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Saru no soshi emaki 猿草子絵巻 (Tale of the Monkeys)

  • Object type

  • Museum number


  • Title (object)

    • Saru no soshi emaki 猿草子絵巻 (Tale of the Monkeys)
  • Description

    Painting, handscroll. Ink and colours on paper. With new paulownia storage box, contained together with original lacquered box in a large wooden case. Illustrated tale of the marriage of two monkeys, set on Mt. Hiei; Shibuzane, priest of Hiyoshi Shrine (Sanno Gongen), marrying his daughter to Yosaburo Yoshinari of Yokawa on Mt. Hiei. Six sections each of text and paintings:
    1. Shibuzane consulting about the marriage proposal for his daughter.
    2. Wedding procession of Shibuzane's daughter.
    3. Shibuzane consulting about inviting his son-in-law to a banquet.
    4. Yasaburo, the young son and entourage on their way to Shibuzane's residence.
    5. Tea ceremony performed as part of 'renga' (linked verse) session.
    6. Banquet at Shibuzane's residence.

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  • Producer name

  • School/style

  • Culture/period

  • Date

    • 1570-1590
  • Production place

  • Materials

  • Technique

  • Dimensions

    • Height: 30.9 centimetres
    • Width: 1329.4 centimetres
  • Inscriptions

      • Inscription Type

      • Inscription Comment

        For full transcription of text passages and in-picture dialogue, see Sawai Taizo (et al.), 'Muromachi monogatari shu', vol 1 (1989), pp. 433-467.
  • Curator's comments

    Monkeys are regarded as the messengers of the deity of Mt Hiei. Here they are made to inhabit the world of humans and tell the story of the marriage of one Yokawa Yasaburo to the daughter of Shibuzane, priest of the Hie Shrine. This section shows a night-time linked verse (renga) party held by Shibuzane in honour of his son-in-law, with tea prepared using precious utensils on the far left of the room. This is one of the earliest surviving depictions of a formal tea ceremony for many participants. (Label copy, TTC 2001)Smith et al 1990

    While lacking some sections, this long handscroll is the only known text of this tale, of the type called 'otogi-zoshi' (servants' tales). It tells the story of the entertainment of Yoshinari Yasaburo of Mount Hiei by his prospective father-in-law, Prince Shibuzane of the Hie shrine.

    All of the characters appear as monkeys, and the illustrations must have been conceived as a satire on contemporary manners, which are described in some detail. Among the sections there are vivid scenes of feasting, of the then relatively new Tea Ceremony, and the earliest-known picture of 'renka', or a verse-capping meeting. The main thrust of the satire is at the religious establishments of Mount Hiei, which had for centuries grown in power, luxury and indeed in turbulence, maintaining their own armies of priest-soldiers. The Hie shrine, allied to this Enryakuji Temple complex, was destroyed in 1571 by the warlord Oda Nobunaga, who had lost patience with the power and pretensions of the religious. This beautifully produced satire in the pure Yamato-e style must have shortly preceded that event.See also:
    Barbara Ruch, 'Zaigai Nara ehon' (Kadokawa Shoten, 1981), nos. 1-2.
    Lone Takeuchi, "An Otogizoshi in Context: 'Saru no soshi' and the Hie-Enryakuji Religious Multiplex in the Late Sixteenth Century", 'Japanese Journal of Religious Studies', 23:1-2 (Spring 1996), pp. 29-60.
    Rosina Buckland, "The Message of the Monkeys", 'Oriental Art', vol. XLIX, no. 5 (2004), pp. 2-10.
    Hiroki Kazuhito, 'Renga no kokoro to kaiseki' (Kazama Shobo, 2006), pp. 106-116.

    Attributed by Sumiyoshi Hiroyuki to Tosa Mitsuzumi, in an authentication certificate dated 3rd month, Bunka 6 [1806]; see "Sumiyoshi-ke kantei ko", 'Bijutsu kenkyu', no. 38 (Feb 1935), p. 42.
    Attributed by Kohitsu Ryonin to Asukai Ichii-no-tsubone, a celebrated female artist of the Tosa school in the 15thC. [Letter from Sidney Colvin, dated 6th June 1902, BM archives]

    Ichiko Teiji et al. (annotated by), 'Shin koten bungaku taikei 54: Muromachi monogatari shu jo' Iwanami Shoten, 1989.Hizo Nihon bijutsu taikan Vol 2

    The 'otogi-zoshi emaki', handscrolls illustrating a type of popular tale that enjoyed a vogue in the Muromachi period, form a distinct and unusual genre within medieval painting. This genre includes a group of works known as 'irui-mono' - literally, "other kind (i.e., animal) pieces" - in which the story is enacted by anthropomorphic animals; extant examples include 'nezumi-no-soshi' (rat tales), 'kitsune-no-soshi' (fox tales), and 'tsuru-no-soshi' (crane tales).

    This 'saru-no-soshi' or monkey tale, another typical example of the genre, consists of a fairly realistic story set on Mt. Hiei. Shibuzane, a priest of the Hie Shrine (Sanno Gongen), marries his beautiful only daughter to Yosaburo Yoshinari, who lives at Yokawa on Mt. Hiei, and a boy-child of surpassing beauty is in due course born to the couple. Shibuzane is delighted and invites his son-in-law to a banquet at which those attending amuse themselves by composing linked verses ('renga'); that is the whole of the story. At present, the work consists of six sections each of text and paintings, but it seems likely that a certain number of sections have been lost and that the original handscroll was somewhat longer. The roles of human characters are all taken by monkeys, an animal traditionally associated with Hie Shrine.

    One is struck, glancing through the scroll, by the detail and concreteness of the narration, which has elements suggesting something more than mere fiction. The 'renga' masters Soken and Soyo, for example, were historical figures of the day, and objects still existing or known to have existed, such as the well-known tea-ceremony utensil "Tsukumo-nasu", are worked into the story. The faithful descriptions in both text and painting give the work great value as a record of tea-ceremony practices and 'renga' gatherings of the time, while the text as such, an actual example of an early 'otogi-zoshi', is of undoubted importance from a literary viewpoint. The text of the second section, furthermore, devotes a great deal of space - eighty-odd lines - to an account of the founding of Hiei Shrine on Mt. Hiei; thus the work has something of the nature of an 'engi', a temple or shrine history, while at the same time reflecting contemporary society as well.

    The pictures are notable for their colorfulness, full use being made of strong, bright hues in, for example, the robes worn by the monkeys. The patterns of the clothing are treated in fine detail, but as a whole the style has a marked lack of sophistication; in particular, the depiction of the base-stones beneath the veranda and of the ground by the water has a different feeling from that of artists of the Tosa and other orthodox schools. The matters dealt with in the work suggest that the story is set in the mid-sixteenth century, and the handscroll itself would seem to date from about that time, probably the very end of the Muromachi period.


  • Bibliography

    • Rousmaniere 2002 19 bibliographic details
    • Hizo Nihon bijutsu taikan Vol 2 2, Ref.1 bibliographic details
    • Smith et al 1990 43 bibliographic details
    • Tokyo National Museum 1987 8 bibliographic details
  • Location

    Not on display

  • Exhibition history


    2001, 30 Jan-8 Apr, BM Japanese Galleries, 'Arts of Japan: Recently repaired paintings, Ukiyo-e IV'
    2006 Oct 13-2007 Feb 11, BM Japanese Galleries, 'Japan from prehistory to the present'
    2007 Jun 13-Oct 7, BM Japanese Galleries, 'Japan from Prehistory to the Present'
    2010 Oct- 2011 Feb, BM Japanese Galleries, 'Japan from prehistory to the present'
    2011 Feb 14- Jun 13, BM Japanese Galleries, 'Japan from Prehistory to the Present'

  • Condition

    Remounted in 1990s.

  • Subjects

  • Associated places

  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date


  • Department


  • Registration number


  • Additional IDs

    • Anderson No. 497 (annotation in Anderson 1886)
    • Jap.Ptg.59 (Japanese Painting Number)
Handscroll. legend. Story of monkeys from an otogi-zoshi (fairytale), with text passages. Ink and colour on paper.


Handscroll. legend. Story of monkeys from an otogi-zoshi (fairytale), with text passages. Ink and colour on paper.

Image description



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