The Sparrow Story

UnknownMuromachi period (16th century)

Suntory Museum of Art

Suntory Museum of Art
Minato-ku, Tokyo, Japan

"The Sparrow Story" is an example of a popular tale in which the main characters are creatures, such as birds, animals, fish, or insects, rather than human beings. In this picture scroll, the tale consists of two parts: The Poetry Competition and The Religious Awakening. In the first scroll, birds who have come to console Kotota and his wife, whose chick has tragically been eaten by a snake, compose poems for each other. In the second, Kotota, having resolved to retire from the profane world, leaves home, goes on a pilgrimage all over Japan, and ends up making a hermitage in the sparrows' forest, where he meets his death after performing the odori nembutsu (a ritual dance and recitation of the nembutsu, to achieve salvation) until he was a hundred years old. The brushwork is rather rough and the depiction of the birds, flowers, and plants simplified. Nonetheless, the first scroll, in which subject is the birds' condolence call, is meticulously depicted just like a scroll of flowers and birds. The first and second scroll differ in their points of view as well as their subjects: in the first scroll, the birds are presented as birds. In the second, they are anthropomorphized.


  • Title: The Sparrow Story
  • Creator: Unknown
  • Date Created: Muromachi period (16th century)
  • Location Created: Japan
  • Physical Dimensions: w6453 x h155 cm
  • Object Work Material (English): Set of two handscrolls
  • Object Width (English): 645.3 cm / 652 cm
  • Object Title (Japanese): 雀の小藤太絵巻
  • Object Height (English): 15.5 cm
  • Object Date (English): Muromachi period (16th century)
  • Category (Japanese): 絵画
  • Artist Name (Japanese): 不明
  • Type: Painting
  • Rights: Suntory Museum of Art, Suntory Museum of Art

Get the app

Explore museums and play with Art Transfer, Pocket Galleries, Art Selfie, and more


Google apps