National TreasureA Tale of Flowering Fortunes (Eiga monogatari)

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  • 17 booklets (10 large and 7 small ones)
  • Ink on paper
  • Large booklets 30.6x24.2 each, small booklets 16.3x14.9 each
  • Kamakura period/13th century
  • Kyushu National Museum
  • B-19

This is the oldest existing manuscript of Eiga Monogatari, a chronicle-type historical story about the late Heian period (eleventh – twelfth century) written in kana. It was originally handed down to the Sanjonishi family and comprises ten large books and seven small books. According to Sanetaka Koki (Sanetaka’s diary), Sanjonishi Sanetaka bought a complete set of 17 books at 100 hiki (unit of money/a roll of a kimono material) in November 1509. According to the writing style and form of the manuscript, it seems that the large books were transcribed in the mid-Kamakura period and the small ones in the early Kamakura period.
Eiga Monogatari can be divided into two large categories: the main story comprising 30 volumes and a sequel comprising 10 volumes. After the main story was written, a different author wrote the sequel. The Nihonkishisho written by Ken-a, a senior priest of Shomyoji Temple, says that Eiga Monogatari was written by Akazomeemon. Akazomeemon is the daughter of Taira no Kanemori, a poet and the wife of Oe no Masahira, the top scholar of the time. She served Minamoto no Rinshi, the legal wife of Fujiwara no Michinaga, at court and later became a priestess. Considering this background, her literary talent and age, it is very likely that she wrote this story.

Dewa no Ben, daughter of Taira no Chikanobu, is regarded as the most likely author of the sequel. While there are some who believe that part or the entire sequel was written by Suo no Naishi, daughter of Taira no Munenaka, some others believe that the sequel was written by more than one woman serving the court. It is estimated that the main story was written around 1030 and the sequel soon after February 1092.

The story is about the court history of approximately 200 years from Emperor Uda to Emperor Horikawa. It depicts how Fujiwara no Michinaga won a power struggle among the aristocrats by taking advantage of his position as the Emperor’s maternal relative and the details of what was happening around him. Although this is a chronicle-type historical book intended to be a successor to Rikkokushi (Japan’s six national histories) or the unfinished Shin-Kokushi (new national history), there are many alterations to historical facts and the chronological order. Since the story describes fragments of life histories, episodes, anecdotes and the characteristics and appearances of people in general and critical terms and provides detailed information on annual events, rituals and garments, it is valuable material for the study of the history of manners and customs.