Senmen Hokekyo Sasshi (fan-shaped articles decorated with sutras) (扇面法華経冊子)

The Senmen Hokekyo Sasshi or Senmen Koshakyo is a collection of fan-shaped articles decorated with sutras that has been passed down by Shitenno-ji Temple in Osaka. Fan-shaped pieces of 'ryoshi' writing paper (the fan face), decorated with pictures, are folded in two, and joined along the fold to other pieces to make a booklet, into which sutras from Buddhist scripture such as the Hokekyo (Lotus Sutra), Muryo gikyo (Sutra of Immeasurable Meanings) and Kanfugenkyo (Samantabhadra Contemplation Sutra) were copied.

Summary

The Senmen Hokekyo Sasshi is an example of the decorative sutras that were popular in the Heian period (794-1185), especially during the period of cloistered rule (1086-c.1185), but the use of fan-shaped ryoshi and the deep colors are unique. It is believed to have been made in the mid-12th century. The pictures depicted everyday scenes in the lives of nobles and common people and were painted in the traditional Yamato-e style. It is a highly valued object of art as well as being the only existing example of the painting style of paper fans which were much cherished at the time. The sutras were written in the Japanese style of handwriting, probably by several people, and provide valuable data on calligraphy. As a form of genre painting, the Senmen Hokekyo Sasshi, like 'emaki' illustrated scrolls, are also important illustrated documents containing valuable information.

Fan-shaped Booklets

The Northern Sung Dynasty period in China is one of the most important periods in the field of biblography, since there was a shift from scroll style books to booklets, with Japan being influenced by such a shift in the Heian period. The Senmen Koshakyo was created against such a background, but it was unique in that it used paper fans as ryoshi. Each ryoshi is a natsu-ogi or Kawahori-ogi folding fan with a side edge of about 25.5cm, an upper arc of about 49.5cm and a lower arc of about 19cm, and the booklets are bound in a style known as deccho-so. The Kyodai (title) was written in gold and one of the Jurasetsunyo (the Japanese name for the 10 demonesses mentioned in the Lotus Sutra) dressed in a kimono was drawn on the front page.

Decoration of Ryoshi

A solution of powdered mica powder is applied to the paper, which is then decorated using a marbling technique, with grains, slices and pieces of gold or silver leaf randomly sprinkled over each ryoshi, and on such highly decorated paper, elegant Fuzokuga (pictures of manners and customs) in the Yamato-e style were hand painted in deep colors and then sutras written. Since the pictures were painted only on one side of the ryoshi, the opened pages show one side of pictures and one side of sutras only. With their gorgeous and splendid decorative effects, they are highly valued in the history of craftwork.

They are unusual in that the sutras are copied onto paper which was produced in large amounts for fans. For this reason they are appreciated more for their historical and informational value as Senmen-ga (illustrated fans) or Yamato-e than as decorative sutras.

Style and Handwriting

The Sutras were written with black ink, in Chinese characters arranged in a radial fashion in the fixed form of 12 lines per page (24 lines on two adjacent pages), with each line composed of 17 characters. They were, however, of elaborate craftsmanship in that when the characters were written on a blue or black background, they were traced with kindei (gold paint) or half a character was written in kindei and the other half in black ink. They were written in the Japanese style of handwriting, probably by several people.

Composition and the Condition of Conservation

It is believed that the Senmen Hokekyo Sasshi was created when Buddhist scriptures began to be beautifully decorated with the spread of belief in the Lotus Sutra, which preached 'Nyonin Jobutsu' (attainment of buddhahood by women) and 'Shakyo Jobutsu' (attainment of buddhahood by copying of sutras). It originally consisted of 10 volumes; eight volumes of 'Myohorenge-kyo (Hokekyo)' and two volumes of Kaiketsu-kyo (sutras read before and after the main sutra) made up of the 'Muryo Gikyo,' to be read before the main sutra, and 'Kanfugenkyo (Bussetsu Kanfugenbosatsu Gyoho-kyo)' (Samantabhadra Contemplation Sutra) to be read after the main sutra, with the number of fan paintings estimated to be 115 in total. Today, of the series, the first, sixth and seventh volume of 'Hokekyo' and the two Kaiketsu-kyo books are kept at Shitenno-ji Temple in Osaka, the complete version of 'Hokekyo' volume 8 is kept at the Tokyo National Museum, and five fragments are kept separately at various facilities, meaning a total of 59 faces and five cover paintings remain in existence.

Technique and Style of Painting

On the ryoshi, the way of life of nobles, their servants and common people as well as natural landscapes were depicted in woodblock prints, ink brush painting or a combination of both, and then colored. On the basis of this, Shizuichi SHIMOMISE points out the importance of the pictures in the history of woodblock prints. Hidekazu AKIYAMA, an art historian, classifies the Ogi-e into Class A (27 faces), Class B (18 faces), Class C (9 faces) and a combination of Classes B and C (5 faces), based on consideration of the painting techniques. Class A is color applied to a mica solution undercoat; Class B is mica solution applied to black ink woodblock prints and then colors added; and Class C is gold and silver leaf scattered on mica, then black ink woodblock prints are added and colored.

The paintings are of a dynamic style with a few characteristics of court paintings, while belonging to the post-Kara-e (Chinese style painting) heyday of Yamato-e. The color tone is not as heavy as in "Genji Monogatari Emaki" (Illustrated handscrolls of the Tale of Genji) and "Heike-nokyo" (sutras dedicated by the Taira family), but is delicate, prismatic and full of grace. The lines are fine and rather rigid because of the woodblock, but most of the handwritten lines are delicate and flowing. While nobles' faces are expressed with the typical 'Hikime Kagibana' style (dashes for eyes, hooks for noses), servants and the everyday life of common people are vividly depicted.

Subjects

Some researchers point out that the subjects of the paintings have nothing to do with the contents of the sutras but others insist that they are directly or indirectly connected. But even the latter consider that it is difficult to understand all the connections between the paintings and the sutras clearly. As fans are mostly used in summer, there are more paintings which depict scenes associated with coolness, such as wells, waterside and snow, than those which depict scenes associated with warmness; cherry blossoms, maples and pine trees are also often depicted. Shizuichi SHIMOMISE thinks that some subjects are from literary works, including "Ise Monogatari" (The Tales of Ise).

The majority of the paintings depict people, but those kept by Shitenno-ji Temple are unusual in that they are Kacho-ga (paintings of flowers and birds), providing valuable data. In addition, men and women of all ages, ranks and vocations are depicted, and so the paintings also provide valuable historical data in that sense.

The most famous paintings are two pieces (the sixth and eleventh fans of "hokkekyo" vol. 7) held by Shitenno-ji Temple depicting the market in Heian-kyo (the ancient name of Kyoto), in which a woman wearing an apron is selling various commodities including fish, fruits, Japanese melons, chestnuts and cloths in a small 2-meter wide shop and another woman wearing an ichime-gasa (a kind of woman's cap with a shade) and uchigi (ordinary kimono) is walking before the shop. The paintings are a good resource for information on the actual customs of commercial activities and furnishings in those days.

Another painting that shows the everyday life of people at that time (the first fan of "hokekyo" vol. 7) features women gathering around a well, with a village woman without an uchigi and carrying a wooden bucket on her head, leading her naked child by the hand, and another woman dressed for travel in an uchigi, quenching her thirst by drinking from the well bucket.

Furthermore, the subjects of the paintings include children's play and seasonal images, such as two girls comparing grasses they have gathered in a game of kusa-awase (the eighth fan of "hokekyo" vol. 7), a boy trying to catch a little bird (the ninth fan of "hokkekyo" vol. 7) and the persimmon harvest (the 11th fan of "hokkekyo" vol. 6), as well as a scene of a court lady admiring the autumn leaves and a serving girl collecting chestnuts (the 10th fan of "hokkekyo" vol. 1), a little girl and a court official reading a letter (the ninth fan of "hokkekyo" vol. 1) and even a scene of a prostitute and a puppet player (or sorcerer) singing Imayo (a popular style of song in the Heian period) as offerings to guardian deity of travelers, Doso-jin, probably to comfort the spirit.

Each of the Jurasetsunyo is depicted as a lady, but only the one in the cover painting of 'Muryo gikyo' is depicted as a young girl wearing Kazami (formal costume).

Period of Production and Identity of the Makers

The most widely accepted theory is that, judging from the painting style and the way of life depicted, the Senmen Hokekyo Sasshi was probably created in the middle of the 12th century. It used to be believed that it was dedicated at the time of the ''Shitennoji Nyoho-kyo Kuyo" (mass for departed souls) held on October 14, 1188, and which is mentioned in entries in FUJIWARA no Kanezane's diary "Gyokuyo" and Tunefusa YOSHIDA's diary "Kikki", but later researchers such as Mitsukazu AKIYAMA and Taka YANAGISAWA discovered that it was probably created at the wish of a noble lady. Today, it is most widely believed that the Senmen Hokekyo Sasshi was devoted in 1152 by Kayano-in FUJIWARA no Taishi, the Empress of Emperor Toba. In any case, the reserved calligraphy of the sutras and the colorful pictures of customs and landscapes side by side in one work clearly demonstrate that nobles at the end of the Heian period celebrated relgion in a variety of ways.

Existing Articles of the Senmen Hokekyo Sasshi

As indicated below, the volumes are separately held by various facilities, but they originally made up one series.

Held by Shitenno-ji Temple (Osaka City, Osaka Prefecture); national treasures
Hokekyo' vol. 1
Hokekyo' vol. 6
Hokekyo' vol. 7
Muryo Gikyo'
Kanfugenkyo'
Held by the Tokyo National Museum (Ueno Park, Taito Ward, Tokyo); national treasure
Hokekyo' vol. 8 (Fumonhon, Daranihon, Gono-bon and Kanboppon)
Fragment, as a hanging scroll, held by Saikyo-ji Temple (Sakamoto, Otsu City, Shiga Prefecture); important cultural property
The eighth fan of 'Hokekyo' vol. 1
Fragment, as a hanging scroll, held by Horyu-ji Temple (Ikaruga-cho, Nara Prefecture); important cultural property
The eighth fan of 'Kanfugenkyo'
Fragment, held by Fujita Museum of Art (Amijima-cho, Miyakojima Ward, Osaka City); important cultural property
Incomplete remains of 'Hokekyo' vol. 6
Fragment, as a hanging scroll, held by Idemitsu Museum of Arts (Marunouchi, Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo); important cultural property
The fourth fan of 'Hokekyo' vol. 1
Fragment held by an individual; important cultural property
The ninth fan of 'Kanfugenkyo'

In addition to those listed above, there is a fragment containing one line and a fragment containing two lines, both of which are held by individuals.