October 26, 2011

Taisho-era Kokugo Textbooks

Once again digging into my grandmother's bounty: a Taisho-era Japanese-language (kokugo) textbook, first published in 1918. (She bought a reissued version later, although I don't know if that means 1940 or 1960.)

By the way, schoolchildren learned to read in katakana first, not hiragana as is the practice today.

A very didactic version of the famous Saru-Kani Gassen (The Crab and the Monkey) that stresses the "eye for an eye" philosophy. 

In the last page of the story, the monkey, who has had red-hot chestnuts thrown at him, runs to sit in a bucket of water. However, a bee stings him, and the monkey is forced to run away. Then, a pail jumps on top of him and pins him down. Then, the baby crab (whose mother has been killed by the monkey) cuts his head off. 

Another version of the textbook is devoted to moral lessons or rules/teachings.

All the lessons are written on the first page, and the rest of the book consists of a drawing that describes the message. For example, "3. Don't be lazy.", "7. Be careful with food.", "8. Honor your parents' teachings.", "16. Your Imperial Majesty.", "23. Do not harm living creatures." 

I'm a bit confused by the drawing on the upper left, which looks like a monkey cooking another monkey over a fire while a baby clings to him. My grandmother says the monkey has been strung up, and the baby is trying to free him.

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