East Asia Library acquires rare Japanese kōshiki manuscripts

April 6, 2017
Joshua Capitanio
Jūroku Rakan kōshiki manuscript, 1295

The Stanford East Asia Library has recently obtained a small collection of Japanese manuscripts used in the Buddhist ritual practice of kōshiki 講式. Most of the manuscripts are from the 17th-19th centuries, but the oldest is believed to date to 1304 CE.

Kōshiki is a Buddhist liturgical form unique to Japan that is still practiced in modern Japanese monasteries, which centers around the ritual recitation of Buddhist texts. While most of the scriptures used in Japanese Buddhism were imported from China - and thus written in classical Chinese, which was only comprehensible to the educated elite - kōshiki texts are recited in Japanese, thus making their contents available to a much wider audience.  

Dr. Michaela Mross examines a kōshiki scroll at the East Asia Library

In addition to being important sources on the development of Japanese vernacular literature, kōshiki manuscripts are also valuable resources for the study of premodern Japanese music. Kōshiki texts were often sung in different vocal styles, sometimes interspersed with instrumental performances.  These texts were used together with ritual manuals known as hossoku 法則, which contain musical notations describing the melodies to be used in kōshiki performances. Dr. Michaela Mross, who has recently joined the Department of Religious Studies at Stanford, has done extensive research on the musical and performative aspects of the kōshiki liturgy, and the East Asia Library has acquired these rare kōshiki and hossoku manuscripts in order to support her research, which includes a book-length project on the development of kōshiki in the Sōtō school of Zen Buddhism.

These manuscripts are currently housed in the East Asia Library's Special Collections as part of its collection of rare Buddhist materials.

Image: Dr. Michaela Mross of the Department of Religious Studies examines a kōshiki scroll at the East Asia Library. Below, an image from the Daihannya hossoku 大般若法則 showing melodic notations.

Daihannya hossoku



Ambros, Barbara R., James L. Ford, and Michaela Mross. "Editors' Introduction: Kōshiki in Japanese Buddhism." Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 43, no. 1 (2016): 1-15.

Mross, Michaela.  "Vocalizing the Lament over the Buddha's Passing: A Study of Myōe's Shiza kōshiki." Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 43, no. 1 (2016): 89-130.