SOAS Research Online

A Free Database of the Latest Research by SOAS Academics and PhD Students

[skip to content]

Dolce, Lucia (2023) 'A Sutra as a Notebook? Printing and Repurposing Scriptures in Medieval Japan.' Ars Orientalis, 52. pp. 40-74.

Text - Published Version
Download (20MB) | Preview


This study considers how printed scriptures were repurposed in medieval Japan through manuscript interventions. My starting point is the so-called Chū Hokekyō (Annotated Lotus Sutra), a copy of the Lotus Sutra probably printed in the Nara area and owned by the monk Nichiren (1222–1282). On this sutric text Nichiren wrote “notes,” filling the negative space between the lines of the scripture, the upper and lower margins of the printed area, and the verso. Such interventions generate a palimpsestic object, overlapping two types of text, the printed and the manuscript, and creating complex dynamics of interaction and multiple use. Is there a relation between what is inserted and the point of the scripture at which it is inserted? What information is supplemented by the “notes,” and to whom is this directed? Nichiren’s Lotus Sutra also urges us to interrogate the status and function of Buddhist printing in medieval Japan. Were sutras printed to be used as learning tools (reading matter and reference material), or does Nichiren’s specimen document a practice of repurposing scriptures originally printed for other reasons? How many scriptures were printed and how many were annotated? What was the nature of such paratextual accretions? This article explores these questions by reconstructing the life of the Annotated Lotus Sutra as an object that was produced with specific techniques and continued its life after Nichiren’s death. In order to contextualize this object, the article retrieves the printing history of the scripture owned by Nichiren, the Lotus Sutra, and the diverse practices of repurposing that affected this genre of printed scriptures in the medieval period.

Item Type: Journal Article
SOAS Departments & Centres: School Research Centres > Centre of Buddhist Studies
School Research Centres > Centre for the Study of Japanese Religions
Departments and Subunits > School of History, Religions & Philosophies > Department of Religions & Philosophies
ISSN: 05711371
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 16 May 2023 12:29
Funders: Other

Altmetric Data


Download activity - last 12 monthsShow export options
Downloads since deposit
6 month trend
6 month trend
Accesses by country - last 12 monthsShow export options
Accesses by referrer - last 12 monthsShow export options

Repository staff only

Edit Item Edit Item