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 tale of Genji). Shown here is the earliest printed edition of Ise monogatari. It is a beautiful book with flowing characters on paper of different colors, decorated with brushed-on shell pigment. It was produced with the old movable type and illustrated with engraved wood-block prints. The publishing of this book involved the artist Hon’ami Kōetsu (1558−1637) and Suminokura Soan (1571−1617), a chirographer and wealthy trading merchant of the Kyoto-Saga area.

Last updated: December 12, 2017