Emaki are hand-scrolls with text and illustrative paintings that together usually narrate a story. Although the origin of emaki can be traced back to Chinese hand-scrolls that came to Japan around the 6th century, emaki evolved into a unique Japanese art form beginning in the 9th century. It reached its golden age between the 12th and 14th centuries. With the coming of water-and-ink paintings from China after the 14th century, however, emaki declined in importance.

The Tale of Genji Scrolls (4 scrolls remaining), the Mount Shigi Temple Scrolls (3 scrolls), the Chief State Councillor Ban Scrolls (3 scrolls), and the Birds, Beasts and Humans Caricature Scrolls (4 scrolls) are regarded as the four great painting scroll sets of Japan. All of them, now national treasures, are products of the 12th century.

Literature, Buddhist tales, Shinto stories, folk legends and military exploits are themes of emaki. Some of the emaki have humorous elements which perhaps are one of the sources of modern Japanese comics.

A set of emaki can comprise one scroll, or as many as 48 scrolls. Scrolls vary in height from 22 to 52 cm, and the longest scroll runs up to 25 metres.

Although emaki is usually meant for viewing by one person, it can also be a means of group entertainment. A group of people may gather in front of an emaki, viewing it while listening to someone who recites the story.

Moko shurai ekotoba

Takezaki Suenaga TAKEZAKI Suenaga () was a low-ranking samurai in Kyushu during the Mongol invasions of the late 13th century. His courage and initiative in the defence against the invaders was rewarded with a feudal fief in today's Kumamoto prefecture. To show his gratitude for the blessings of the Shinto deities, he commissioned a set of two painting scrolls by local artists. He dedicated this Moko shurai ekotoba (Mongol Invasions Painting Scrolls) to the Kosa Daimyojin Shinto Shrine near his native place in Kyushu. Today this two-scroll set is kept in the Museum of Imperial Collections (Sannomaru Shozokan) in Tokyo.

Shown on the right is the mounted Takezaki Suenaga in front of the stone barrier "Genko borui" , originally called "ishitsuiji" ().

This scroll set is unique in that it was made according to instructions from a participant -- Suenaga himself -- in the battles. It is therefore of special value as a pictorial source material for Japanese and Chinese history.


Moko shurai ekotoba: 1st scroll


Moko shurai ekotoba: 2nd scroll

The following is a section of the first scroll. Suenaga is under attack by three Yuan soldiers, but other Yuan soldiers are retreating. Due to repair work in later years that involved cutting and pasting, some scenes have been moved out of the original sequence. On the left side of the section below are Yuan troops on the alert after landing on Hakata bay area.

Moko shurai ekotoba

It is worth noting that in the entire scroll set, not a word or a scene refers to or depicts anything about typhoons or storms. The kamikaze ("divine winds") does not exist in Suenaga's illustrated account of the defence of his motherland, although kamikaze is commonly regarded as one of the main causes of the Yuan armies' defeat.

Reference Sources

Okudaira, Hideo. Emaki: Japanese Picture Scrolls (Rutland, Vt.: Charles E. Tuttle, 1962)

Okudaira, Hideo. Emaki: Picture-scrolls. translated by Fred Dunbar. 10th ed. (Osaka: Hoikusha Publishing Co., 1987)

Komatsu, Shigemi, ed. Nihon emaki taisei (Tokyo: Chuo Koronsha, 1977-1979)

Moko shurai ekotoba (Nihon emaki taisei, vol. 14) (Tokyo: Chuo Koronsha, 1978)

Genko Shiryokan = Genko Historical Museum (Fukuoka-shi: Genko Historical Museum, 1994). A catalogue of displays in the Museum.

The Invasions, 1274 and 1281


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From the Gardener, Louis Chor. Canada, May 2000. Revised September 2015.