Cultures & Traditions

Japanese Scroll Painting

Scroll paintings, created on silk or paper, appear in two formats: handscrolls and hanging scrolls. Handscrolls were originally used to circulate Buddhist texts, with early examples dating back to the Nara period (710-794 C.E.). Though influenced by Chinese culture, they developed into a distinctly Japanese form. Gakan is the term used to refer to Chinese as well as non-narrative handscrolls; Japanese handscrolls are referred to as emaki—_illustrated narratives and picture scrolls. To reveal the text or series of scenes on a handscroll, the viewer unrolls it from right to left. By the Heian period (794-1185 C.E.), tales of romance, war, and adventure were among the subjects of _emaki. Murasaki Shikibu wrote one of the oldest novels in the world, the Tale of Genji (Genji Monogatari), during this period. Such works comprise several handscrolls and were stored rolled.

The vertical hanging scroll, or kakemono, is left open and hung on a wall or in an alcove; when not on display it is stored rolled. This format was originally associated with early Buddhist painting, but in the Muromachi period (1333-1573) became associated with Zen and the tea ceremony. Though a form of Buddhism, Zen imagery expanded into secular representations such as landscapes, and secular activities served as meditative practice. Tea drinking was a meditative practice of Chinese Chan Buddhism from which Zen derived and was incorporated into Japanese culture. Hanging scrolls were displayed within the teahouse according to season or occasion to create a harmonious aesthetic experience.

Jeelan Bilal-Gore, Digital Collections Content Coordinator, 2015.

Drawn from

  • "Kakemono," in Japanese Architecture and Art Net Users System, jaanus/deta/k/kakemono.htm [Accessed February 16, 2015]
  • "Emaki," in Japanese Architecture and Art Net Users System, jaanus/deta/e/emaki.htm, [Accessed February 16, 2015]
  • Ienaga Saburo, Painting in the Yamato Style, trans. by John M. Shields (New York: Weatherhill, 1973), 94-128.
  • Wa-Ei taisho Nihon bijutsu yogo jiten = A dictionary of Japanese art terms, bilingual (Tokyo: Tokyo Bijutsu, 1990), 62; 97.
  • Penelope Mason, History of Japanese Art (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1993), 194-210.

Web Resources