Illustrated manuscript on superior torinokogami or hishi paper, entitled in manuscript on labels on upper covers “Mushi no Uta-awase” (“Poetry Match of Insects”), with 15 fine double-page paintings attributed to Ryuho Hinaya. INSECT POETRY CONTEST.
Illustrated manuscript on superior torinokogami or hishi paper, entitled in manuscript on labels on upper covers “Mushi no Uta-awase” (“Poetry Match of Insects”), with 15 fine double-page paintings attributed to Ryuho Hinaya.
Illustrated manuscript on superior torinokogami or hishi paper, entitled in manuscript on labels on upper covers “Mushi no Uta-awase” (“Poetry Match of Insects”), with 15 fine double-page paintings attributed to Ryuho Hinaya.
Illustrated manuscript on superior torinokogami or hishi paper, entitled in manuscript on labels on upper covers “Mushi no Uta-awase” (“Poetry Match of Insects”), with 15 fine double-page paintings attributed to Ryuho Hinaya.

Mushi no Uta-Awase

Illustrated manuscript on superior torinokogami or hishi paper, entitled in manuscript on labels on upper covers “Mushi no Uta-awase” (“Poetry Match of Insects”), with 15 fine double-page paintings attributed to Ryuho Hinaya.

18 leaves (including one blank); 22 leaves (including two blanks). Two vols. Small (233 x 177 mm.), orig. gold silk brocade binding, Tetsuyoso-style, over stiff wrappers, title labels on upper covers (labels also heightened in gold), with orig. stitching. [Japan: early Edo].

The creation of this splendid manuscript has been attributed to the wealthy, literate merchant Ryuho Hinaya (or Nonoguchi) (1595-1669), the talented painter and calligrapher who deeply influenced Hanbei Yoshida, Moronobu, and other illustrators of the 17th century. Our manuscript has all the qualities of the very finest Nara-ehon.

Hinaya studied painting with the famous artist Tan’yu Kano and poetry with Mitsuhiro Karasumaru and Teitoku Matsunaga. Hinaya founded his own school, which specialized in the elliptical haibun style of prose. The author of the poems is Katsutoshi (or Choshoshi) Kinoshita (1569-1649), related by marriage to Hideyoshi Toyotomi, the great warrior who unified Japan. Kinoshita converted to Christianity in 1588 and took the first name Pierre.

In the late ninth century, a new kind of poetry competition developed in Japan: the utaawase. Themes were determined and a poet chosen from each team wrote a waka (a poem) for each given theme. The host appointed a judge for each theme and gave points to the winning team. The team that received the largest number of points was the winner. At first, utaawase was simply a playful entertainment, but as the poetic tradition deepened and developed over the centuries, it turned into a serious aesthetic contest, with considerably more formality and many variations.

Poetry competitions have remained a popular activity in Japan and elsewhere and continue to the present day. Our manuscript is an imaginative reinterpretation of the poetry competition. In our version, garden insects are allegorically cast as participants in the famous “Poetry Match of Immortal Poets,” in which matching pairs of poets (which could be people, paintings, shells, flowers, or, in our case, insects), compete. The contest was judged by a poet of renown (in our case, a toad).

Our manuscript is based on this insect theme. It is far superior to and much more richly painted than the scroll described by Miyeko Murase in her wonderful exhibition catalogue Tales of Japan. Scrolls and Prints from The New York Public Library (1986), pp. 75-77–(& see her very clear and full description of the insect poetry contest in all its aspects). In the NYPL’s copy, the paintings are elementary, lacking the gold embellishments and decorations present in ours. Additionally, our manuscript depicts the competing poets and their proxies, the insects, while the NYPL’s scroll depicts only the insects. The quality of our paintings is very complex and of high quality.

The story takes place on a late autumn evening in a garden where insects are staging a poetry contest, with a toad as the judge. Thirty species of insects pair up, beginning with the cricket that proposes the match and his opponent, a wasp. Among the other participants are a bell-cricket, a firefly, a cicada, a gold beetle, a fly, an ant, a mosquito, a flea, a louse, and in the broadest sense of the word mushi (which means “small crawly animal”), an earthworm.

The first nine pages are text, written in a fine calligraphic hand, describing the background of the contest. All of the text pages and the pages with the paintings have been subtly decorated with underpaintings in gold “mist” and various gold plant and flower motifs using kindei (“golden mud”) as the pigment. These patterns, known as Shitae, were made on the leaves before they were written or painted on.

The first double-page image sets the tone for this beautifully illustrated manuscript: we see two seated poets with their respective insect representatives (a cricket on the right and a wasp on the left) in their natural habitats, which are finely embellished autumn leaves and end-of-the-year plants and flowers. There is a great deal of extra gold in the foreground and background on the gold-prepared paper, and the kimono of the male and female poets are richly and finely decorated. The male poets are wearing stiff, voluminous robes, wide-legged trousers, and black lacquered caps. The women poets are wearing sumptuous twelve-layer robes in rich colors. We have the title of the work, written in a fine calligraphic hand, “Fifteen Competitions,” with the name of the judge, “Yabu no moto Hikigaeru,” and the first pair of poems. The following text leaves present the toad’s critique of the two poems.

There follows in these two volumes fourteen more exquisite double-page paintings of the male and female poets and their insect representatives, all situated in different autumnal scenes, each with different goldwork. The poems are written on both sides of the double-page paintings, followed by the toad’s critique.

The manuscript is specially bound, the binding most elaborate. The rich gold silk brocade is in fine and fresh condition. The paste-down endpapers are painted in gold, with motifs of bamboo in the first volume and white wisteria in the second volume.

Minor worming in extreme outer margins of Vol. I and in gutter of Vol. II. The poet on the left of the third double-page painting has seven small splotches of black ink on his kimono.

The old wooden box in which this manuscript is preserved has written on the lid, “Hinaya Ryuho hitsu. Mushi no uta awase jo ge” (“Written and painted by Ryuho Hinaya”). A slip of paper laid-in also declares that this two-volume work was “the true hand of Hinaya.”

Preserved in a chitsu and wooden box.

Price: $75,000.00

Item ID: 6553

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