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61 results
Akogi
Noh is a classical Japanese performance art that developed into its present form during the 14th and 15th centuries under the patronage of the shogunate. It became one of the favorite pastimes of the ruling class in Japan. Noh drama consists of dance and music. An utai-bon (book of lyrics) was made for each song in the drama. Noh was most popular during the 17th century, so many utai-bon, or Noh libretti, were published at that time. Shown here is a part of an utai-bon of Kanze-ryū style, one of ...
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The Tales of Ise
Ise monogatari (The tales of Ise) is a collection of some 125 brief episodes, combining elements of prose and poetry, that dates from the early Heian period (9th−10th centuries). The protagonist is believed to be modeled on Ariwarano Narihira (825−80), a handsome aristocrat who had many romantic affairs. The main character’s romances, friendships, heartbroken wandering life, and various other stories are narrated in a style that owes much to waka (literally, Japanese poems). The work had a great influence on later Japanese literature, including Genji monogatari (The ...
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Album of Appreciation of the Fragrance of Spring
Takuhanga is a printing technique in which a cloth-covered cotton ball containing black ink is patted on wet paper placed on an intaglio-engraved woodblock. The technique derives from takuhon, the art of rubbing found in Chinese copybooks printed from the works of old masters of calligraphy. This late-18th-century takuhanga album includes poems in the Chinese style celebrating the spring scenery of Kyoto written by learned men from the city who were students of Chinese literature, including Iwagaki Ryūkei (1741−1808). The drawings are by prominent Kyoto artists from the time ...
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Picture Book of Chrysanthemums
The chrysanthemum, the flower loved by Tao Yuan-ming (365−427), a distinguished Chinese poet of the Eastern Jin dynasty, was brought to Japan around the beginning of the Heian period (794−1185). The plant took root on Japanese soil and by the Edo period (1600−1868) several hundred different types of chrysanthemum were being cultivated in the country. Gakiku is the first picture book of chrysanthemums published in Japan. Its beautiful illustrations and Chinese-style poems introduced readers to 100 different varieties of the flower. The text and lines are printed ...
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Tsukishima
Tsukishima is a Kōwaka-mai (dance drama) ballad that dates from the Muromachi period (1336−1573). It is also called Hyōgo or Hyōgo tsukishima. The literal meaning of “tsukishima” is "making an island," and the ballad is based on an episode in which Taira no Kiyomori (1118−81), a general and noble, built a new port in Fukuhara, Hyōgo. The story starts with Kiyomori's decision to build the port. To ensure the success of the construction, 30 people are captured in order to be made human sacrifices to the gods ...
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The Insect Book
Ehon mushi-erami (The insect book) is by the ukiyo-e painter Kitagawa Utamaro (circa 1753−1806). It was created by him before he produced the bijin-ga (pictures of beautiful women) for which he is famous. Each double page of the book contains a painted illustration of a plant and two species of insects, along with two kyōka (a poem style originating from waka, literally, Japanese poems). The kyōka are ostensibly insect-themed love poems. In all, 15 colored wood-block prints are included. The work demonstrates Utamaro’s skill at drawing, as well ...
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Chronicle of Japan, Volumes 1 and 2
Nihon shoki (Chronicle of Japan) is the first official Japanese history book, edited by Imperial Prince Toneri and others and completed in the fourth year of the Yōrō era (720). The 30 volumes cover the period from the mythological age to the time of the Empress Jitō (end of the seventh century). The first and second volumes, which deal with the mythological age, have been highly regarded in Japan since ancient times. The oldest existing manuscript of Nihon shoki dates from the Heian period (794−1185). The first published edition ...
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Illustrated Manual of Medical Plants
This book is considered the first full-scale botanical art book in Japan. It was published in the late Edo period and comprises 92 volumes (volumes 1−4 remain incomplete), including more than 1,900 varieties of plants. The author, Iwasaki Kan’en (1786−1842), was a shogunate vassal. The work contains colored illustrations of wild species, garden species, and imported species, captioned with taxonomic names, and includes biological explanations and other information. The plants are classified and arranged according to the 16th-century Honzō kōmoku (Bencao gangmu in Chinese), a Chinese ...
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Commentary on The Analects of Confucius
Rongo (Analects) is famed as the collection of the words and deeds of Confucius. As the most cherished scripture of Confucianism, the book greatly influenced the culture of China and neighboring nations. It is said to have been introduced to Japan around the fifth century. The first published edition of Rongo in Japan was made in Sakai, a city in present-day Ōsaka Prefecture, in the 19th year of the Shōhei period (1364), and is known as the Shōhei version. The wood blocks of the first edition disappeared in early days ...
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Lotus Sutra
The practice of printing Buddhist scriptures on the reverse of letters from the deceased to pray for the repose of his or her soul became common from the end of the Heian period (late 12th century) onward. The scrolls shown here contain the text of a Buddhist sutra called Myōhō renge-kyō (Lotus sutra). They are printed on the reverse of letters sent from Daitō Genchi, the second abbot of Kakuon-ji Temple in Kamakura. It is believed that Hōjō Sadatoki’s wife, to whom the letters are addressed, and some others ...
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The Completion of Mere Ideation
In Japan temples were the center of publishing until the Middle Ages. The Kasuga edition of the Buddhist scriptures was produced at the Kōfuku-ji Temple in Nara. These scrolls, from that edition, contain the text of Jōyuishikiron (The completion of mere ideation), a commentary on the work by the Indian scholar Seshin (Vasubandhu in Sanskrit) known as Yuishiki sanjūju (Triṃśikā-vijñapti-kārikā in Sanskrit, Weishi sanshi song in Chinese). The commentary was translated into Chinese during the Tang dynasty by a Chinese monk named Xuanzang. It was a canon of the ...
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The Analects of Confucius
Rongo (Analects) is famed as the collection of the words and deeds of Confucius and has greatly influenced the culture of China and neighboring nations as the most cherished scripture of Confucianism. It is said to have been introduced to Japan around the fifth century. This work is called the “Tenmon version,” the second version of the published Rongo in Japan after the Rongo shikkai (known as the Shōhei version) first published in Japan in the 19th year of the Shōhei era (1364). The Tenmon Analects were published in the ...
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Military Epic about the Life of Yoshitsune
Gikei ki tells a fictional story based on the life of Minamoto Yoshitsune, a famous military commander of the 12th century. In the book, Yoshitsune’s elder brother Minamoto Yoritomo, the first shogun in the history of Japan, becomes suspicious of his younger brother’s ambition after his glorious victories in a series of battles. By order of Yoritomo, Yoshitsune is expelled from Kyoto, hounded, and finally forced to commit suicide. The tragic story of Yoshitsune has long been popular in Japan and was often described in novels and dramas ...
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Story of the Moon and the Sun
Tsukimitsu no sōshi (Story of the moon and the sun) is one of the otogizōshi, Japanese fairy tales of the Muromachi period (1336−1573). In the story, Hō’ō and Sansō, sons of a very wealthy man in Magada-koku, Tenjiku (an old name for India), were exiled by their stepmother to Shiomizu Island. Their dead birth mother changes herself into a large bird of paradise in order to protect and raise them. The boys eventually are rescued by their father, and grow up to be tsuki (the moon) and hi ...
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A Collection of Japanese Paintings
This picture book is by Hishikawa Moronobu (died 1694) a representative artist in the earliest days of ukiyo-e. It consists of 20 pictures depicting popular scenes from classical Japanese literature, including Ise monogatari (The tales of Ise), Genji monogatari (The tale of Genji), and yōkyoku (chants of Noh plays). Moronobu was the first artist who put his signature on printed books. On the colophon of this work, he identifies himself as Yamato-e-shi (artist of classical Japanese paintings), thereby showing his professional confidence in himself as an artist. The National Diet ...
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Beauties of Yoshiwara
Seirō Bijin Awase (Beauties of Yoshiwara) is one of the finest multicolored woodblock printed books in Japan. It was published in 1770. The book depicts 166 courtesans of the Yoshiwara, the pleasure quarter in Edo (present-day Tokyo), with the names of the courtesans and the brothels where they worked, with a haiku (a short poem) in the background of each illustration. The work consists of five sections in five chapters. The original title slip on which the book title and the volume title were printed is attached to the center ...
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The Constitution of Japan (The Official Gazettes, a Special Edition)
This publication is an extra edition of the Official Gazette in which the Constitution of Japan was promulgated. It was preserved in the archives of Irie Toshio (1901-72), director-general of the Bureau of Legislation under the first Yoshida Shigeru cabinet in 1946-47. The revised bill of the Imperial Constitution passed the Japanese House of Representatives on October 7, 1946. The constitution was promulgated on November 3. On the cover page of the Gazette can be seen the autographs of Prime Minister Yoshida Shigeru (1878-1967), Minister of State in Charge of ...
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One Million Small Wooden Pagodas and Dharani Prayers
Hyakumanto Darani (The one million pagodas and Dharani prayers) is the oldest traceable publication in the world whose production date is clearly identified. In 764, the Empress Shōtoku (718-770) ordered the donation of Hyakumanto Darani, each containing a small scroll printed with four Buddhist Dharani sutras, to ten major temples. The National Diet Library holds several of the scrolls that were donated to the Hōryūji Temple in Nara prefecture in western Japan. These three-tiered pagodas were painted with white clay. It is unclear whether the printing blocks were of wood ...
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A View of Mimeguri Shrine from the Sumida River
This work by Shiba Kokan (1747-1818), a famous Western-style painter of the late Edo period (1600-1867), is the first copperplate etching by a Japanese artist. It depicts the landscape of Mimeguri Shrine at Mukōjima, eastern Edo (present-day Tokyo), as seen from the bank of the Sumida River. Because the etching was made for a peep-show box, left and right are reversed. Kokan was interested in Western science and wrote works on astronomy and geography. In this picture, he uses Western perspective drawing technique.
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100 Poems by 100 Poets
This illustrated book of Ogura hyakunin isshu (One hundred poets, one hundred poems) is a collection of one hundred 31-syllable classical Japanese poems (waka), each by a different poet. The collection is organized chronologically from Emperor Tenji (626-671) to Emperor Juntoku (1197-1242). Each of the poets is depicted by a woodblock print created by Hishikawa Moronobu (1618-circa 1694). Morobonu is often considered the first Ukiyo-e artist.
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The Tale of Genji
This book is an old movable-type edition of one of the best-known classic works of Japanese literature. It is said to be the first printed version of Genji monogatari (The tale of Genji) and appears in 54 volumes produced in the Keichō Era (1596–1615). This is one of the earliest books for which hiragana types were used, and only two others are extant as scribal copies. Hiragana is a cursive script of the Japanese syllabary. One of the oldest novels in the world, Genji monogatari was written in the ...
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