Yamato-e painting (大和絵)

Yamato-e is one concept of style in Japanese paintings. It is a term which is opposed to the term 'Kara-e,' i.e., paintings in Chinese style, and it refers to the painting in Japanese style which was developed in the era of the Kokufu Bunka (Japan's original national culture) during the Heian period. It is typically seen in emakimono (an illustrated scroll) such as Genji Monogatari Emaki (Illustrated handscrolls of the Tale of Genji). It had been succeeded by Tosa school, and so on and affected Japanese-style painting in recent and modern times. The Kano-ha school integrated the tradition of Yamato-e and the technique and subject of Suiboku-ga (ink painting) in China.

The Concepts

It is difficult to define what kind of paintings the term 'Yamato-e' refers to clearly, and its sense and usage are subtly different depending on the period. It is clear that 'Yamato-e' is a term or a concept which is opposed to the term 'Kara-e' (pictures of Han). The term 'Kara-e' refers to not only paintings imported from China to Japan, but also ones in 'Chinese style' drawn by Japanese. The 'Chinese style' in this case relates to both subjects (themes) and the way of painting, and it can be said that Kara-e are the pictures that depict Sansui (landscape, hills and rivers) and customs in the style of Chinese painting. In contrast, Yamato-e refers to paintings that depict landscape and customs in Japan (instead of China) primarily. After medieval times when the paintings of Sung and Yuan such as ink-wash paintings were accepted mainly by the temples of the Zen sect and ink-wash paintings and pictures of Han (by Kano School, and so on) were produced, the paintings in the traditional style with characteristically dark colors were called Yamato-e.

The term Yamato-e has been generally written as '大和絵' in kanji (Chinese characters) since recent times, but it had been also written as '倭絵' or '和絵' before recent times, and in some cases the word '日本画' was also read as 'Yamato-e.'
For this reason, some people use the hiragana (the Japanese cursive syllabary) description as 'やまと絵' in modern times.
In 1993 the Tokyo National Museum held a special exhibition of representative Yamato-e works titled 'Yamato-e, Miyabi no keifu (Japanese style paintings, genealogy of refinement),' and it defined the term 'Yamato-e' as the 'paintings originated from dynastic arts.'

The Heian Period

The Tang, which had strong political and cultural effects in Asia, declined at the end of the 9th century, and fell at the beginning of the 10th century. It is said that various countries became less influenced by China and each developed their own culture around that time. In Japan the Kentoshi (Japanese envoy to China in the Tang Dynasty) was abolished in 894 and in the 10th century, the so-called the Kokufu Bunka, which was unaffected by Tang, flourished. Specifically, kana (Japanese syllabary - alphabet) was devised based on kanji (Chinese characters), waka (a traditional Japanese poem of thirty-one syllables) and chronicles were described, and wayo shodo (literally, "Japanese calligraphy") was established, and there was speculation that Yamato-e also appeared around that time. The first appearance of 'Yamato-e' as opposed to Kara-e was considered as the section dated December 15, 999 in the dairy of FUJIWARA no Yukinari, 'Gonki,' in which it was recorded that Yukinari, who was famous for good penmanship in those days, wrote letters on the 'Yamato-e yonshaku byobu' (folding screen of 1.2 meter width with Yamato-e). In the volume of 'Eawase' (A Picture Contest) in " Genji Monogatari" (The Tale of Genji), which was written around the same time (from the end of the 10th century to the beginning of the 11th century), narrative paintings such as "Taketori Monogatari" (The Tale of the Bamboo-Cutter), "Utsuho Monogatari" (The Tale of Utsuho) and "Ise Monogatari" (The Tales of Ise) were described. Of course, "Genji" is a fiction, but it can be thought that it reflected the situation that the paintings based on Japanese tales were enjoyed among the Imperial Court and aristocratic society in those days.

The existing paintings made during the Heian period are mostly Buddhist paintings. As to earthen pictures other than Buddhist paintings, many large-sized Yamato-e works must have been done on shoji (a paper sliding door) and folding screens for furnishing or partitioning in the Imperial Court or the residence of aristocracy, but only particular examples related to shrines and temples remain in existence. As a Yamato-e painter from the early part to the middle of the Heian period, KOSE no Kanaoka and KOSE no Omi of Kose School and ASUKABE no Tsunenori were known, but their works did not exist now so it is a pity that we can not trace the history of their styles from their original works. As to Emakimono, the existing oldest works are those produced around the 12th centuries such as the "Genji Monogatari Emaki," and there were no existing narrative paintings produced before the 11th century, and it is a pity that the reality of this situation and the history of its style are not clear.

The first pointed out as existing Yamato-e works produced during the Heian period is Emakimono. The four major picture scrolls, that is, "Genji Monogatari Emaki," "Ban Dainagon Ekotoba" (picture scrolls about Conspiracy of Otenmon gate), "Shigisan Engi" (legends of Mt. Shigi) and "Choju-Jinbutsu-giga" (picture scroll drawn animals and people caricatured) are considered to be produced during the end of the Heian period (in the 12th century) (however, two among the four volumes of "Choju-Jinbutsu-giga" were produced during the Kamakura period). It is clear that many large-sized Yamato-e such as those drawn on folding screen or shoji were produced other than those on small-sized screens from records, but only few of them remain.

The Outstanding Works
Senzui-byobu (folding screen with landscape picture): housed in the Kyoto National Museum, a national treasure. It was brought to the To-ji Temple in Kyoto and was a folding screen placed in the dojo (place of Buddhist practice or meditation) for the ritual of Esoteric Buddhism. In the 11th centuries.

Shotokutaishi-eden (Illustrated Biography of Prince Shotoku): housed in the Tokyo National Museum (dedicated treasures of Horyu-ji Temple), a national treasure. Originally it was a mural painting at edono (a painting placed in a building to be adored) in the Toin of Horyu-ji Temple and it is framed at present. The name of the painter was HATA no Munesada, and it was done in 1069.

The paintings on walls and doors in the Phoenix Hall of Byodoin Temple: housed in the Byodoin Temple in Kyoto, a national treasure. Although they are Buddhist pictures of the Jodo sect subjects being 'Kuhon-raigo' (nine Amidabha Buddha coming on purple clouds from each Gokurakujodo (Buddhist paradise) to welcome the spirits of the dead), the landscapes in Yamato-e style are drawn on the background, so that it is also valuable as one of the few historical artifacts from the Heian period. They were completed in 1053.

Genji Monogatari Emaki: housed in The Tokugawa Art Museum and The Goto Museum, a national treasure.

Ban Dainagon Ekotoba: housed in the Idemitsu Museum of Arts, a national treasure.

Shigisan Engi: housed in Chogosonshi-ji Temple in Nara, a national treasure.

Choju-Jinbutsu-giga: housed in Kozan-ji Temple in Kyoto, a national treasure.

[Original Japanese]