Discovering a retchoso sewn book in the Asian Collection

Discovering a retchoso sewn book in the Asian Collection
Retchoso, a different kind of book binding style
16 November 2015

Asian thread binding was invented in China many hundreds of years ago, well before the codex was invented in Europe. It was quickly adopted throughout South East Asia as it is a relatively easy binding to produce and does not require years of learning. The technique of asian thread binding has not changed over a millenia.

There are two main thread binding styles; in Japan these are called fukuro-toji, yamato-toji, each with their own peculiarities, and a little known one called retchoso (sometimes spelt recchoso), found only in Japan.

Some people will compare it to coptic binding, but truth be told, the only similarity to coptic binding is that the sewing is seen on the spine and attaches the cover boards last. In coptic binding the sections are sewn along the spine; in retchoso binding one sews a column at a time.


A coptic binding made at home: on the inside of the section the thread is seen all along the middle of the fold                            

In my six years at the Library I had yet to see an example of retchoso sewing. So imagine my delight when I chanced upon a volume from the Asian Collection.


A retchoso binding: Detchoko: kochoso to yamato-toji by Kei Tanaka is a two volume set on bookbinding in Japan

It is a very refined looking binding, but very time consuming to produce. This accounts for its rarity in publication. You use either one or two needles, however the sewing starts in the middle of the book.

Visual description of how to make a retchoso binding, from Zukai seihon (see link below)

Apart from a beginners course in Buenos Aires a few years ago, all my asian binding knowledge comes from two books:

Zukai seihon by Tokusaburo Ueda, was written at the turn of the twentieth century. This book is in a lovely traditional four hole binding with well made decorative corners.


Japanese Book Binding by Kosanjin Ikegami contains instructions for books and boxes, with the four basic patterns: basic four hole, kangxi (emperor binding), hemp and tortoise.

Both these manuals have a lot of information on asian book structures and are well worth a read. 

The Library's collection contains a number of beautiful bindings of the various asian styles. If you would like to search for special asian material there is a users list available through the catalogue. Viewing the items may be done in the Asian Collections reading room on the third floor.

In another post I will explore the fascinating world of yamoto-toji or maozhuang binding.

Lovely - now I understand what is meant by Retchoso binding, so that's my New Thing for today. I wouldn't mind learning how to do this, even if it takes some time.
What a interesting and very rare to find informations! It is so important to cultivate an ancient craft. Well done Erika ! Love your work!
Thanks so much, that was fascinating. What a truly beautiful art and so great to see you working with your passion. Cheers
Excellent!!! And ver y thanks to share this!!!