Contact FutureLearn for Support
Skip main navigation
We use cookies to give you a better experience, if that’s ok you can close this message and carry on browsing. For more info read our cookies policy.
We use cookies to give you a better experience. Carry on browsing if you're happy with this, or read our cookies policy for more information.

Skip to 0 minutes and 3 secondsHere I will discuss the use of illustrations in scrolls. Some of the first books to make their way into Japan contained pictures. We do not have an exact date, but the earliest extant illustrated scroll in Japan dates from the 8th century and it is a Buddhist text. For centuries afterwards, the scroll remained the only format to be illustrated. What you see here are some examples of illustrated scrolls. This item here was originally part of an ancient scroll dating from the 13th century; a section of what would have been a long roll of paper was cut and mounted on a hanging scroll (kakejiku). Illustrated scrolls are called emaki (picture scrolls).

Skip to 1 minute and 16 secondsThis one here is one of the oldest emaki in Keio University’s collection. The production of illustrated scrolls continued for centuries, through the Heian, Kamakura, and Edo periods. This one here is a 17th century example. These two are parts of the same text. This is what they look like on the outside, but if we go to the section with illustrations, we see that there is a portion of text followed by a painting, and then another portion of text in alternating order, which is the typical structure of these works.

Skip to 2 minutes and 13 secondsThe older 13th century example and these 17th century ones are approximately the same height, slightly over 30 cm, which is the most common size for picture scrolls although larger and smaller ones were also made. This one here, you can see that it is approximately half the size of these other examples. This kind of items began to appear in the 15th or 16th centuries. This is what this example looks like; you can see that there is a painting after a section of text. Because they are half the size of a standard scroll and because the pictures in them are smaller they are called koe (small pictures) or koemaki (small picture scrolls).

Skip to 3 minutes and 38 secondsThus illustrated scrolls come in essentially two sizes, a larger one and a smaller one, but please remember that the smaller format began to be used much later than the larger one.

Scrolls and pictures

The illustrated books were tremendously popular in pre-modern Japan as they are now. We can trace back their origin to 8th century. In this step, Prof. Sasaki introduces “emaki” (illustrated scrolls). He explains their origins and sizes, how they were made and for whom.

First, read the following article, and then watch Prof. Sasaki explain in more detail through examples.

Books on the table Please refer to the “List of the items used in week2 (pdf)” linked in Step 2.1.

Plates and illustrations

Books serve to record text but also images. For the purposes of this course, we are going distinguish two types of book illustrations: images without which the content of the book would not be properly understood (we may call these images, “plates” [図]), and images that serve mainly an ornamental function and are not indispensable for understanding the text (illustrations [絵]). Images in books, newspapers, magazines etc. belong to this second category. Generally speaking, whereas illustrations complement a text usually produced in separate circumstances, plates can come on their own without accompanying text.

Earliest illustrated books

When exactly the first illustrated books made their way into Japan from China is unclear, but it cannot have been much after the beginnings of bookmaking in Japan. The first illustrated book ever produced in Japan was a series of accounts of the past lives of the Buddha (through various cycles of rebirth) entitled Kako genzai inga-kyō (The [Illustrated] Sutra of Cause and Effect) (Fig.1). A manuscript dating from the 8th century survives. The images occupy the upper half of the scroll and the text they refer to is in the bottom half. As the same format can be seen in many items found at the Mogao caves in Dunhuang, it is almost certain that the format was introduced from China at some point before the eighth century. This religious work marks the beginnings of the illustrated book in Japan.

	E inga kyo , Nara National Museum, Fig. 1. E inga kyo , Nara National Museum [1]

Illustrated scrolls and their formats

In the Heian period, illustrated scrolls (emaki) were highly popular. The earliest extant examples date from the 12th century. In addition to Buddhist works, they include fictional tales such as the famous Genji monogatari emaki (Picture Scroll of the Tale of Genji). Unlike the Sutra of Cause and Effect, here excerpts from the text are alternated to paintings of representative scenes. This format quickly gained favor, and was used continuously throughout the medieval period and into the Edo period. Indeed, it is not an exaggeration to call the picture scroll Japan’s archetypal illustrated book.

Size of illustrated scrolls

In terms of size, the typical emaki measures approximately 32 cm in height. As of the second half of the 15th century, a smaller format about 16cm high and known as koe (lit., “small pictures”) also began to be used widely.

fragment Fig. 2. Kitano Tenjin engi emaki [2]

Above photo (Fig.2) is a fragment of a 13th to 14th century item (you can see this material in detail in the video). It measures 30cm in height, probably because some paper was cut off at the edges in order to mount it on a hanging scroll.

The next item is a 16th century scroll “Aizomegawa” (Fig.3) of slightly smaller height (28cm).

Aizomegawa Fig. 3. Aizomegawa [3], 28cm high, Click to take a closer look (Left) (Right)

Next “Tomonaga” is a 17th century item measuring 32.4 cm (Fig.4).

Tomonaga Fig. 4. Tomonaga [4], 32.4cm high , Click to take a closer look (Left) (Center) (Right)

Examples of the smaller koe include this late 16th -early 17th century item “Tori uta-awase emaki” (Fig.5) which is 18.2 cm high.

Tori uta-awase emaki Fig. 5. Tori uta-awase emaki [5], 18.2cm high , Click to take a closer look (Left) (Center) (Right)

Also from the 17th century is this item “Yahyōe nezumi” (Fig.6) which is 16.2 cm high.

Yahyōe nezumi Fig. 6. Yahyōe nezumi [6], 16.2cm high , Click to take a closer look (Top) (Bottom left) (Bottom right)

As we know that some of these ko-emaki were made for elite women and children, it is highly likely that ease of use was one of the reasons, if not the reason, for producing them.

Share this video:

This video is from the free online course:

Japanese Culture Through Rare Books

Keio University