Home > Publications > NDL Newsletter > No. 207, August 2016

National Diet Library Newsletter

No. 207, August 2016

Recent updates of digital exhibitions: The Meiji and Taisho Eras in Photographs / The Japanese Calendar

This article is a translation of the articles in Japanese in NDL Monthly Bulletin
No. 661 (May 2016) and No. 662 (June 2016).


1. Introduction

As of August 2016, the National Diet Library (NDL) provides 24 digital exhibitions featuring its precious materials with easy-to-understand explanations on the Online Gallery of its website. This article introduces recent updates of two digital exhibitions: "The Meiji and Taisho Eras in Photographs" and "The Japanese Calendar."

<<Image 1: A part of the list of Online Gallery of the NDL>>

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2. The Meiji and Taisho Eras in Photographs

The NDL has been providing selected old photos of notable buildings, sightseeing spots and other features which still exist and are familiar today, in the "The Meiji and Taisho Eras in Photographs - Tokyo Edition" since August 2007, and "The Meiji and Taisho Eras in Photographs - Kansai Edition" since March 2008.

In April 2016, the NDL combined the Tokyo and Kansai editions and newly added photos from the Tohoku region.1 This has increased the number of posted photos to approximately 1,300, and these photos can be cross-searched.

<<Image 2: The top page of the Meiji and Taisho Eras in Photographs>>

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2.1 Tohoku from a different perspective

The exhibition now includes nearly 330 old photos of Tohoku which show grand mountains and lakes, bustling festivals, mines and factories which reflected expansion of industry at the time. You will find different scenery in the photos from those in Tokyo and in Kansai.

Also, seven columns have also been prepared for several items to provide the opportunity to learn more about the item's background and history; The Aizu War and Wakamatsu Castle; Kurikoyama Tunnel and Mishima Michitsune; The youth of Takuboku and Kenji - Morioka Middle School; Tohoku Hot Springs; Mining in Tohoku; Mt. Hakkoda; and Hachirogata Lagoon.

<<Image 3: Column>>

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2.2 Links to the related digital exhibitions

Searches can also still be carried out from maps and keywords, and links are provided to the related digital exhibitions..2 On the website connected to a photo, you might enjoy a new discovery!

<<Image 4: Links to the related digital exhibitions>>

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3. The Japanese Calendar

Since ancient times, calendars have been indispensable for knowing the changes of days, months and seasons. Every era has various types of calendars used in the daily life of the people, and some were particularly enjoyed for their special features. In this context, old calendars contain highly interesting materials reflecting the transition in life-style and culture down through the ages.

The digital exhibition "The Japanese Calendar" which was renewed for the first time since its release in March 2002 has provided opportunities to learn more about the history of the Japanese calendar based on the NDL's calendar collection, with special focus on the Daisho-reki calendar consisting of months, some with 30 days, others with 29, which was used in the Edo period (1603 to 1867).

<<Image 5: Nyugoyomi, one of the traditional local calendars in Iitaka district in Ise Province (Matsukata in Mie prefecture, today)>>

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3.1 Visual redesigns

The website was redesigned in a bright and beautiful Japanese-style, making it easy for users to navigate themselves. Font size, color shade and the menu display will make navigation easy. We have upgraded some of the images to a higher quality (for example: images in "Unriddling the Daisho-reki calendar").

<<Image 6: Top page of the digital exhibition "The Japanese Calendar" >>

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3.2 Improvement of its web accessibility

We have improved its accessibility in accordance with the NDL accessibility policy (Japanese) based on JIS X 8341-3:2010 "Guidelines for older persons and persons with disabilities-Information and communications equipment, software and services-Part 3: Web content." For example, you are able to enjoy it with a screen of various display sizes, and images and graphic charts are accompanied by clear captions and titles. It is also compatible with screen readers.

Partial content of the exhibition, "Chapter 1 Calendar History" and a part of "Unriddling the Daisho-reki Calendar," is available in English.

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3.3 Unriddling the Daisho-reki calendar

According to the lunisolar calendar, there were long months with 30 days and short ones with 29 and their arrangement changed year by year. So knowing the arrangement of long and short months, with the inclusion of an intercalary month from time to time, was very important for the people who lived in those times.

While the calendar spread, the Daisho-reki calendar, which showed only the order of the long and short months, appeared during the Edo period (1603-1867). In those days it was called simply "Daisho." But instead of merely showing the length of the months, it incorporated such devices as indicating long and short months with the use of pictures and sentences.

Various kinds of Daisho were produced, including those using auspicious illustrations such as the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac and scenes from popular Kabuki plays. Many were traded at "Daisho" New Year gatherings, while others were used for gifts. This custom began at the end of the 17th century and was most popular in the latter half of the 18th century, in the Edo period. Many noted artists produced Daisho illustrations. It is also said that Nishiki-e has roots in those illustrations.

Riddles and Answers

The following illustrations are examples of the Daisho-reki calendar. The months of the year are hidden in these pictures. Can you find them?

(1) The first riddle [Check the answer from here]

Title [Egoyomi] 3rd year of Keio (1867), Daisho-reki
Creator Unknown
Physical data 17cm×8cm
Subject (NDC) 449.81/721.8
Note Negishi Takeka Collection
Call No. 9-4
NDL Digital Collections http://dl.ndl.go.jp/info:ndljp/pid/1286721/26?__lang=en

(2) The second riddle [Check the answer from here]

Title [Egoyomi] 7th year of Ansei (1860), Daisho-reki
Creator Illustrated by Yoshitsuna
Physical data 30cm×10cm
Subject (NDC) 449.81/721.8
Note Negishi Takeka Collection
Call No. 9-4
NDL Digital Collections http://dl.ndl.go.jp/info:ndljp/pid/1286721/15?__lang=en

(3) The third riddle [Check the answer from here]

Title [Daishoreki harimazejo] 2nd year of Bunkyu (1862) Daisho-reki
Creator Created and illustrated by Gengyo
Physical data 13cm×19cm
Subject (NDC) 449.81/721.8
Note Ojima Sekiyu old calendar collection
Call No. 本別15-21
NDL Digital Collections http://dl.ndl.go.jp/info:ndljp/pid/1286928/8?__lang=en

(4) The fourth riddle [Check the answer from here]

Title [Egoyomi harikomicho] 4th year of Keio (1868) Daisho-reki
Creator Illustrated by KAWANABE Kyosai
Physical data 19cm×26cm
Subject (NDC) 449.81/721.8
Note Pasted in "Egoyomi harikomicho" and included in the Shinjo Bunko
Call No. 寄別13-64
NDL Digital Collections http://dl.ndl.go.jp/info:ndljp/pid/1286722/65?__lang=en

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(1) The answer to the first riddle [The first riddle]

The phrase "ooatama" (lit. big head) written above a Fukusuke doll indicates that the long months are hidden in the illustration. You can find the Chinese character which represents the number ten on the head, eleven in the left kamishimo, twelve in the right kamishimo, two in the hems, four in the right sleeve, and eight in the left sleeve.

Fukusuke is a traditional Chinese doll which became popular in the Edo period, and was believed to bring good luck like the Seven Lucky Gods.

Long months: February, April, August, October, November, December

Short months: January, March, May, June, July, September

(2) The answer to the second riddle [The second riddle]

A mischievous monkey is up on a Torii (Shinto gateway). This year is the year of the monkey according to the Chinese zodiac, and it is holding a piece of paper saying "Sho no tsuki," that is "small months." From the top to the bottom, each of the papers is labeled: February, April, May, July, August, and October.

Long months: January, Intercalary March, June, September, November, December

Short months: February, April, May, July, August, October

(3) The answer to the third riddle [The third riddle]

Long months are hidden in the Japanese poem written in the upper left, on the other hand, small months are written in the characters on the package of a Chitose-ame (lit. thousand year candy).

This year was the year of the dog according to the Chinese zodiac. Illustrated in the right is an inu-hariko (lit. a dog of papier-mâché), a folk toy of the Edo period which was said to be used as a lucky charm for safe delivery and children’s health.

Its creator Baiso Gengyo (1817-1880, other names such as Baisotei and Seiken) was a kyoka (comic tanka) poet and illustrator in the end of the Edo and the Meiji period.

Long months: January, March, April, June, August, September, November

Short months: February, May, July, Intercalary August, October, December

(4) The answer to the fourth riddle [The fourth riddle]

In 1868, the Tokugawa Shogunate collapsed and put an end to the Edo period, marking the beginning of the Meiji period. In the previous year, a kind of social/political protest movement in which people went crazy over dancing and sang "Ee ja nai ka (lit. Why not?)" broke out, reflecting the chaotic situation of the society.

In this boisterous Daisho-reki titled "Ee ja nai ka," men show longer months, women short months. People are wearing costumes and holding belongings symbolizing each month. For example, the woman of January wears a mask of the plump-cheek Okame face, holding a battledore. The woman of April is with a child, because it is an intercalary month. You can also find animals symbolizing the first day of each month.

Kawanabe Kyosai (1831-1889) was a popular artist from the end of the Edo period to the middle of the Meiji period.

Long months: February, March, May, August, October, November

Short months: January, April, Intercalary April, June, July, September, December

(Translated by Yuko Kumakura)

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  1. The Tohoku region is the northeastern portion of the largest island of Japan Honshu. It consists of six prefectures: Akita, Aomori, Fukushima, Iwate, Miyagi and Yamagata.
  2. In Japanese version, the links to the NDL Digital Collections are also displayed.

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