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Snow Country Tales: Life in the Other Japan

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Hokuetsu Seppu (北越雪譜, "Snow stories of North Etsu Province"; translation: Snow Country Tales: Life in the Other Japan by Jeffrey Hunter with Rose Lesser, Weatherhill, 1986) is a late Edo-period comprehensive work of human geography describing life in the Uonuma (魚沼) area of Echigo Province, a place known for its long winters and deep snow. First published in Edo in 1837, Hokuetsu Seppu was written by Suzuki Bokushi (鈴木牧之,1770–1842), a textile merchant and leading townsman of Shiozawa, a settlement on the old Mikuni Highway. The work, an immediate bestseller that eventually encompassed seven chapters when a second volume was published in 1841, covers a wide range of local topics, from the varieties of snow to the customs, lifestyles, regional dialects, industries, and folk tales of Japan's snow country. The text covers 123 themes from multiple angles and is richly illustrated with detailed sketches.

Santō Kyōzan (山東京山)—a gesaku writer and brother of Santō Kyōden—assisted with publication of the text. He wrote the preface and drew the illustrations based on Bokushi's originals. Some of the material in the book is of scientific interest. For example, it contains the first Japanese sketches of 86 types of natural snowflake crystals. An 1840 edition included an additional 97 sketches that Doi Toshitsura made with the aid of a microscope during his 20 years as daimyō of the Koga Domain. After that, the snow crystal became a popular design motif in kimono, chawan, and Japanese tea bowls.

Scans of the original Japanese edition are provided by Waseda University Library.

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Suzuki Bokushi
Year of publication
1 September 1986
Number of pages
JPY 4,000

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