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Reception of Heike Pictures in Early Modern Japan

Naoko Gunji
Augustana college

This article seeks to explore the reception of pictures of Heike monogatari (Heike pictures) among the warrior-class elite in Early Modern Japan.  The Edo period (1601-1868), during which the production of printed Heike books and the performance of episodes from the Heike proliferated, witnessed the production of a large number of Heike pictures.  Heike pictures were made in a variety of formats: folding screen paintings, sliding-door paintings, illustrated handscrolls, album leaves, woodblock prints, etc.; and of these formats the most prevalent among the warrior elite was folding screens that depict the Genpei War (1180-1185).  Previous scholarship of Heike pictures therefore studied different formats separately, and tended to emphasize the aspect of Heike pictures as Kassen-e (war pictures).  Rather than studying a particular format or genre of Heike pictures, this research will study various formats and genres, and show that they all shared the same political, cultural, social, and religious significances, which were also shared by the textual, oral, and theatrical representations of the Heike.  I will moreover argue that these functions of Heike pictures---although different aspects were emphasized on different occasions---were fully understood and utilized by both men and women of the elite warriors.  To establish these theses, I will consider the Edo reception of Heike pictures in the light of continuation of that in the medieval period, and analyze production processes of Heike pictures as well as appreciation of the Heike and of performing arts.  An interesting case study of the functions of Heike pictures is also provided by the imperial consort Tōfukumon’in (1607-1678).

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