Tuesday, July 31, 2018

A Legendary Hero of the Battle of Yashima

A painting of Japanese samura on foot and horseback from within the Nara Ehon
Nara was the first permanent capital of Japan and an important site of cultural development for the Japanese people. The Nara Period, lasting from 710 to 794 CE, saw numerous advancements: the first minting of coins, the establishment of Buddhism as a permanent and state-encouraged religion, and the creation of the first written Japanese literary and historical texts. Subsequent generations of Japanese people looked back on the Nara period as a cultural touchstone and a defining moment in the history of their country. As a result, numerous legends and heroes from that period became enshrined in Japanese literature, and one popular genre was the Nara Ehon, or the Nara picture books. These hand-painted manuscript codices traditionally told the tale of a hero or event from the Nara period or some other legendary moment from Japan's past. Their creators used gold and silver lavishly, as well as a stunning palette of beautiful and bright colors that make the scenes and characters come alive on the page.

Here at Rauner, we have a sumptuous example of a Nara Ehon that is titled Yashima. Our manuscript
A painting of Japanese samura on foot and horseback from within the Nara Ehon, including a decapitated warrior.
was made in the 17th century and tells the story of Sato Tsuginobu. Tsuginobu was a soldier who served in the army of Minamoto no Yoshitsune, himself one of the most famous samurai warriors in the history of Japan. During the naval Battle of Yashima on March 22, 1185, Tusginobu leapt in front of his master, Yoshitsune, and was killed by an arrow meant for the samurai leader. The two-volume story is a masterpiece of Japanese artwork and calligraphic skill that manages to impress even if the language is foreign to its reader.

To see this lovely book, come to Rauner and ask for Codex 002093.

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