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Kokin wakashū (Collection of Japanese Poems of Ancient and Modern Times), Segment of Volume 12 (Hon’ami gire)

Unknown11th Century

Kyoto National Museum

Kyoto National Museum
Kyoto, Japan

This scroll is a copy of the first forty-eight poems from volume 12 (entitled “Poems of Love II”) of Kokin wakashū (Collection of Japanese Poems of Ancient and Modern Times), a poetry anthology compiled by Ki no Tsurayuki (n.d.) in the early Heian period. From the order of the poems and the joins of the paper, we can tell that parts of the original are missing between the fourth and fifth sheets and at the end of the scroll.
Even upon first glance, the scroll bedazzles both with its decorative imported Chinese paper printed with a design of oleander flowers in glittering mica on a gesso (gofun) ground and with its delicate but well-rounded streams of richly modulating brushwork. This calligraphy received highest praise from the master calligrapher Karasumaru Mitsuhiro (1579–1638) through the poetic accolade: “Just like the flowers of the field, it is bathed in dew.”
Although traditionally attributed to Ono no Michikaze (894–966), this work was more
likely produced between the late eleventh and early twelfth century. Fragments from this particular copy of Kokin wakashū are nicknamed Hon’ami gire (Hon’ami segments) because of an association with the master calligrapher Hon’ami Kōetsu (1558–1637). Kōetsu is said to have owned three scrolls (volumes 10, 11, and 14) of a copy of Kokin wakashū with the same aesthetic qualities as this work.
Most surviving Hon’ami gire fragments are approximately ten lines long. Their white gofun grounds generally have sustained significant losses, making the texts very difficult to decipher. In contrast, this segment has eight entire sheets in extremely good condition, fully revealing to us an aesthetic that was prized by Heian-period
aristocrats.

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