Digital Resources for Japanese Palaeography

This year I have had the pleasure of being involved in the “Tackling Pandemics in Early Modern Japan” transcription project organized by the University of Cambridge in collaboration with the AI platform Minna de honkoku みんなで翻刻. During the project, participants have been posting resources useful for engaging with historical Japanese documents and cursive Japanese to a channel on the project’s Slack. In this contribution, I share a list of some of the free, digital resources that participants in the project have found useful. Resources that have been shared in other pieces in the Digital Orientalist, such as apps for learning cursive Japanese or the KuroNet kuzushiji ninshiki sābisu (KuroNetくずし字認識サービス) which was reviewed here, will not be included. Readers who would like to know more about the “Tackling Pandemics in Early Modern Japan” transcription project and its use of Minna de honkoku can refer to its website, a series of posts in the Teach311 + COVID-19 Collective or the below video.

Tools for Kuzushiji (Cursive Japanese)

  • AI Tegaki kuzushiji kensaku 手書きくずし字検索 – A tool that offers suggestions for handwritten, cursive characters that users input using their mouse or track pad. It is particularly useful if one has little idea as to what a certain character may be and is therefore unable to make progress with other tools. If a user recognizes a part of the character they can select that radical from the dropdown menu to help increase the accuracy of the search results.

Searching for the character tera 寺 with AI Tegaki kuzushiji kensaku.

  • Bushu no kuzushiji 部首のくずし字 – A tool from Komonjo Nabi 古文書ナビ (see below) which allows users to look up the cursive forms of different radicals. The tool helps users to identify different radicals and can therefore be useful when one recognizes some parts of a character, but not others. Users could also use the collection as an educational tool to learn the cursive forms of different radicals – this appears to be the intended purpose of the resource.

Examples of radicals in Bushu no kuzushiji.

  • Gotai jirui 五體字類 – A digitized version of the famous dictionary of caligraphy, the Gotai jirui (1937 version). Although the dictionary includes a good selection of different character styles, it can be more time consuming to use than other resources in this list because it lacks a search function.

Some versions of tera 寺 in the Gotai jirui.

  • Kuzushiji dētabēsu kensakuくずし字データベース検索 – A search engine for searching the kuzushiji database of the Center for Open Data in the Humanities. The database is extensive including 4,328 characters and should be one of the first calling points when searching for an “unknown” cursive character. Due to the nature of its datasets it is perhaps of most use to those working with early modern materials.

Searching for the character tera 寺 with Kuzushiji dētabēsu kensaku.

  • Mojizo 木簡・くずし字解読システム – This tool allows users to upload an image of a character and offers suggestions as to what it may be based on comparisons to data in the Wooden Tablet Database managed by the Nara National Research Institute for Cultural Properties and the database of the Historigraphical Institute of the University of Tokyo. As can be seen in the below image, it is not always very accurate.

Searching for the character tera 寺 with Mojizo.

Searching for the character tera 寺 with “Mokkan ko” “Denshi kuzushiji jiten dētabēsu” Renkei kensaku.

  • Multi-database Search System for Historical Chinese Characters 史的文字データベース連携検索システム – This is a new search engine which uses data from the Nara National Research Institute for Cultural Properties, Historigraphical Institute University of Tokyo, National Institute of Japanese Literature, National Institute for Japanese Language and Linguistics, Hanzi Normative Glyphs Database, Institute of History and Philology (Academia Sinica), and Academia Sinica Center for Digital Cultures. It appears to contain a large amount of data and offers a nice alternative to other databases in this list such as CODH’s Kuzushiji dētabēsu kensaku.

Searching for the character tera 寺 with the Multi-database Search System for Historical Chinese Characters.

A selection of different examples of the character a あ in Seishindo’s Hentaigana wo shiraberu.

Tools for Identifying Characters

  • Furigana Bunko ふりがな文庫 – A tool that uses data from Aozora Bunko in order to allow users to search for the readings of a character or for a character based on its potential readings. I have used this tool extensively throughout the transcription project since it can be a really effective means to test one’s ideas about unknown characters (if one has the furigana) or their potential readings (if one recognizes the character). It also includes definitions and example sentences. I really recommend checking it out.

Searching for the character tera 寺 in Furigana Bunko.

  • GlyphWiki – A search engine which allows users to find variant (itaiji 異体字) and related forms of a searched character. It is a highly useful resource for identifying itaiji when, for instance, one lacks access to a physical dictionary.

Some variants of the character tera 寺 listed in GlyphWiki.

  •’s Kanji Search Tools – These tools allow users to search for characters in a number of ways including handwritten input, searching by radicals, searching by the System of Kanji Indexing by Patterns (SKIP), or searching according to pronunciation. Users will likely be aware with at least some of these search functions – the famous as well as a number of other online dictionaries allow users to search by radical – but it is rare to find all these options in a single place.

Bibliographical Tools

Collections of Tools and Study Guides

  • Historiographical Institute, University of Tokyo’s Dētabēsu kensaku データベース検索 – A list of search enginges for databases collated by the Historiographical Institute of the University of Tokyo. The wide array of materials will likely make this of interest to any scholar working with historical Japanese documents.
  • Komonjo Nabi 古文書ナビ – A website geared towards helping users to learn how to read historical Japanese documents. It includes guides, sample texts, information about the composition of historical texts etc. Like Komonjo Netto (see below) it is a useful educational tool for those who want to improve their abilities for reading old Japanese texts.

Image of Komonjo Nabi’s homepage.


  • Sagakentosyo’s Komonjo nyūmon 古文書入門 – A playlist of Youtube videos that introduces viewers to reading historical Japanese texts. It is an excellent educational too and particularly useful for beginners.

The first of Sagakentosyo’s Komonjo nyūmon videos.

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