Important Cultural Property“Request for Leave from the Scriptorium Scribe Makon no Shimanushi” Verso with Records on Food Rations from the Thousand-Scroll Sutra Transcription Bureau (J. Shasenkan)

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  • Ink on paper
  • Height 28.9 cm, length 24.7 cm
  • Nara period, 758 (Tenpyō Hōji 2)
  • Nara National Museum
  • 1459(書158)

  The “Request for Leave from the Scriptorium Scribe Makon no Shimanushi (J. Makon no Shimanushi ge)” was submitted by Makon no Shimanushi, a scribe responsible for the copying of sutras at the Office of Sutra Transcription (J. Shakyō sho) in Nara, one of many scriptoriums active at the ancient capital. This petition is dated to the twenty-eighth day of the seventh month of 758 (Tenpyō Hōji 2). According to the document, a relative of Makon no Shimanushi—possibly a sibling of his father—had fallen seriously ill two days earlier, on the twenty-sixth day of that month. Because this relative was so weak as to be unable to leave their quarters, and had not yet recovered by the 28th day, Makon no Shimanushi sought another four days away from the scriptorium to care for the relative himself.
  There are many other petitions for time off penned by scribes at the Office of Sutra Transcription during the Nara period (710–794) that are still extant. The reasons offered for such requests are many and varied—the scribe had finished transcribing the sutras for which they were responsible; the scribe was in poor health; there was a death in the family. Thus these documents are of profound importance: they bring to life the voices of low-ranking officials from the distant past.
  Finally, the reverse side of this paper was used as well once it had served its purpose as a petition. It was used as part of the records on food rations at the Thousand-Scroll Sutra Transcription Bureau.