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Scrolls and pictures

Prof. Sasaki introduces "emaki" (illustrated scrolls).

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.

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

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
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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, 28cm high,
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Next “Tomonaga” is a 17th century item measuring 32.4 cm (Fig.4).

Tomonaga Fig.4. Tomonaga, 32.4cm high ,
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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, 18.2cm high,
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Also from the 17th century is this item “Yahyōe nezumi” (Fig.6) which is 16.2 cm high.

Yahyōe nezumi Fig.6. Yahyōe nezumi, 16.2cm high,
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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.

Books introduced in the video

Books on the table

3. Kachō fūgetsu 2. Taketori monogatari 1. Kitano Tenjin engi emaki
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