«Nara ehon» picture books on display in Tokyo

Nara ehon. Yokobue no sashi. 23,5 x 17,5 cm. Kanbun Period. 1661-1673

An exhibition of «Nara ehon» picture books will be held at a gallery of Maruzen Bookstore’s main store inside the Marunouchi Oazo complex in Tokyo through August 28–September 3. «Nara ehon» are short illustrated narrative manuscripts that were created during the later years of the Muromachi Period to the middle part of the Edo Period. They contain paintings and texts in various genres such as literary classics, military stories and fairy tales.

In terms of format, «Nara ehon» may be grouped into three categories of horizontal books, vertical books, and large vertical books. While the bindings of the manuscripts also vary, the most common are ones with navy blue covers with designs of autumn grasses in gold pigment and attached with vermillion title slips that were sometimes called yomeiri-bon («trousseau books»). The illustrations provided on a single page or as a spread, may generally be grouped to those either executed in the so-called «Nara-e style» using inexpensive opaque pigment (doroenogu) or in a more delicately rendered luxurious style. Both styles employ the standardized composition of framing the top and bottom of the pictorial surface with trailing mist (suyari-gasumi). Vivid colors such as vermillion and green are combined with lavish uses of gold and silver foils and pigments in Nara ehon, not unlike miniatures.

The «Nara ehon» are often regarded as the starting point for today’s Japanese picture books. Supposedly, the earliest of the books were made in the Tensho years (circa 1565–1595) and the latest in the Genroku years (circa 1685–1715). The exhibition features fifty original «Nara ehon» in the form of books, rolls and foldings. The titles include a story about a snow woman, who is actually a racoon dog, and a heaven and hell fantasy about Minamoto-no-Yoshitune and Benkei fighting Heike samurai.

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Published in: on August 26, 2005 at 1:11 am  Leave a Comment  
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