Scroll on paper of the second part of “The Tale of Zegaibo,” with four long, finely colored brush & ink paintings & much poetry in a fine calligraphic hand on 12 joined sheets.

Scroll (322 x 7800 mm.), recently backed with some careful mending. Japan: later mid-Edo.

The “Tale of Zegaibo” is a well-known story in Japanese folklore; it was included in the Konjaku Monogatarishu [Anthology of Tales from the Past], written in the late Heian period (794-1185). The story is concerned with the great tengu Zegaibo who goes to Japan from China in 966 determined to halt the spread of Buddhism in Japan. Eventually, at the direction of Nichirabo, the leader of the Japanese tengu, Zegaibo visits Enryakuji Temple on Mt. Hiei, headquarters of the Japanese Tendai sect, where he suffers a series of comical and ignoble defeats. Although Zegaibo may be the greatest tengu in China, he is shown to be no match for the Tendai monks of Japan, and flies back home at the end of the play.

Tengu are legendary goblins found in Japanese folk stories; tengu first appeared as humans with pronounced bird-like qualities. They were later modified to look more human but still with extraordinarily long noses and wings.

Our finely illustrated scroll — which is Part II of the tale — depicts the tengu in their earliest style, as birds. The earliest known scroll of the “Tale of Zegaibo” was created in 1308 and became an immediate success with copies made over the centuries. There is only one known complete scroll of this tale, located at the Manshuin Temple in Kyoto. All other scrolls, like the present one, contain only portions of the tale.

Our scroll was owned by the distinguished scholar/bookseller Shigeo Sorimachi, who described it in his Cat. 24 (1954): “at the end of the scroll there is some text lacking, the lines and brushwork have real fluidity and power…the quality of the coloring is authentic and of the period…follows the style of the illustrated scrolls of the period…Well-seasoned paper…The scroll is a high-class and skillful creation, possibly of the mid-Edo period…The contents are based on the Noh play Zegai…”

The first scene — which is slightly dusty and “unfresh” — in this scroll depicts the leader of the Japanese tengu, an observant Nichirabo, peering behind a tree. He is holding a shakugo. The next scene depicts Zegaibo, who has been badly injured by the Japanese monks, on a stretcher. He has been rescued by Nichirabo and is being treated by Japanese tengu. This is followed by much text in a calligraphic hand describing the next scene.

Now we see Zegaibo being treated at a hot bath near the Kamo River by the Japanese tengu. We see tengu carrying water from the river to a caldron. The hot water from this vessel is drained into a bathtub, where Zegaibo is seated and attended by tengu. A tengu is preparing an herbal medicine drink (the tengu, who live in mountains, know many herbal cures). There is another tengu carrying firewood to the caldron, where a tengu is fanning the fire.

Following is more text, which states that the Japanese monks are unbeatable and Zegaibo should return to China. The Japanese tengu are preparing a farewell party for Zegaibo. Poems by Nichirabo and other tengu follow.

The final scene depicts a recovered Zegaibo with Nichirabo and other tengu at a send-off gathering. This is followed by text describing what the main characters said at the final party. There is further text giving ethical and religious instruction and naming many temples and religious figures.

At the end it is written that this was copied in 1664 by Tamekiyo Fujiwara from the scroll belonging to the Tameshige Nijo family. Our scroll is a copy of the 1664 scroll.

Each picture has calligraphic inscriptions providing the dialogue of the characters.

Fine condition. In the box provided by Sorimachi with his cataloguer’s notes on the lid.

❧ R. Keller Kimbrough, “Battling ‘Tengu,’ Battling Conceit: Visualizing Abstraction in ‘The Tale of the Handcart Priest’” in Japanese Journal of Religious Studies, Vol. 39, No. 2 (2012), pp. 275-305.

Price: $7,500.00

Item ID: 6477