Reading Tekagamijō: Fragmentation and Reintegration in a Seventeenth-Century Calligraphy Album

Author: Edward Kamens orcid logo (Yale University)

  • Reading Tekagamijō: Fragmentation and Reintegration in a Seventeenth-Century Calligraphy Album


    Reading Tekagamijō: Fragmentation and Reintegration in a Seventeenth-Century Calligraphy Album



“Recycling and reuse” of materials indisputably characterizes the genre of calligraphy albums known as tekagami (“mirrors of exemplary hands”), and this is of course true of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library’s Tekagamijō, first assembled ca. 1670. It is indeed composed of dispersed textual out-takes and fragments of many kinds (dating from the eighth century to the seventeenth). Although these albums stabilize the condition of text fragments, their contents and structures often also remain fluid—and in fact, certain samples in the Tekagamijō were modified and replaced right up to the time of its acquisition for Yale in 1934. My studies of classical Japanese poetry have also been concerned with “recycling and reuse” in the textual dimension: waka are made up of borrowings, of rearranged and reassembled fragments of other poems in seemingly endless recycling chains. But so, in yet another sense, are anthologies of waka, which bring poems together from disparate points of origin and multiple contexts to create new arrangements that, in turn, allow for further recycling and reuse of their wholes and their parts as they flow through space and time. This article explores the resonance among these forms with a focus on examples of waka poems, reproduced in whole or in part, in the Tekagamijō.


Keywords: Japan, calligraphy, tekagami, poetry, recycle, reuse

How to Cite:

Kamens, E., (2023) “Reading Tekagamijō: Fragmentation and Reintegration in a Seventeenth-Century Calligraphy Album”, Ars Orientalis 52: 4. doi:



Published on
13 May 2023
Peer Reviewed

“This is one of the finest examples in the West of the large albums of old calligraphy fragments known as tekagami (mirror of hands).” So wrote Yoshiaki Shimizu and John M. Rosenfield as coauthors of the 1984 exhibition catalog Masters of Japanese Calligraphy, in their entry introducing the album known (somewhat redundantly, for lack of another knowable name) as the Tekagamijō 手鑑帖, then as now held in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library of Yale University (fig. 1) They continued, accurately but not without a hint of censure: “Created as collectors’ items or as models for calligraphy students, these albums began to appear in the early seventeenth century, when the enthusiasm for early writing spread among educated Japanese. To fill an album with writing samples from different periods, professional connoisseurs would pillage the heritage of the past, taking pages from books of waka 和歌 and cutting up old poetry scrolls and Buddhist sutras.”1

Album cover with floral textile design and brass fittings in the corners. There is an indecipherable inscription in the center.
Fig. 1.
Fig. 1.

Front cover of the Tekagamijō. Note the indecipherable inscription, floral textile design, and elaborate brass fittings. “5b.a” is the original Yale Association of Japan cataloging number.

In a catalog for an exhibition surveying and celebrating calligraphy as such, we may not be surprised to see these scholar-authors taking umbrage at the “pillaging” of what once were integral texts at the hands of “professional connoisseurs” working to meet a new and presumably profitable market demand. In these waning years of the first quarter of the twenty-first century, there are no doubt many who would feel much the same; and yet, we live and work in a time and place that may prompt us to think about fragments, fragmentation, as well as heritage and their uses and abuses in yet other ways. Shimizu and Rosenfield’s phrase “old calligraphy fragments” quite literally renders the Japanese term for the corpus of materials from which the content of tekagami was culled: kohitsugire 古筆切—that is, old (ko) ink-brush writings (hitsu) that have been cut up (-kire).

But were these damaging dismemberments of books and scrolls the unkindest cuts of all? Were they in some cases also, or otherwise, acts of preservation rather than desecration or disparaction?2 In destroying or perhaps in sustaining previously initiated and ongoing processes of deconstruction and dispersal, the makers and providers of tekagami were also constructing something new out of what already were vestiges of the past, or at least stabilizing the condition of some of those already scattered and thereby destabilized materials. How different is that kind of production from, say, the assembling of an anthology of texts (such as poems, stories, or the like), which entails the sundering or rupture of those contents from their original or other previous loci and their emplacement in a new one, where they can or must be read in ways that are different from theretofore? Or, for that matter, how different is this work from that of building a poem, or another kind of text, or work of art or architecture or music, out of materials borrowed or excised from elsewhere and reworked into a new form or form? Not so long ago, there was a moment in American cultural life in which the resurgent popularity of a somewhat old-fashioned domestic activity turned what had been a commonplace noun into a verb: “scrapbooking.” How unique—and to what extent transcultural—is the impulse to cut up saved bits of paper that have something to say about the past—one’s own past, or another’s—and, having pasted them into the pages of an album, to create a new thing to treasure, share, and bequeath to later viewers (fig. 2)?

Scrapbook page with newspaper clippings of articles and colored drawings of men, women, and children
Fig. 2.
Fig. 2.

Details from the scrapbook of Elizabeth Alice Townsend, Brooklyn, New York, 1829–35. Property of Miller-Cole Family. Photograph courtesy of Bonnie Yochelson

As a scholar working with literary texts, I too could be quick to join historians of art, such as the late Professors Shimizu and Rosenfield, and many others, in bristling at the evidence seen in a tekagami of the violence done to the integrity of texts—old or otherwise, revered as “heritage” or otherwise—on principle, especially in the case of calligraphy, which is text conceived or that has come to be viewed as visual art.3 But it should be obvious that there are other ways of looking at this matter, not the least of them being an attempt to understand the position and perspective of those “professional connoisseurs” of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and those of their clients. We live in an era in which collages and patchworks, scrapbooks, miscellanies, hodgepodges, and other mashups of parts as new wholes are utterly common and widespread cultural forms, and in which fragmentation in many registers of experience—not only in materials but also in cultural, political, social, and emotional phenomena of all kinds—is, for better or worse, a given condition of contemporary life, or, at the very least, a necessary phase in the coming-into-being of such assemblages of the scattered, tattered, and gathered. So it may be possible to “read” a tekagami in ways that might not have been likely to be articulated in early modern Japan, nor when it was acquired for Yale by the scholar and curator Asakawa Kan’ichi in 1934, nor, for that matter (and with all due respect), in the cultural climate of some thirty-five years ago, when the Yale album came to the attention of the organizers of the Masters of Calligraphy exhibition (sponsored jointly by the Asia Society Galleries and the Japan House Gallery in New York City) and when Shimizu and Rosenfield introduced it in the pages of that catalog.

It is, however, still true that the Tekagamijō is “one of the finest examples” of its kind in the West. Its name, which simply means “tekagami album,” hence redundant, is a customary quasi-title of unknown origin: another name or title of some kind is inscribed on the front cover of the album, but it is damaged and cannot be deciphered (fig. 3). Only two other albums that are comparable in dating, provenience, scale and structure, and the quality of their content, are known in the West, and both are in the United States. One is the album known as Mokagami 藻鑑 (“A Mirror of Gathered Seaweed”), formerly in the Mary Griggs Burke Collection and now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.4 The other, which is title-less (and of which Shimizu and Rosenfield apparently had no knowledge) is in the Knight Library and University of Oregon Archives in Eugene.5 A number of fine examples of tekagami, some of which are National Treasures or Important Cultural Properties, are in major Japanese museums and other collections in Japan: Japanese scholars of these materials regard all three of the examples in the United States as comparable to them. The four most highly regarded tekagami in Japanese collections are Moshiogusa 藻塩草 (“Sea Grass,” Kyoto National Museum6), Minu yo no tomo 見努世友 (“Companions of Times Unknown,” Idemitsu Museum of Arts, Tokyo7), Kanbokujō 翰墨城 (“Castle of Brush and Ink,” MOA Museum of Art, Atami8) and Ōtekagami (“Great Tekagami,” Yōmei Bunko, Kyoto9). All of these are designated kokuhō 国宝 (National Treasures), and all were compiled by one or another member of the several generations of the Kohitsu 古筆 family of professional authenticators and provisioners of prized calligraphy samples, as the Yale album is believed to have been as well.10 (The Kohitsu authenticators were also involved in various stages of processing at least some of the content of the Oregon tekagami.)11

Photo of accordion-style album with writings and drawings on the pages
Fig. 3.
Fig. 3.

Tekagamijō, ca. 1670. Accordion-style album; 1550 ☓ 39.4 cm. Yale Association of Japan Collection, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University

This essay focuses on the Yale album as exemplary of the category as a whole—each example of which of course differs somewhat from the others. For example, in contrast to the colorful names attached to the abovementioned and best known of these albums, the name by which the Yale album is known is little more than a placeholder: tekagami 手鑑 (lit., “a mirror of hands”) is the generic name for such albums, and - (i.e., chō 帖) simply denotes a bound volume. Chō is often simply a counter for the number of volumes in a multipart set, and so in a sense this quasi-name might be taken to mean “one whole album of calligraphy samples.” “Tekagamijō may be Asakawa’s invention or may already have been attached to the album well before it came into his hands. (A similar “generic” name, Ōtekagami, which means no more than “big,” “great,” or “grand [i.e., splendid and important]” tekagami, is the moniker by which yet another album, long in the possession of the Konoe family and now housed in the Kyoto National Museum, is known; another later album with the same name is held in the British Library.) When Asakawa catalogued the Yale album in 1934, he noted its contents as consisting of “140 pieces of original autographs of famous Japanese calligraphers of all ages between the 8th and early 17th centuries.”12 In its present condition, we can identify 139 “pieces of original autographs” in the album. The discrepancy in number is one of several indications that the contents of the album have changed over time; the residue of paste where removals and substitutions have been made is visible in several places. This fluidity is also a characteristic of most other examples and is evident in them from similar visual traces of acts of alteration. Furthermore, in the case of the Yale album, a letter cited in the records of the Yale Association of Japan indicates that changes were being made to its content and condition in the weeks just prior to Asakawa’s purchase of it.13 The Oregon album is another example that appears to have been altered and significantly expanded over time.

Asakawa was correct in using the term autograph in its traditional sense in his catalog entry when he described its contents as texts inscribed by a named (or nameable) individual’s hand (rather than, as more commonly understood, an inscription of a writer’s own name). On the other hand, the qualifier “original” is something of a problem, since it is more than obvious that in many cases the samples included in even the finest of these albums are authenticated copies of writings in the hand of the persons named as writers. The all-important names of the represented calligraphers (not the expert copiers, of course) do appear in the Tekagamijō as they do in most but not all examples of the genre, in cartouche-like labels (called kiwamefuda 極め札) attached in most cases to the album leaves at the upper right of each sample along with the first few words of the inscribed text. (A few such labels are missing in the Yale album or have been relocated from one board to another over time. See figs. 8 and 9 for examples.) These cartouche-like labels also carry the seal of one or another of the professional authenticators whose verification of their provenance preceded their inclusion in the album. All these materials are affixed to accordion-bound boards. Analysis of the boards used in the Yale album is not yet definitive, but it appears that they are of late nineteenth- or twentieth-century manufacture. This suggests that the album was prepared and perhaps “updated” so that it could be presented in optimal condition at around the time that it became available for Asakawa’s examination and acquisition—as also indicated in the abovementioned archival letter.

Although the Tekagamijō contains more calligraphy samples than some smaller albums but fewer than others (compared to 298 in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Mokagami and 319 in the Oregon album), it does share the basic internal organization of contents common throughout the genre—that is, the accordion-style structure (samples are pasted on both sides of each board; the entire volume must be turned over in one direction or the other in order to see all of its contents) and the grouping and sequencing of samples according to a well-established hierarchical pattern that begins with royal sovereigns and consorts, and continues with other categories of persons of note for various cultural accomplishments—not only calligraphy. (See table 1.) The Yale album also shares with other outstanding examples such distinguishing features as the fine (if quite worn) quality of its cloth covers and decorative metal protectors affixed to the corners of those covers, and the affixation of landscape paintings on the inner surface of the album’s front and back covers. (In the Tekagamijō, these bear the signature of the court painter Kanō Masunobu 狩野益信 (1624–1694) (fig. 4). The presence of such features, as noted by the book historian Sasaki Takahiro 佐々木孝浩 and others, is an indication that the patron for whom the album was assembled was likely to have been a person of considerable wealth.14

Table 1.

Standard Sequence of Calligraphers in Tekagami Albums*






Regents and prime ministers




Scions of the Mikohidari House**


Prince Shōtoku and other sutra copyists


Distinguished calligraphers and poets


Scions of the Sesonji House


Cloistered princes and abbots and abbesses**


High-ranking clergy and poet priests


Renga (linked verse) masters


Warriors and military commanders



Standard Sources for Content of Samples in Tekagami Albums


Buddhist texts


Japanese poetry


Prose fiction


Texts of scrolls narrating origin tales of religious institutions


Chinese classics


Letters and documents



  • *This table is adapted from those in various presentations by Sasaki Takahiro.

  • **Indicates categories that may include samples by women

Ink painting of homes along rivers, mountains, and a waterfall
Fig. 4.
Fig. 4.

Paintings with the signature of Kanō Masunobu (1624–1694): (left) inside front cover of the Tekagamijō; (right) inside back cover

My ideas about the Yale album stem from several years of engagement in its study with an international team of scholars.15 My goal here is to consider it as a prime site for interrogation of this particular instance of the “recycling and reuse” of materials that have been and are of significance in the sphere of Japanese art, literature, and culture writ large. At the same time, I have found myself “reading” this book in the present moment (aided to a great extent by digital access) from a perspective that accepts fragments, the fragmented, and processes of fragmentation as materials, conditions, and acts that are significant in and of themselves and that can, in many instances, precede and enable subsequent processes of creative (re-)integration, or, as we often but perhaps too readily claim, the “creation of new meaning.”16

What does a tekagami mean? I pursue this question both within and from outside what one might loosely call the Japanese (or East Asian) context, because otherwise such “new meaning” might run the risk of cultural irrelevance but could also fail to find its way into registers of the new. Our museums, libraries, and collections are full of artifacts of our many heritages that are both familiar and far less so, some of which are unique, others exemplary of their kind, some thoroughly (or even excessively) studied, others less so if at all, for hosts of reasons that have much to do with how we direct our attention to them as elements of “heritage.”17 What can this particular artifact say to us, or what might one venture to say of and for it? I will draw upon the voices of several others in addressing this question.

One such voice comes from a time and place far from early modern Japan. “Fragmentism searches for integration of a past with a totality; transforms by multiple readings in an object non-terminate and unlimited, traversing time and space.” The Argentine conceptual artist Marie Orensanz (born 1936) offered this “manifesto” in the form of a trilingual poster or broadside in 1978 (fig. 5).18 In it, a grainy photograph hovers above the three successive renderings of her definition, which is printed in a florid, italic, serif-heavy font that (to my eye) contrasts markedly with the bleak, gnomic photo element. The image within that image is a shard of marble held in the palm of a hand (quite possibly the artist’s): on the marble one can just make out a few straight lines and dots of ink or paint and the partial form of a figure mounted on a bicycle that almost but does not quite come into focus. This is, quite literally, a photograph of fragment--of a broken piece of stone; other such shards and blocks of marble are the surfaces on which Orensanz has created a number of her other works.19

Trilingual poster with a black and white image of a shard of marble held in the palm of a hand
Figure 5.
Figure 5.

Marie Orensanz (Argentine, b. 1936). Fragmentismo, 1978. Halftone print; 30 × 21 cm. Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, 2017.M.17

The artist’s choice of Spanish, English, and French for her manifesto suggests their assumed status as a triumvirate of linguae francae in the settings in which her work was most likely to be seen. (She signed and dated the work in Paris.) But surely there is no need to impose a concomitant limit on the potential utility of her articulation in efforts to understand any example of what we might call the “phenomena of the fragmentary” (or, after Orensanz, “fragmentism”) encountered in the context of one culture or another, one form or genre or another, or one time or space or another. Her visual object/objecto/objet combining image (a photograph or perhaps a fragment of one) and script (a repeating, reflexively redefining sentence) instrumentalizes certain key words that I too can deploy here in exploring an object that is likewise composed of parts (fragments) from its past that find integration and are transformed, through one or another acts of reading (lecturas, lectures), into a new object that is non-terminate (incabado, inachevé) and unlimited (ilimitado, ilimité).20

The greater part of the space or surface of Orensanz’s object is occupied (where it is not blank) by text (that is, three versions of the same script), but depending on how the viewer looks or reads, it too ceases to be text (as such) in the whole object’s becoming; or rather, it transforms into another kind of text, another kind of thing (cosa) than it would otherwise be were the elements of “image” and “text” not both present and speaking to one another, and to us as viewers, as they do. The same is true for the “integrated totality” or thing that is the sum of its parts that is the Tekagamijō, specifically, as well as other albums of its kind. For the majority of samples in the Yale album and in tekagami in general are indeed fragmentary, in at least two ways. As already noted, they have been literally cut out of those texts of which they were once a part (scrolls and bound books, as Shimizu and Rosenfield indicated, but also documents such as letters that were transmitted at first as folded papers). But these “cut outs” are also fragmentary in that they often begin (if one literally reads them) in medias res with respect to their sources (the “original texts” of poetry, narrative, scripture, etc.) of which they were whole or partial copies or excerpts; just as frequently, they abruptly break off in what would seem to be mid-phrase or mid-sentence. In other words, the texts in tekagami are not functioning as they would if they were still complete copies of excerpts from their sources, as in most cases they once were: rather, their primary functions as parts of these albums are—that is, have become—material and visual. Thus, certain aspects of their cultural significance have come to be privileged, or have been superimposed, over others in the very process of their assemblage in these albums. That transformation is one among several characteristics of these albums that is of particular interest to scholars today.

But are the samples in a tekagami meant to be read in any literal way? The transformation they have undergone, into parts that make up a new multi-part whole, compromises that function, subordinating it to others if not altogether canceling it out. This has not prevented scholars from examining them closely, at the level of the word and the letter (i.e., character, ji, kana) precisely for the purpose of investigating such granular differences as they may reveal between the texts that have become these parts-of-the-whole and other manuscripts, versions, and renderings of their source texts. Few of the samples in the Tekagamijō are one-off renderings of their texts: virtually all are copies of other texts, and many are copies of copies. The same can be said for other albums of its kind. Consequently, until relatively recently, most of the work done in tekagami studies by Japanese scholars other than those with an interest in calligraphy per se (such as Komatsu Shigemi 小松茂美) has been conducted by literary and book historians with the goal of adding detail and data to the ever-expanding though theoretically finite horizon of extant versions of texts (especially of poetry). Relatively recently, however, there has been a significant uptick of interest in the cultural context and conditions of the albums’ production and provenance—that is, their curatorial aspects and their place in the traditions of art (especially calligraphy) connoisseurship and collecting. This trend has in turn given rise to the concomitant development of questions about how to approach the study of a single tekagami album as a coherent entity unto itself.21 One such question in that vein preoccupies me: Is a tekagami (as such) a text?

But what is a text? In her category-defying book, Spontaneous Particulars: The Telepathy of Archives, the American poet Susan Howe reminds us that “the English word ‘text’ comes from Medieval Latin textus ‘style or texture of a work,’ literally ‘thing woven,’ from the past participle stem of textere: ‘to weave, to join, fit together, construct.’”22 Directly above the paragraph that begins with that sentence is a color photograph showing a detail of an embroidered silk-on-linen sampler, the work of Rebekah White of North Salem, Massachusetts, in 1766 (fig. 6). We see an elegantly dressed man proffering a posey to a similarly attired woman (it is a courting scene); other women (one of whom holds a parasol aloft: the suitor’s mother?) witness this encounter. Nearby, grazing and gamboling livestock (almost certainly sheep) and, dimly seen in the background, a man who may be tending that flock are also picked out in stitches over a ground of two or three shades of green. This is the “cut out” from the whole sampler that Howe has shared with us. If we search for an image of this sampler in its entirety (fig. 7), we learn that this is but the lower register of the entire design, or about a third of it in full.23 Above this portion, as we might expect or assume, and surrounded by floral details, is an embroidered alphabet, or rather two and a half renderings of the English alphabet, in four lines of lettering that start and stop without interruption to the extent possible in the space allotted to this part of the overall design, breaking off abruptly after the letter G in the midst of the third (unfinished) rendering. (Close observers will note that, in keeping with the orthographic conventions of the time, Rebekah White’s alphabets do not include the letter J.) A row of abstract floral forms (which contrast with the more detailed and lifelike peonies and other flowers embroidered at the top and elsewhere in the sampler) separates that section from the maker’s signature below: “Rebekah White wrought this.”

Embroidered silk-on-linen sampler of men, women, and grazing livestock
Figure 6.
Figure 6.

Rebekah White (American, 1753–1823). Detail of embroidered sampler, 1766. Made in North Salem, Massachusetts. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Barbara Schiff Sinauer, 1984, 1984.331.8.

Embroidered silk-on-linen sampler with floral details around the border, an alphabet in the center, and a scene of people and grazing livestock in the lower thirds
Figure 7.
Figure 7.

Rebekah White (American, 1753–1823). Embroidered sampler, 1766. Made in North Salem, Massachusetts. Embroidered silk on linen; 41.9 × 43.8 cm. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Barbara Schiff Sinauer, 1984, 1984.331.8.

In its way, to my eye at least, this page in Howe’s book (like quite a few others in it) looks rather like Orensanz’s manifesto poster, with its deliberate but not articulated juxtaposition of image and text. The second half of Howe’s most recent book, Concordance, goes further: it is composed entirely of images devised from scraps of texts culled from here and there, juxtaposed often at angles and overlapped with one another, but occupying only a fraction of each page, onto which (prior to mass printing) she attached them with tape.24 Is this a poem? Is it a text? It presents itself (or Howe offers it) in a manner that, if nothing else, defies conventional reading but demands, or at least invites, some other kind of seeing, perceiving, witnessing. Howe’s syntax, or syntaxes, are her own, just as are her choices of what to show, how to arrange what is shown, and how, in making a new thing out of selected parts of others, to say and share something about those parts, about their selection, about their process of coming together. She thus allows them to speak for themselves, to one another, and to the viewer/reader—and perhaps for herself as well, if silently, and not in anything that is much like most speech—or writing. Howe’s Concordance is a kind of tekagami, of and in print, its parts sewn together with invisible threads (these are figures she works with in Spontaneous Particulars) that are just as out-of-sight and out-of-hearing as the thoughts thought and sensations sensed when she first saw them and later stitched them together.25

The thoughts thought and the sensations sensed as the compilers of tekagami made their selections and pasted their chosen samples onto the boards of the albums they would then present to their clients are likewise irretrievable, though some viewers and readers may feel enabled by what they see in the results to make inferences and projections. This is in part because, in contrast to the two books by Howe discussed above—which, as I have suggested, seem to have a discernible if elusive and opaque syntax of their own (which is their beauty and power)—a tekagami as a whole, integrated entity may be said to have a somewhat more readily perceivable sense-abetting syntax or “grammatical structure” in that, conventionally, its parts—its scraps and shards of exemplary text writing—are presented according to the previously mentioned sequential pattern that we see repeated across the horizon of the best-known examples. But I will go further to suggest, in response to my question about whether or not they are texts, that tekagami have other sense-making features (although this of course depends a good deal on how we think sense—beyond sensation—is made).

For one thing, there is perhaps some sense to be made of the poeticizing names given to or otherwise acquired by some of the major tekagami already mentioned above. The titles of the Tokyo National Museum’s Moshiogusa, “Sea Grass,” and the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Mokagami, “Sea Grass Mirror,” both derive from the trope associating flowing calligraphic script, and brush-and-ink writing in general, with drifting seaweed (mo) and the related figuration of written texts—especially of poems—as sea grass that has been “raked” and gathered at water’s edge.26 Minu yo no tomo, on the other hand, is an adaptation of phrases that open the thirteenth section of Yoshida Kenkō’s 吉田兼好 miscellany Tsurezuregusa 徒然草 (“Essays in Idleness”: more literally, “writings [i.e., grasses, kusa] jotted to assuage tedium [tsurezure], ca. 1330/32): “Nothing gives more comforting pleasure than when one sits alone in the light of a lamp and, by opening a book, makes fellows of people of times that you yourself did not experience” (that is, in the “unseen past”): Hitori tomoshibi no moto ni fumi wo hirogete, minu yo no hito wo tomo to suru zo, koyonau nagusamu waza naru. ひとり灯のもとに文をひろげて、見ぬ世の人を友とするぞ、こよなう慰むわざなる.27

These names or titles are more than apt as indicators of the primary cultural meaning of tekagami: they are, first and foremost, repositories of written traces, previously scattered, now gathered, filling what might otherwise be the viewer’s or reader’s “idle” time with a rich array of visual stimuli, models of what earlier “hands” have done with brush and ink, and thus presenting a sequential and panoramic survey of calligraphic styles as exercised in Japan by writers from remote up to relatively more recent times. The use of Kenkō’s figure of “people of the [otherwise] unseen past” in the name of the Idemitsu album places that tekagami (and by extension others of its kind) in something like the same category of such other books (fumi) as fictional tales (monogatari), which have long been said to be best suited to the role of “filling idle time” (tsurezure) in a manner that is soothing (nagusamu) and in touch with the sentiments and sensations experienced by other men and women who, in earlier times, similarly sought diversion and solace in their pages.28

But in the case of tekagami, what there is to be seen on its bound pages is not a beguiling fictional narrative, but a series of disaggregated pieces of writing by a lot of men and just a few women of earlier times, usually ranging from eighth-century examples up to those from something close to the time of the album’s compilation. What relates them to one another is not their content but their status as artifacts of a history of acts of writing and the “use and reuse” of the results thereof. Furthermore, since calligraphy samples in tekagami are, as I have emphasized, conventionally arranged into sub-sequences based on social categories that also mirror hierarchical rankings, they may also suggest or constitute a typology of hands that might be mapped onto a corresponding model of social strata, suggesting that “the most elite (royals) wrote and write thus, the somewhat less elite wrote and write thus,” et cetera. Overall, however, the implied statement made by the contents and structure of these albums, considered as a whole, might better be considered to be something along the lines of “esteemed personage X wrote [this] thus, and esteemed personage Y wrote [this] thus … ,” in a repeating display of traces of ink brushed onto paper in many different moments across time (and space). As a result, in examination of any given leaf or sample or the album as a whole, we can perceive dual or multiple significations still signaling by turns, long after their inscription, in something of the manner of a palimpsest: the conventionally coherent text-ness of texts in a tekagami may be to some extent compromised but ultimately is not entirely effaced, whether the text in a given sample is intact or fragmentary and even if, in this setting, its foremost and most readily apparent function is as an artifact of the work of a writing hand (te), “mirrored” but refracted in the manner and context in which it is presently seen.

Thus, it is perhaps the “artifactuality” of the contents of a tekagami, piece by piece and in aggregate, to which we are asked by it (and its maker) to give our attention, rather than to its compromised or effaced and intermittently interrupted textuality. But are these two aspects so easily distinguished one from the other? Don’t artifacts, whether whole or fragmentary, speak and tell stories, and aren’t they abetted in doing so by the ways in which they are arranged, sequenced, displayed, or packaged? In this connection I think of the paintings, room furnishings, and a host of other artifacts in various media arranged just so, and unalterably, in the galleries of the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia or Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge, England: the ensembles that the visitor sees there today are kept just as they are at the insistence of the founder/collectors, to tell their stories—about their tastes, their resources, their associations with artists, dealers, and so on, and thus to shape the experience of the visitor as something rather like Kenkō’s idealized encounters with the “unseen people of the past” in the pages of his books. At the Barnes or in Kettle’s Yard, multiple agencies are at work: the paintings and other objects on view each act on their own, and together, but their original acquirers and arrangers have ensured that they too can continue to exercise their own orchestrating agency. Much the same can be said, I think, about tekagami, their contents, and their arrangers—except that the latter expect, allow, and practice subsequent alteration of their arrangements.

Across East Asia, the agency of the autograph itself has retained an especially productive and even reproductive vitality. The calligraphic trace has long been seen as an embodiment and visually communicating reflection of the personhood and personality of the writer, which, through faithful copying (without which the tekagami would not be possible) and re-presentation (which is the tekagami’s mission) can be revived and, in a sense, perpetuated. The writing displayed in such an album, and the album itself, is a reflection or refraction (in that it has been repurposed and thus redirected, as light can be refracted through a lens) that in principle, if well cared for, will not fade, as does an image in a mirror when the mirrored entity moves away from its reflecting field. If well cared for, appropriately curated, it will continue to display itself as the preserved trace (or copied trace) of someone’s moving hand (te 手) and the brush (hitsu, fude 筆) that that hand held. And if, as I have suggested, what that brush held in that hand, what words in sentences or verses that ink formed, and what the resulting text “said” have ceased to be what is primarily being said in and by it, the new thing that is the album nevertheless does say, in its own way, “here is writing—fine writing: see, here, how writing has been done, by these men and women of our past.”

At the same time, a particular kind of reading of the individual micro-texts within the macro-text that is a tekagami is by no means foreclosed nor without practical scholarly utility, though it may frustrate the reader who might (mistakenly) seek other more conventional benefits from the parsing of its lines of text. And so, even if they are not “legible” in the conventional, holistic, and usually uninterrupted syntactic sense-making manner that we generally expect of texts, I want to suggest that tekagami, as whole constructed entities, are texts—that is, they are if we understand a text to be almost anything that holds our attention in asking us to examine and understand its syntax, derive some meaning from it, and thereby come to terms with, interpret for ourselves and others, and absorb what it contains, shows, or says.29 At least one of the things that a tekagami shows or tells as a text is the story of its own coming into being, its facture, but it does so in a manner that is more like that of painting, sculpture, or building than, say, that of most kinds of narrative texts. We may need to say that, while resembling certain other kinds of text assemblages such as anthologies and certain kinds of scrapbooks—or other collages, pastiches, and bricolages (or even so-called “encyclopedic” museum collections)—a tekagami is also a thing in a category, or sub-category of these, by itself.

Or is it? For an installation with the Tekagamijō as centerpiece that was on view in the Yale University Art Gallery in the spring of 2019, my students and colleagues and I tested that question by showing the album adjacent to other objects that have perceivably analogous structures and forms, in both literary and visual genres. Also on view, inter alia, was a poetry anthology—a scroll copy of the early eleventh-century Wakan rōeishū 和漢朗詠集, which is composed of poems in Chinese in fragmented forms (excerpted couplets) and Japanese poems (whole) from a host of sources arranged in thematic categories; so was a folding screen, a nineteenth-century harimaze byōbu 貼交屏風, on the surfaces of which somewhat randomly selected text excerpts of poems and narratives in both Chinese and Japanese on both shikishi 色紙 (square papers) and tanzaku 短冊 (rectangular papers), as well as an assortment of small paintings that appear to come from an album of Tale of Genji illustrations, have been attached in what presents itself as a balanced geometrical arrangement (fig. 8). The former artifact is certainly a text meant to be read in the literal sense, while also admired as a visually pleasing object; the latter is an artifact made to be seen as a composition (and, like all screens, to serve in its particular role as a room furnishing among other things), and only secondarily if at all are its arranged elements meant to be read, individually or even in conversation with one another, in any conventional manner, although they can be. Through these juxtapositions, we sought to draw attention to what we saw as commonalities in the collective forms and structures of these items; we did not seek to extrapolate from our display of these outcomes of acts of “scattering and gathering” any kind of essentializing or generalizing claim. If anything, we perhaps inadvertently invoked suggestions of a certain kind of Panofskian “mental habit” (with respect to assemblages of parts into new wholes) with these adjacencies.30

Six-panel folding screen with mounted ink writings and drawings against a gold background
Figure 8.
Figure 8.

Harimaze byōbu, assembled 19th century (?). Six-panel folding screen; ink and color on paper, gold paper mounting; 137 × 322 cm. Yale University Art Gallery, Gift of Alex Kerr, B.A. 1974, 2016.87.9

Given that orientation and goal, it made sense for us to decide not to include any example of an object that, in an installation with not just one but two tekagami at its core (both the Tekagamijō and the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Mokagami were on view), might well have seemed an obvious and perhaps necessary item: a mirror. I turn perhaps belatedly to the question of what “mirror” (kagami) might mean in the term tekagami, which we readily translate as “mirror of hands.” Does that make any sense? I find it interesting that kohitsugire, the term for the stuff of which the albums are made, prioritizes the instrumentality of the brush in the production of writing (as well as the “cutting up” of the results), while tekagami prioritizes the hand (or hands). In what sense do these “mirrors” display or reflect or refract the workings of hands in the past? Perhaps a clue to this can be found by comparing another figurative use of the word mirror in the titles of a group of historical or quasi-historical medieval narratives: Ōkagami 大鏡 (“The Great Mirror”), Azuma kagami 吾妻鏡 (“The Eastern Mirror”), Mizukagami 水鏡 (“The [Unseen] Water Mirror”), and others make up the genre of so-called kagamimono, prose texts that offer rendered versions—in this case, somewhat more refracted than reflected—of significant and memorable events, “showing” their readers lively and (to a greater or lesser degree) artfully embellished representations of the past, thus shaping their perceptions thereof, creating and fixing memory.31 In them, as in tekagami, the mirror then is a space filled with content that is exposed to its observer or consumer; it does not show the viewers’ or readers’ own images back at them, as does a “looking glass”; rather, it invites and enables the viewer to explore content “within it” that will inform, alter, and configure consciousness. Notably, both the Latin speculum and our English mirror have etymological roots in verbs that mean “to see” or “to look at”: specere, mirare. But mirror, as such, apparently comes to us through Middle French mirour, one meaning of which, tellingly, was “a person deserving imitation.”32 Kagami, on the other hand, clearly means “a space wherein images/shadows/reflections/auras (kage) are seen (-mi). Thus, in the mirour/mirror/kagami, the potential modeling and training function of the album, where the admired workings of the “hands” of the past are displayed for imitation among other things, meets Kenkō’s search in the pages of books for the good company of estimable companions, rising like ghosts—shades—from former times.

As it happens, Kenkō also had something quite telling to say about mirrors. For argumentative purposes, he ventured an account of their operations in the course of a disquisition on void spaces and how they may come to be occupied with matter:

When the owner of a house is present, unauthorized persons will not enter it at will. A house that has no owner may be entered at will by any vagrant who may come along and do mischief. Foxes and owls and such, undeterred by human presence, will blithely take up residence, and I am told that even such despicable creatures as tree spirits may be seen haunting the place.

Likewise, since there is neither color nor form within a mirror, the images of all manner of things enter and are reflected there. If there were color and form in a mirror, it would not reflect colors and forms in that way.

A void is good at allowing things to enter. Is not the capacity of our mind to lend itself to all manner of thoughts as it wishes due to the fact that it has no controlling presence that owns it? If there were such a controlling presence in the mind, that host of matters would not be able to enter into the space in which the mind is lodged as it does.33

Despite its naïveté with respect to optical physics, surely excusable on the grounds of its deployment for rhetorical purposes as well as its time and place, I find Kenkō’s description of the space and the work of the mirror oddly suggestive of why and how a tekagami is, in some sense, a mirror, or at least why it might be so named: not so much because of its reflecting or refracting functions, but rather if imagined as a space, or vessel, into which matter (hand-brushed writings of the past, in this case) can enter because (or rather as if) there is nothing else there. The compiler sets out to present a systematically ordered display of prized materials: he begins with the tabula rasa of his accordion-style bound book, then fills it with those materials, all of which hold but will not necessarily reveal their own individual stories of how they were made and where they have been. Up to that point, those materials have been in motion, passing from hand to hand, space to space: now they come to rest, at least for the present, in a single, stabilized, coordinated space, from which a new story—new meanings—issue forth.

I think of the Japanese poem (the classical waka, that is) in very similar terms: it is a vessel, a very simple form really, into which matter is poured. That matter is, of course, words, and by and large they are words that have long been in motion and have previously been captured and anchored within other poems, but that remain free to be recaptured and reanchored in new ones, over and over and over again; and by virtue of having been used in poems previously, they become the matter that will and must be used again in just this way. I bring this up not just because poem texts predominate in the content of tekagami text samples, but rather to offer one final structural analogy. For, like the anthology, the harimaze screen, or for that matter the eclectic museum that strives to be encyclopedic or to tell its own special story (as in the Barnes or Kettle’s Yard), the Japanese poem is a space—admittedly a rather modest, small-scale one—into which resonant, prized materials are loaded, having been seized, or caught in mid-motion as it were, on the way from wherever they have been (in other poems) to wherever they may be going (into other poems ad infinitum).

Let me demonstrate this with some poems that appear in the Tekagamijō itself, with attention to how they appear there but also to how they say what they say, as poems. The leaf shown as figure 9 is one of the few in the album displaying a woman’s hand: it is identified as the writing of Abutsu Zenni 阿仏禅尼 (the Nun Abutsu; died 1283), a well-known and much admired poet and teacher who, after a career at court, married into the Mikohidari 御子左 lineage of Fujiwara no Shunzei 藤原俊成 and Teika 定家 and eventually took vows, as did her husband Tameie 為家. The leaf bears transcriptions of a series of poems from the fifth of the chapters of love poems (koi no uta 恋歌) in the Kokin wakashū 古今和歌 (poems 816–20); but a close look reveals that the sequence is broken at its outset: the first three five-beat lines (ku 句) of the first poem are missing, while the remaining four poems are whole. Thus:

Ink writing mounted on leaf paper
Figure 9.
Figure 9.

Tekagamijō panel ura 63: “Abutsu Zenni. Tameie-kyō no musume [sic]. Ama no sumu tefu

Watatsumi no wagami kosu nami tachikaheri わたつわたつみのわが身こす浪立ち返り

has been lopped off from

ama no sumu tefu uramitsuru kana あまのすむてふうらみつる哉34

This leaf has not only been “pillaged,” as Shimizu and Rosenfield put it: it has also been subjected to amputation. It still fulfills the task of displaying what the viewer is meant to see as Abutsu’s hand, but its integrity, such as it was—as a part of what was no doubt a much more complete rendering of the revered anthology, or a part thereof—has been lost. Its reuse here redefines what it now signifies.

Compare this to the panel shown in figure 10. It contains three samples, and in that respect, among others, it is unusual: most of the panels of the Tekagamijō have only one large sample, or at the most two, but this is the only one with three pieces on its surface. This is in part what suggests that it has been curated (or re-curated) more than once, as its components literally were recycled and reused. The kiwamefuda at lower right identifies the sample beside it as the hand of Fujiwara no Shunzei 藤原俊成 (Toshinari), and its content is a series of lines from a long poem (chōka 長歌)—so it is, ipso facto, fragmentary. The kiwamefuda at lower left (where it does not really belong) identifies the leaf above it as writing in the hand of Shunzei’s son, Kyōgoku Kōmon Teika kyō 京極黄門定家卿 or Fujiwara no Teika 藤原定家 (Sadaie); it also reproduces the first four characters inscribed there: 仍両相公(nao, ryōshōkō) “and then, the two prime ministers [took their seats at the head of the room].” This is the beginning of an excerpt from Chōshūki 長秋記, the diary of the courtier Minamoto no Morotoki 源師時 (1077–1136). The sample in the upper right has no accompanying kiwamefuda, but it is unmistakably in Teika’s hand (or a copy thereof). It contains four fully transcribed poems by Fujiwara no Ieyoshi 藤原家良 (1192–1264), who was, in his youth, attached to Teika’s literary circle and is known to have sought poetic guidance from him. Kuboki Hideo has confirmed that this leaf is a section of a now-dispersed manuscript copy of an erstwhile (now lost ) Ieyoshi shū 家良集—a collection of his poems—attributed to Teika and known as Goshugire 五首切 (“The Five-Poem Fragments”), since its scattered pieces tend to show five poems (in a total of ten lines of writing) per page.35 The extant leaves of Goshugire itself are scattered: we are in this case looking at a fragment of the fragmented, which has been pruned yet further because the sample in the Yale album offers only four poems (eight lines).36 We can surmise that, as the dispersed leaves of the Goshugire passed from owner to owner, that which eventually came to rest in the Tekagamijō was further trimmed, perhaps to create yet one more collectible and saleable fragment containing just one poem in Teika’s hand (or what was understood to be Teika’s hand).

Three mounted samples of ink writings on leaf paper
Figure 10.
Figure 10.

Tekagamijō panel ura 43: “Shunzei-kyō, ‘iro fukaku’; Kyōgoku Kōmon Teika kyō, nao ryōshōkō”

Here again, let us focus on the first poem on the leaf, which reads:

furu yuki no sasanami shiroki Niho no umi no kohori no uhe ni urakaze zo fuku ふるゆきのさゝなみしろきにほのうみのこほりのうへにうらかせそふく37

For argument’s sake, allow me to subject this poem to a kind of Morettian “distant reading.” My purpose in doing so is to show what I mean if I assert, resorting to near hyperbole, that a poem such as this is just as much an assemblage of fragments, recycled and reused, as were the leaves of the Goshugire itself, and as are all the contents of a tekagami. Online databases offering word-thread searching capability reveal there are 450 poems in the digitally available corpus of waka texts that contain the line “furu yuki no” (falling snow); three that have “sasanami shiroki” (whitened waves), and 499 that use the word sasanami in this or other ways; 183 that have “Niho no umi” (one of the names of Lake Biwa favored by poets, and closely linked with sasanami); 87 with “kohori no uhe ni” (on top of the ice); and 197 that have “ura kaze zo fuku” (the wind blows across the bay)—all of course arranged in orders different from that of this Ieyoshi shū example. For good measure, let me add that the same database yields 93 hits for the use of the phrase watatsumi no—that is, the phrase that comes first in the amputated three lines that begin the first of the Kokinshū poems on the Tekagamijō Abutsu leaf—and 122 for watatsumi alone (shorn of the particle no).

I am aware that such dissection of poems may seem to be yet another way of effacing their “poeticity,” but I would suggest otherwise. It is, precisely, the background murmur of the previous uses and reuses of each word and phrase, and of the images that they invoke when combined as they are in such poems as these, that yield poeticity, and in doing so those renewable energies are released for yet more poem making in the future. My vision of waka poem making is indeed one in which the creative mind of the poet seizes shards of language that are in motion, in memory or in text or both, and temporarily—for the lifetime of the poem—stops them in their tracks, arranged and held down, like tiles or broken bits of glass or ceramic in a mosaic design. There they rest, “for the time being”—that is, for as long as the design holds, unless or until its parts are, for one reason or another (such as new poem making) disturbed and put into motion once more for redistribution. The waka poem is a small thing: the world of stuff out of which it can be made, though unlimited (ilimitado, ilimité), is huge, and it crowds the mind and memory of the poet with swarms of matter, awaiting new and repeated use.

“Quantum mechanics and experiments with particles have taught us that the world is a continuous, restless swarming of things, a continuous coming to light and disappearance of ephemeral entities. A set of vibrations, as in the switched-on hippie world of the 1960s. A world of happenings, not of things.” So writes the generous explicator of science Carlo Rovelli.38 By these lights, perhaps a waka poem, or a calligraphy album that contains leaves on which poems and other texts are written, whether intact or in a fragmented condition like that of the manuscripts that have been “pillaged” to create it, is not just a sum of fragmented things but a “happening”—a gathering of the once and future scattered, a momentary coming-to-rest of “swarms” of shards of matter brought together in a space in which, and displayed in a manner in which, for neither the first nor the last time, we are invited to ponder why and how we make and unmake things, and what their lives and afterlives can and will be.

Author Biography

Edward Kamens, PhD (Yale University), 1982, is Sumitomo Professor Emeritus of Japanese Studies at Yale University. Major publications include The Three Jewels: A Study and Translation of Minamoto Tamenori’s Sanbōe (1988); Utamakura, Allusion, and Intertextuality in Traditional Japanese Poetry (1997); The Buddhist Poetry of the Great Kamo Priestess: Daisaiin Senshi and Hosshin wakashū (1990); Heian Japan: Centers and Peripheries, edited with Mikael Adolphson and Stacie Matsumoto (2007); Waka and Things, Waka as Things (2017); and articles in the Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies and the Journal of Japanese Studies. E-mail:


  1. Yoshiaki Shimizu and John Rosenfield, Masters of Japanese Callligraphy, 8th–19th Century (New York: Asia House Galleries and Japan House Gallery, 1984), 92–95.
  2. From the Greek for “torn to pieces, to render in sunder or in pieces.” See Thomas McFarland, “Introduction: Fragmented Modalities and the Criteria of Romanticism,” in Romanticism and the Forms of Ruin: Wordsworth, Coleridge, the Modalities of Fragmentation (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2014), 4.
  3. Andrew Pekarik, in a 1985 article for Apollo titled “Japanese Calligraphy and Self-Expression,” posited a definition of calligraphy as “deliberately artistic writing”; Apollo 121.276 (1985): 84. He showed that in the latter stages of the history of Japanese calligraphy (roughly from the twelfth century) that did come to be the case. More generally, what we might identify as “calligraphy” is writing that has come to be seen as worthy of preservation, transmission, and admiration for a host of reasons and factors that are not ipso facto based on a notion of what is or is not “artistic,” especially since that judgment is so subjective. Then again, in contemporary usage, the style of writing practiced by and executed with pen and ink by someone creating a wedding invitation or banquet place card is also commonly regarded as “calligraphy,” but examples thereof are, similarly, not likely to be treated as “art” no matter how serious or intentional or skilled the writer may be.
  4. The entire contents of this album can be viewed at Pekarik, in “Japanese Calligraphy and Self-Expression,” discussed this album (then in the Burke Collection) as his prime example of a tekagami but referred to it by the name Sōkyō (“Mirror of Seagrasses”), adopting an on’yomi gloss of the characters now generally read as Mokagami (with the same translation).
  5. For Akiko Walley’s highly informative introduction to this album, the tekagami genre, and the entire contents in digital format, see
  6. See Kyoto Kokuritsu Hakubutsukan 京都国立博物館, ed., Kokuhō: Tekagami Moshiogusa 国宝『手鑑藻塩草』(National Treasure: The calligraphy album “Sea Grass”) (Kyoto: Tankōsha, 2006).
  7. See Koresawa Kyōzō 是澤恭三 and Tsunoi Hiroshi 角井, eds., Minu yo no tomo 見ぬ世の友, Idemitsu Bijutsukan Sensho 8 (Tokyo: Idemitsu Bijutsukan/Heibonsha, 1973).
  8. See Komatsu Shigemi 小松茂, ed., Kokuhō: Tekagami Kanbokujō 国宝『翰墨城 (National Treasure: The calligraphy album “Castle of Brush and Ink”) (Tokyo: Chūō Kōronsha, 1979).
  9. See Henshū Iinkai, ed., Kohitsu Tekagami Taisei Ōtekagami: Kokuhō Yōmei Bunko Zō (The Great Tekagami: National Treasure held by Yōmei Bunko Library), vols. 11 and 12, Kohitsu Tekagami Taisei (Tokyo: Kadokawa Shoten, 1990, 1993).
  10. Based on the identification of authenticators’ seals and other details, Shimizu and Rosenfield (Masters of Japanese Calligraphy) considered Kohitsu Ryōsa 古筆了佐 (1567–1662) and his son Ryōei 了栄 (1607–1678) as the most likely original compilers of the Yale Tekagamijō.
  11. There are a number of tekagami and similar calligraphy albums in private Japanese collections. One example is an album known as Katabamichō, which contains 189 samples. The derivation of the name is uncertain; katabami is the flower oxalis (wood sorrel). According to the current owner, Kobayashi Shigetoshi of Kyoto, it was acquired by his father from the Matsudaira松平 daimyō family of northern Japan. Its kiwamefuda also suggest that members of the Kohitsu lineage played at least some part in its compilation. A thorough study with images and analysis of all content has been published; see Ishizawa Kazushi 石澤一志 et al., eds., Nihon no sho to kami: kohitsu teagami “Katabamichō” no sekai 日本の書と紙―古筆手鑑『かたばみ帖』の世界 (Japanese calligraphy and paper: The Kohitsu tekagami “Wood Sorrel”) (Tokyo: Miyai Shoten, 2012).
  12. Kan’ichi Asakawa, Gifts of the Yale Association of Japan (New Haven, CT: Yale Association of Japan, 1945), 31–32.
  13. Kan’ichi Asakawa, 31–32.
  14. Sasaki made this observation in a presentation in the UCLA Library Webinar Series “Japanese Studies and Rare Materials: Kohitsu Tekagami,” pt. 2, October 23, 2020.
  15. See This project and I are particularly indebted to the aforementioned Sasaki Takahiro, Funami Kazuya 船見一哉, Kuboki Hideo 久保木秀夫, and Unno Keisuke 海野圭介, among others.
  16. In a recent conversation among scholars affiliated with the Getty Research Institute, the art historian William Tronzo suggested that fragmentation may be a “normative” condition rather than otherwise. For further discussion of that perspective, see his introduction to as well as the essay “On Fragments” by Glenn W. Most in The Fragment: An Incomplete History, ed. Tronzo (Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute, 2009), 1–20.
  17. For a wide-ranging discussion of “text heritage,” see Kōno Kimiko 河野喜美子and Edoardo Gerlini, Koten wa isan ka? Tekusuto isan no riyō to saisōzō古典は遺産か?ー日本文学におけるテクスト遺産の利用と再創造 (Are the classics “heritage”? The uses and reconstruction of text heritage in Japanese literature) (Tokyo: Bensei Shuppan, 2021).
  18. The work was on view in Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960–1985, Hammer Museum, UCLA, September 15–December 31, 2017.
  19. I thank Michael Wellen, curator of international art, Tate Modern, London, for this information about Orensanz’s works; personal communication, May 13, 2022.
  20. Thomas McFarland has much to say in reference to the unfinished condition of Pascal’s “fragmentary and incomplete” Pensées, and cites Lucien Goldman’s description of it as “un chef-d’oeuvre paradoxal, achevé de par son inachèvement” (a paradoxical masterpiece, complete in its incompletion); introduction to Most, Fragment, 3, 6. He is for the most part concerned with works of literature that have been left unfinished for one reason or another by their creators, rather than texts that have been rendered “fragmentary and incomplete” by subsequent hands. The difference is great, yet there is common ground, I believe, in the aesthetics of the incomplete and inachieved entity, regardless of how it has reached that state. McFarland’s essay does much to support that notion. He touches on the fragmentariness of Shelley’s late works and appreciation in that poet’s day of the “brokenness” of the Elgin Marbles, and draws from Kant, Coleridge, and Wordsworth, among others, to support such statements as “the logic of incompleteness is … ultimately the logic of infinity” (p.26).
  21. Concluding a presentation on the Tekagamijō in a symposium at the Beinecke Library sponsored jointly by the Yale Council on East Asian Studies and the Historiographical Institute (Shiryō Hensanjo 史料編纂所) of the University of Tokyo in October 2012, Ōuchi Hidenori 大内英範 (now on the faculty of the National Institutes for the Humanities [Ningen Bunka Kenkyū Kikō 人間文化研究機構]) stated, “We have to study the tekagami as one item.” This seemingly modest proposal was made against the grain of the tendency to treat the albums simply as containers of their disparate parts rather than as entities with their own kind of coherence. This essay is to a considerable extent an effort to respond to that challenge. See also Ōuchi Hidenori, “Ieru Daigaku Beinecke Kikōbon Shukō Toshokan-zō ‘Tekagamijō’ no seisaku jijō” イエール大学バイネキ寄稿本・手稿 図書館蔵「手鑑帖」の制作事情 (The production circumstances of the Yale University Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library Tekagamijō), in Ōchō bungaku o irodoru 王朝文学を彩る奇跡 (Wonders that illuminate Heian court literature), ed. Koyama Toshihiko 小山利彦 (Tokyo: Musashino Shoin, 2014), 309–25. Ōuchi’s is the most extensive study of the album’s composition published to date.
  22. Susan Howe, Spontaneous Particulars: The Telepathy of Archives (New York: New Directions, 2019,2020), 19.
  23. Embroidered sampler, 1766, object entry, Metropolitan Museum of Art,
  24. Susan Howe, Concordance (New York: New Directions, 2020).
  25. I treat Howe’s books as “silent” because they are in print, but in fact one can see and hear her reading portions of both books in the video recording of a lecture given at the Harvard Divinity School, April 24, 2019: “Concordance: An Evening with Susan Howe,”
  26. The mo(shiho) figure has a strong literary pedigree, especially in association with the collecting and curation of texts. For example, a poem by Minamoto no Ienaga 源家長 (d. 1234) included in Shin kokin wakashū 新古今和歌集 (no. 741) is included there as having been “presented [to the sovereign] on the first day that he reported for duty as director of the Royal Poetry Office” (Wakadokoro ni kaikō ni narite hajimete mairishi hi, sōshi haberishi 和歌所の開闔になりて初めてまいりし日、奏し侍りし): \“moshihogusa kaku to mo tsukiji / kimi ga yo no kazu ni yomiwoku waka no ura nami もしほぐさかくともつきじ 君が代の数に読みをく和歌の浦波” (Though I may gather these sea grasses, there can be no end to it, for the number of poems composed in praise of your eternal reign is as unlimited as are the waves in “Poetry Bay”). Tanaka Yutaka 田中裕 and Akase Shingō 赤瀬信吾, eds., Shin kokin wakashū, Shin Nihon koten bungaku taikei 11 (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1991), 219. “Waka no ura” was a location named in poems as early as the Man’yōshū as a site where poetry flourishes, where its spirit dwells, and where its traces forever make themselves evident. The authors of the preface to the Goshūi wakashū 後拾遺和歌集 (1086) use the figure in describing their task as a “culling, like the raking up of seaweed, of good poems composed recently and others that were not included” in the previous royally commissioned anthology, the Shūi wakashū. Kubota Jun 久保田淳 and Hirata Yoshinobu 平田喜信, eds., Goshūi wakashū, Shin Nihon koten bungaku taikei 8 (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1994), 4.
  27. Nagazumi Yasuaki 永積安明, ed., Tsurezuregusa 徒然草, in Shin Nihon koten bungaku zenshū 44 (Tokyo: Shōgakkan, 1995), 91.
  28. In her Makura no sōshi 枕草子 (dan 134), Sei Shōnagon 清少納言 lists “things that provide comforting distraction in idleness” (tsurezure nagusamu mono つれづれなぐさむもの): monogatari (物語) is the third item in the list, after two kinds of board games (go 碁 and sugoroku 双六). See Matsuo Satoshi 松尾聡 and Nagai Kazuko 長井和子, eds., Makura no sōshi, Shinpen Nihon koten bungaku zenshū 18 (Tokyo: Shōgakkan, 1997), 254.
  29. I am indebted to Riley Soles for conversations that have stimulated my thinking about how one might say what a text is (or is not) and what is (or is not) a text.
  30. “Mental habit” in “its precise Scholastic sense as a ‘principle that regulates the act,’ principium importans ordinem ad actum.” According to his notes, Erwin Panofsky’s Latin quotation is from Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae; Gothic Architecture and Scholasticism (New York: Meridian, 1957), 21, 93. Whether this might serve as a useful way to think about diverse practices of “scattering and gathering” in Japanese text and visual cultures is a problem I hope to explore further in the future. In the meantime I thank Mary E. Miller for directing me to this landmark.
  31. For a recent study of this genre, see Erin L. Brightwell, Reflecting the Past: Place, Language and Principle in Japan’s Medieval Mirror Genre, Harvard East Asian Monographs 433 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2020).
  32. Oxford Dictionaries, s.v. “mirror.”
  33. My translation, based on Nagazumi Yasuaki, Tsurezuregusa, 236–37: Nushi aru ie ni ha, suzuro naru hito, kokoro no mama ni irikuru koto nashi. Nushi naki tokoro ni ha, michiyukibito midari ni tachiiri, kitsune, fukurō yau no mono mo, hitoke ni sekareneba, tokoroegaho ni irisumi, kotama nado ifu keshikaranu katachi mo, araharuru mono nari. Kagami ni ha iro, katachi naki yue ni, yorozu no kage kitarite utsuru. Kagami ni iro, katachi aramashikaba, utsurazaramashi. Kokū yoku mono iru. Warera ga kokoro ni nennenn no hoshiki mama ni kitari ukabu mo, kokoro to ifu mono no naki ni ya aran. Kokoro ni nushi aramashikaba, mune no uchi ni, sokobaku no koto ha irikitarazaramashi. 主ある家には、すずろなる人、心のままに入り来る事なし。主なき所には、道行き人みだりに立ち入り、狐・梟やうの物も、人気に裂かれねば、所得顔に入り棲み、木霊などいふ けしからぬかたちも、あらはるるものなり。又、鏡には色・かたちなき故に、万の影来りてうつる。鏡に色・かたちあらましかば、うつらざらまし。虚空よく物をいる。我等が心に念々のほしきままに来り浮ぶも、心といふもののなきにやあらん。心に主あらましかば、胸のうちに、若干のことは入り来らざらまし。
  34. Kojima Noriyuki 小島憲之 and Arai Eizō 新井英蔵, eds., Kokin wakashū, Shin Nihon koten bungaku taikei 5 (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1985), 245: “Waves that engulf me rise and fall in this vast sea again and again; likewise do I return time after time to view, in vain, this bay where fisherfolk dwell” (my translation). Original research on this leaf was conducted by Eric Jose Esteban, a graduate student in the Department of East Asian Languages and Literatures, Yale University, in a 2017 seminar.
  35. Kuboki Hideo, e-mail message to the author, December 2020. Original research on this leaf was conducted by Nina Farizova, a doctoral candidate in the Department of East Asian Languages and Literatures, Yale University, in a 2017 seminar.
  36. See Tanaka Noboru 田中登, “San’itsu ‘Kinugasa Ieyoshi-shū’ ni tuite: den Teika Goshugire no kentō” 散逸『衣笠家良集」についてー伝定家『五首切』の検討 (Concerning the lost “Kinugasa Ieyoshi Collection”: An examination of the Goshugire attributed to Teika), Aosugahara, no. 36 (December 1988): 1–11; and Kuboki Tetsuo 久保木哲夫, “Ieyoshi shū’ kō: den Teika hitsu Goshugire o chūshin ni”『家良集』考―伝定家『五首切』を中心に (Thoughts on “The Ieyoshi Collection”: With focus on the Goshugire attributed to Teika), in Kohitsugaku sōrin 古筆学叢林, vol. 5, Kohitsugaku no ayumi 古筆学の歩み, ed. Komatsu Shigemi小松茂美 and Kohitsugaku Kenkyūjo 古筆学研究所 (Tokyo: Yagi Shoten, 1995), 3–27. Among the leaves from Goshugire surveyed by these scholars in their several publications on the topic, the Yale leaf is the only one with eight lines (four poems). A comparison of its dimensions with the leaf in the Idemitsu Minu yo no tomo reveals that it is indeed about two centimeters narrower.
  37. “Falling snow whitens white billows on the Niho Lake; / winds traverse the icy surface of the frozen bay” (my translation). The poem is in this sample inscribed without breaks for syntax or rhythm, as was customary.
  38. Carlo Rovelli, Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, trans. Simon Carnell and Erica Segre (New York: Penguin, 2014), 33.