of the most commonly found hentaigana and kuzushiji characters, as seen in Edo period works. While it is not comprehensive, it is a handy guide in a pinch for quick reference.
Primary Sources for Reading Practice (With Reading Guides):
These sites provide convenient primary sources for reading practice, but also some form of guide to help the read along, whether it is a transcription of the document into modern Japanese or a read-along mouseover that can be used to quiz yourself as you go.
Komonjo (Princeton University)
Thomas Conlan’s Komonjo site provides a highly contextualized basis for looking at premodern documents and analyzing them based on their content as well as materiality. In terms of reading kuzushiji, the site provides high-resolution images of medieval documents side-by-side with transcriptions into type text, making it useful for interpreting documents yourself with a handy guide to their actual text.
女性関連資料 Josei Kanren Shiryō
This site, part of the Nara joshi daigaku databases, provides a series of documents related to women from the Edo period and the Meiji period. Each document’s page includes a brief explanation in Japanese. Some (but not all) of the pages include an automatic pop-up window with the readings of the text, making it easy to read and check.
伊勢物語の世界 Ise Monogatari no Sekai
This collection, also a part of the Nara joshi daigaku databases, uses the same system as above to examine Edo period texts related to Ise monogatari. Users click through the original text and a pop-up window provides the readings.
江戸時代紀行文集 Edo-jidai Kikō Bunshū
Another collection from Nara joshi daigaku, this page provides an interactive map of numerous travel accounts from the Edo period. Accounts that have the kuzushiji readings available open up in an overhead frame so that you can scroll through the text while clicking through pages of the original work.
春日権現霊験記繪巻 Kasuga Gongen Genki Emaki
As with the above, this Nara joshi daigaku collection of the Kasuga Gongen Genki emaki provides a pop-up window of the readings for the original text so you can follow along as you click through the handscroll’s visuals.
劇場訓蒙図彙 Shibai Kinmō Zui
This site focuses on an early nineteenth century kabuki text, with useful term search options for those looking for something specific. For kuzushiji practice, the original text can be opened in a side-by-side window of PDFs with an official typeset version that matches the source page-for-page.
『源氏物語』画像 Genji Monogatari Gazō
This site provides stunning copies of Genji monogatari, which have been scanned into a high-quality viewing platform in which the typeset text is overlaid. The user can control the heaviness of the opacity of the typeset text, so it is possible to toggle the readings as you work through the kuzushiji.
奈良絵本室町時代物語 (Hiroshima University) Nara Ehon Muromachi Jidai Monogatari
Hiroshima University’s Nara e-hon collection has one of the most fascinating and convenient methods for viewing kuzushiji readings side-by-side with their visual collections, which is a “glass-view” that accompanies their materials. With this feature, you can hover your mouse over the image, making the reading of calligraphic characters appear next to the small area of text you’re examining.
甲州法度之次第Kōshū hatto no shidai
Tokyo University also has a spectacular glass-view option for their Kōshū hatto no shidai handscroll, although this glass-view is not the small character-by-character mouseover, but appears in chunks for each section.
There are innumerable other archival resources for reading kuzushiji (the Waseda collections are notable, for example), but these are the main sources that also allow for reading aids so you can practice along with your primary sources.
Know of any other great sites for learning kuzushiji or practicing your reading? Let us know in the comments or shoot an email to email@example.com!