The Morokoshi Kinmō zui  (唐土訓蒙圖彚), also called “Enlightening Illustrations of China”, was first published in 1719 during the Tokugawa Period in the city of Okinawa.  It was created by Morikuni Tachibana (1679-1748), and remains very a very popular volume which has since been replicated and reproduced many times over. The volume found in the UBC Tokugawa Maps collection was published in 1802, several years after its introduction to the Japanese public. The entire collection of the Morokoshi Kinmō zui contains hundreds of black and white woodblock prints that encompass everything from Chinese cultural elements, architecture, regional Chinese plants and animals, and even types of humans.

They are bound in Japanese style fukuro-toji, bound-pocket books, with the external pages consisting of blue paper wrappers. The volumes found in the UBC collection has a slight embossing on the blue sheets, that have a repetitive pattern across the whole surface.

Blue pattern on the cover of the Morokoshi Kinmō zui

In this style of book binding the books consist of double-wide pages folded and stacked, they are then sewn together along the creases and important information is written on the front and back pages to act as title pages. The volumes found in the UBC collection also have the added cover of blue paper (mentioned above), which is glued onto the first folded page of each book.  This binding process allowed for the heavy woodblock printed images to not bleed through the thin pages, and make the pictures appear clear on both sides of the paper.

In the front cover of all volumes of the Morokoshi Kinmō zui are the title of the volumes contained in each book, as well as red stamped icons that indicate the author of the volume, and the seal of the owner of the books.

The Morokoshi Kinmō zui is made up of 14 volumes that include: (1) Astronomy, (2) Geography, (3) Architecture, (4-5) People, (6) Martial Arts, (7) Instruments – weapons and tools, (8) Machines, (9) Instruments – agriculture and arms, (10) Ceremonial costumes and precious stones, (11-12) Botany and horticulture, (13) Birds and wild animals, (14) Fish, reptiles, and insects. These volumes are collected into a series of books, with each book containing anywhere from one to three volumes.  Page layout varies from volume to volume, but all contain woodblock printed images accompanied by informational text.

(Morokoshi Kinmō zui – Volume 2, Astronomy)

(Morokoshi Kinmō zui – Volume 7, Instruments/tools/weapons)


(Morokoshi Kinmō zui – Volume 8, Machines and Transport)

(Morokoshi Kinmō zui – Volume 5, People)

The dimensions of the Morokoshi Kinmō zui found in the UBC Tokugawa maps collection are 10″ x 7.2″, a reasonable size to be kept in the home as an educational resource for Japanese children for whom the volumes in this collection were intended for.  With a notable exception of the first volume of astronomy which is comprised of mainly text, the majority of all volumes have images on all pages and are the focus of the works.  This fits in with the purpose of these books, which was to help children identify and pronounce the characters shown in the encyclopedias. The Morokoshi Kinmō zui were created as a way to educate Japanese children on the important elements of Chinese culture, geography, flora and fauna.  More importantly, the creation and reproduction of these encyclopedias within Japan allowed Japanese children to pronounce and learn the names of Chinese cultural elements.

The Morokoshi Kinmō zui was produced in a time where Kinmō zui (Japanese Illustrated Encyclopedia) were a common item of production.  During the Edo Period, commercial book publishing was on the rise, and the popularity of previous encyclopedias such as Kanzai Nakamura’s (1629-1702) version of Kinmō zui (Japanese Illustrated Encyclopedia, 1666) paved the way for the publication of other encyclopedic works.

Each volume is comprised of a set of images bound between two blue pages.  The words and images are made by the process of woodblock printing, and all images found in the volumes were created by Tachibana Morikuni.  Morikuni belonged to the Kano school of Japanese art which began in the Tokugawa Period.  The Kano school, which had been set up by Kano Yasunobu, worked closely with its students to train them in the repetitive copying of pectoral models until they could be reproduced with ease.  This method was called the copybooks method.(31) Students of the Kano school learned through extensive practice of brush techniques and coping of woodblock prints and traced models.  This Kano style of repetitive and precise copying lent itself well to the emerging popularity of the book industry.  Scripts, handwritten books, and woodblock manuals, were known to be well created by the Kano school, and higher level students went on to participate in the creation of many well known works.  Tachibana Morikuni, who created the Morokoshi Kinmō zui, first created the Ehon kojidan (Old Stories about Illustrated Books, 1714), which contains a very similar style to the images found in the Morokoshi Kinmō zui.

Most of the animals within the volumes are real, and are drawn to be very realistic and identifiable.  There are, however, some animals that are fictional and exist solely in Chinese legend or myth as seen below.

“Three horned Beast”

“Gold Lion”

Volume 14 – Layout and Content

The UBC Tokugawa Collections version of the Morokoshi Kinmō zui has 14 volumes collected in 5 books.  In book 3 there are 2 volumes which include ‘Wild Animals and Birds’, and ‘Fish, Insects, and Reptiles’. In the animal and bird volume (13), one hundred and twenty-four animals are represented with fifty-six being birds and sixty-eight animals. One important thing to note, is that included at the end of the wild animals volume are two human figures.  They are labeled as ‘wild wave woman’ and ‘mountain dwelling/speaking’, their potential inclusion in the animal volume signifies their perceived wild and barbarous nature (too wild to be considered human).

Focusing on the thirteenth and fourteenth volumes which contains birds, wild animals, fish, reptiles and insects, we can see how the book is laid out in both theme and animal type.  Birds come first in the volume, and are laid out with one species per panel, following this section are animals by type and end with two images of humans. Right after the two images of humans the reptile section begins with images of dragons.  Above all single panel images is a description of the figure, and in a smaller box to the right there are both Chinese and Japanese pronunciations for the name of the type of animal.

Most page layouts for volume 14 (animals and birds) usually follow the same format.  There are four panels per page, and eight panels spread across two front facing pages. The page edges are marked sequentially with the number on the bottom edge of the page denoting the page number for both the front and back printings on the page and the number at the top denoting the volume number in the collection.

There are exceptions to the panel layout (as seen below) in transitional pages between species, and near the beginning and end of the book, where the page contains only two panels and more textual content.

Mythical Animals

Within Volume 14 of the Morokoshi Kinmō zui, there is an emphasis on realistic clean line images that serve to educate and entertain the intended young reader of the encyclopedia.  This may also be the reason that mythical and legendary animals are included in the works beside figures of real-world beasts.  As seen above with the ‘gold lion’ and ‘three horned beast’, Chinese legendary animals are included and described in the manner of a bestiary (encyclopedia of unreal animals). Figures that appear in the Morokoshi Kinmō zui also appear in other Chinese sources, including works such as the Shanghai Jing (Classic of Mountains and Seas).  The Shanghai Jing, much like the Morokoshi Kinmō zui, contains descriptions of the fantastical beasts along with intricate line drawing depictions of the animals.  One such animal mentioned in both works, is the Changfu Bird (尚鳥付鳥) It is described in the Shanghai Jing as, “There is a bird dwelling here on Foundation Mountain whose form resembles a chicken with three heads, six eyes, six feet, and three wings.  It is called the Chengfu.  Eating it will prevent sleep.”(88)  Both the Morokoshi Kinmō zui and the Shanghai Jing have images of a three headed bird with many eyes:

“Many Eyed/Good Eyed” bird from the Morokoshi Kinmō zui 


“Chengfu Bird” from the Shanghai Jing (seen on top of the hill)

While the Chinese source is more of a classic bestiary, with the inclusion of a narrative story and a moral or prescriptive suggestion when handling the animal, the Morokoshi Kinmō zui still includes a description very similar to the Shanghai Jing. The inclusion of similar fictional animals may be due to the importance of legendary beasts to Chinese mythologies, and the interest they may have had for Japanese children when learning not only animals of the region but important culture elements. This followed in a tradition of other Japanese Kinmō zui, which included many images of yōkai (animals with mysterious abilities). The Morokoshi Kinmō zui continues in this tradition by not separating real and mysterious beasts, and in doing so keeping an element of truth and fact when talking about potential supernatural features of the animals. In including mythical and legendary animals to this volume, the text acts as both information and entertainment for the reading audience. This element of excitement, as well as the beautiful and information images included in the Morokoshi Kinmō zui, make it an appealing work in which to reproduce for years to come.

Works Cited

“唐土訓蒙図彙.” 唐土訓蒙図彙.

“Ehon kojidan (A Picture Book of Historical Events).” Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. February 03, 2017.

Foster, Michael Dylan. Pandemonium and Parade: Japanese Monsters and the Culture of Yokai. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2009.

Hioki, Kaazuko. “Japanese printed books of the Edo period (1603–1867): history and characteristics of block‐printed books.” Journal of the Institute of Conservation 31, no. 1 (September 30, 2010).

Jordan, Brenda G., and Victoria Louise. Weston. Copying the Master and Stealing His Secrets: talent and training in Japanese painting. Honolulu: University of Hawaiʻi Press, 2003.

Strassberg, Richard E. A Chinese Bestiary: Strange Creatures from the Guideways through Mountains and Seas . Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002.

Tachibana, Morikuni, Kichibē Kawachiya, and Kogataya Rokubē. Morokoshi Kinmō zui. Vol. 13. Osaka, 1802.



Contributor: Melissa
March 27, 2017
(Updated April 8, 2017)