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Hand Scrolls

Hand scroll, or emakimono, painting was introduced to Japan from China in the eighth century, but by late in the Heian period (794-1185), Japanese painters had exceeded anything produced on the continent. Today, hand scroll painting is recognized as one of the premier forms of Japanese visual expression.

Viewing hand scrolls was a intimate experience, in which one would roll out a short section of the scroll, look at it, then roll it again to view another section. Since people would view hand scrolls in sections, artists devised a number of means to link one part to the next. Often, the landscape elements in a scroll provided continuity from one scene to another. In some cases, decorative elements, such as highly conventionalized clouds, where used to link one scene to the next. Many hand scrolls included sections of text, incorporated into the viewing experience in a variety of ways.

Japanese artists utilized the hand scroll format to depict an extensive range of themes and subjects, including secular narratives, Buddhist scriptures, warrior epics, biographies, folk tales, myths, temple histories, and genre.


  Artist Unknown
Genji Monogatari (Tale of Genji)
About mid-18th century
Color on paper
Scene from "Utsusemi" (Chapter 3)

  Scene from "Yûgao"
(Chapter 4)

  Scene from "Wakamurasaki" (Chapter 5)

  Fujiwara Nobuyoshi
Figures Viewing CherryBlossoms

About 1800-1840
Color on paper


  Follower of HanabusaItchô (?), 1652-1724
Demons and Ghosts
About 1700



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Copyright (c) 2000, Mayumi Ishida, All Rights Reserved
Last Updated: April 20, 2000