W. G. Aston, Japanese Studies, and the Heike Monogatari

M.G.Watson

Scholar of Japanese literature, student of Shinto and pioneer of Japanese linguistics, William George Aston (1841-1911) is one of the towering figures of early Japanology in the West. His publications, like those of Sir Ernest Satow and Basil Hall Chamberlain, introduced the country and its civilization to the English-speaking world at the time. While some of his scholarly work has inevitably dated and has no more than historical interest today, much has proved of lasting value.
This paper was stimulated by reading the annotations Aston wrote in the margin of his copy of Heike monogatari ƕ, The Tale of the Heike. The seventeenth-century edition is now in Cambridge University Library which houses more than nine thousand volumes once owned by Aston. Many show signs of his use, for in the last twenty years of his life they were the working library of a scholar with access to almost no other Japanese resources.
Aston's jottings are not perhaps of great importance in themselves, but they do give a fascinating insight into the working methods of a early student of Japanese literature. They illustrate the problems involved in reading an early text in a faulty and unannotated edition, without the reference books and commentaries available to the modern scholar. Comparison of Aston's annotations with the original text and modern commentaries have revealed surprisingly few real mistakes, but there are many points of interest in terms of emphasis and interpretation. [...]

International and Regional Studies 10, Meiji Gakuin Review 509 (February 1993): 25-43. For an offprint of this article please contact:
Michael Watson, Faculty of International Studies, Meiji Gakuin University,1518 Kamikurata-cho, Totsuka-ku, Yokohama 244, Japan

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