Rare East Asian Manuscript Digitized

One of the finest manuscripts in the East Asian Library’s Rare Book Collection is a 30-volume edition of the Japanese classic, the Heike monogatari. Bound in green and gold-figured silk brocade flecked with gold foil, the large, traditionally bound volumes of colored Japanese paper with worked-in designs contain several hundred brilliantly colored hand-painted illustrations in reds, greens, blues, whites, purples and gold—characteristics it shares with other so-called Nara ehon books. The volumes lack details on the artists or previous owners, and how they came to Princeton is unknown, but it is likely these volumes were produced in the early Edo period (17th c.), perhaps as a New Year’s gift or as part of a wedding trousseau, for a feudal lord or wealthy merchant. The volumes have not been subjected to heavy use and are in pristine condition.

The text is a fictionalized account based on historical events of the 12th c., and describes the rivalry between the Taira (Heike) and Minamoto (Genji) clans. It is permeated with a Buddhist sense of the impermanence of all things. Various different versions were composed from the 13th century onwards, and these were frequently narrated or chanted by itinerant Heike professionals, often blind singers.

Look through all 30 volumes of the Heike monogatari