National TreasureCollection of Ancient and Modern Japanese Poems, Gen'ei Version

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  • 古今和歌集
  • 2 booklets
  • Ink on decorative paper
  • 21.1x15.5
  • Heian period/12th century
  • Tokyo National Museum
  • B-2814
  • Donated by Mitsui Takahiro

This version of the Collection of Ancient and Modern Japanese Poems (J. Kokin wakashû) is the oldest complete manuscript of the more than thirty different extant Heian-period (794-1185) editions of this poetry anthology. It contains the Japanese preface (J. kanajo) and all twenty "scrolls" (the anthology is divided into thematically unified sections which are called "scrolls" no matter what form the text takes). Here, it is bound in book form and comprises two volumes. An afterword to the first volume is dated the third year of Gen'ei (1120), hence its name, the "Gen'ei Version" (J. Gen'ei bon).

The paper used to make the volumes was dyed in colors such as purple, red, green, yellow, brown, and white, and printed with mica (J. kira) in various Chinese-style designs including diamonds (J. hishi), octagonal tortoise-shell designs (J. kikkô), arabesques (J. karakusa), and interlocking circles (J. shippô). Gold and silver flakes and dust was also sprinkled over the front and back of the papers. The poems written on these gorgeous sheets are either composed in two or three neat lines or decoratively scattered across the page, using both Chinese characters (J. kanji) and the Japanese phonetic syllabary (J. kana). The calligraphy is technically ambitious-the brush strokes are made heavier or lighter depending on the atmosphere of the page-and the manuscripts are valuable to both Japanese art history and literary history. Fujiwara no Sadazane, the great grandson of the renowned calligrapher Fujiwara no Yukinari (972-1027), who put the final touches on Japanese-style calligraphy, is thought to have copied out the text.

This copy of the Collection of Ancient and Modern Japanese Poems was passed down within the Owari Tokugawa clan. After entering the hands of the Kaga Maeda clan, it became the property of the Mitsui family, which later donated it to the Tokyo National Museum.

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