Mushi no Utaawase Emaki

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The Mushi no Utaawase Emaki is a 1722 cm long scroll consisting of 15 panels of text and color paintings. "Mushi" means insects in Japanese language. "Utaawase" is literally "poem match", a kind of competition in which pairs of poems composed by two teams on assigned themes are judged on the basis of their literary merit. "Emaki" is an illustrated text or narrative picture scroll. The Mushi no Utaawase Emaki is a scroll over fifty-six feet in length in which the participants in the competition are depicted as insects. The creator of the scroll is unknown, but we do know that the scroll was created during the Edo period (1600-1868) in Japan, and the accompanying text was probably composed in the first half of the 17th century. The text was written by 木下勝俊, Kinoshita Katsutoshi (1570-1650), who is also known as 木下長嘯子, Kinoshita Chōshōshi.

Kinoshita composed a fictional story of a monk who writes a story by imaginative poem match between 15 pairs of 30 insects. The insects compose sentimental love WAKA, Japanese classic poems of 31 syllables, and 5-7-5-7-7. The frog is a judge for the competition and makes comments for a pair of poems in each session.

Note to viewers: Each text section begins with a poem competition session number and includes 2 poems, one left and one right, each labeled as "sung" by a different insect, then includes a "critique" of the poems as given by a frog who is judging the poetry competition. There is a watercolor painting that loosely corresponds with each text section, which shows the insects in the scenery. This kind of scroll is typically viewed one section at a time on a study desk.

This collection was curated by Keiko Yokota-Carter, Japanese Studies Librarian. Image description was provided by Dorothy Ma, Michigan Library Scholar (2019), in the project of "Increasing Accessibility to Digital Image Collections in Japanese Studies" with Stephanie Rosen, Accessibility Specialist, and Ben Howell, User Experience & Accessibility Specialist.

We thank Dr. Natsu Oyobe, Curator of Asian Art at the University of Michigan Museum of Art for her comments on the scroll images.

Source: Mushi no utaawase emaki:虫歌合絵巻

The University of Michigan Library provides access to these materials for educational and research purposes. These materials are believed to be in the public domain; however, if you decide to use any of these materials, you are responsible for making your own legal assessment and securing any necessary permission. If you have questions about the collection, please contact mushi-help@umich.edu. If you have concerns about the inclusion of an item in this collection, please contact Library Information Technology.