"Wabon" is a broad term used to describe a book, and is also called in many other words, such as "wasoubon" "washo" "watojibon" and so on.
It is thought that book forms, in which stacked bundles of paper are bound together using string and glue, have existed in many parts of the world since ancient times, and the term "wabon" refers to such forms of books that have evolved to suit Japanese paper and specifications in particular.
The Beginning of Wabon
At first, the Wabon was simply bound with bundles of paper using "koyori," a string made from paper, but gradually, however, a cover was added, colored strings and binding thread were used, a slip of paper was pasted, and other innovations were made.
During the Edo period, Buddhist, poetry, narrative, historical, medical, and other books were widely published, and a variety of Wabon with different designs were produced by various publishing houses in different parts of Japan to suit their contents.
Form of Wabon
Although the Wabon have developed and spread in such a wide variety of ways, they have a basic structure in common, as shown below.
(1) The paper must be bound in a bag.
This paper is a horizontal sheet of paper, folded in half and bound at the opposite end (throat) of the fold. This is called fukuro-toji, because the paper forms a pouch.
(2) A saddle stitch is required.
The process of binding a bundle of books with a twisted thread to prevent them from shifting is called saddle stitching.
(3) Many of them have angular cracks:.
A crack or small piece of paper affixed to a corner of a book to reinforce it is called a kadogire. Most of them are affixed to the corners, but some are not.
(4) To have a thick cover with all four sides folded in:.
The cover is often made of thick paper that is folded in on all sides for reinforcement, rather than uncut paper.
(5) Binding with string:.
Pile the saddle stitched paper on top of the cover and make a hole at the edge. Put the string through the holes, and bind the book.
There are various types of binding methods depending on the size of the book, such as four-hole four-page binding, five-hole five-page binding, more decorative hemp leaf binding, and tortoise shell binding.
Silk thread is often used for binding. In addition, flat strings and koyori, etc. are also used according to the form of the book and binding method.
Decrease in the number of Japanese books
The basic structure of the Japanese book, which took a long time to become established, free of waste, and suitable for Japanese paper and specifications.
In the Meiji period, the production of paper made from wood pulp began, thanks to technology introduced from abroad.
The production of paper such as kozo paper, which had been the mainstream in Japan until then and was suitable as a material for Japanese books, decreased and the production of Japanese books also decreased rapidly.
Later, the Japanese books were replaced by the so-called Western books, such as hard-cover books with hard covers and paperback books, which we see in bookstores nowadays, and these became the basic forms of books in Japan.
Goodness of the Wabon
However, the strength of a Japanese book due to its overall lightness and softness, the stability of all the materials that make up a book (paper, cover, and thread), and the long-term shelf life of the book due to its non-adhesive binding, are the great advantages of Wabon.
As proof of this, many books made hundreds of years ago can still be used today without problems.
Nowadays, Wabon are more often made as notebooks for writing songs and calligraphy than as books.These Wabon are generally made from pulp paper, which is translucent and resilient.