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Hualin International Journal of Buddhist Studies 3.1 (2020): 47–69;
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Manuscript Studies and Xuanzang Studies)

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Colophons by the Tōdaiji monk Sōshō (1202–1278): The Threshold between Text and Paratext

Carleton College

Abstract: Scholar monks of medieval Japan produced a vast body of manuscripts called shōgyō. This paper focuses on shōgyō of the Tōdaiji monk Sōshō (1202–1278), especially his colophons (okugaki). In examining medieval shōgyō manuscripts in general and Sōshō’s in particular, modern scholars have tended to concentrate on what Markus Schiegg calls the ‘assertive’ aspect of a colophon, that is, a colophon that ‘tells us something about the scribe and the scribal context’. Although this scholarship has contributed greatly to advancing a material-cultural approach to Sōshō’s texts by situating them in their original contexts of production, little attempt has been made to explore the ‘expressive’ aspect of his colophons, that is, colophons expressing Sōshō’s own feelings and wishes. Therefore, I compare Sōshō’s assertive colophons with his expressive colophons, with an emphasis on the latter. In so doing I reveal the rich textual universe of Sōshō’s colophons that defies our assumed distinction between a text and a paratext, or between the main text and its colophon that supplies information about the main text, the author, or the scribe. Sōshō’s colophons often exceed these expected functions in their eloquent expression of feelings and wishes that are largely irrelevant to the main text.

Keywords: Colophon, debate, medieval Japanese Buddhism, scholar monks, shōgyō, Sōshō, Tōdaiji


About the Author: Asuka Sango (Princeton University, Ph.D.) is an associate professor and chair of the Religion Department at Carleton College, and co-chair of the Japanese Religions Unit of the American Academy of Religion. Sango’s chief research field is Japanese Buddhism of the medieval period. She is the author of The Halo of Golden Light: Imperial Authority and Buddhist Ritual in Heian Japan (University of Hawaiʻi Press, 2015), and her current research areas include Buddhist debate in medieval Japan, and dreams and gossip in Heian court society (794–1185).


This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.