The Tale of Sumiyoshi


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The Tale of Sumiyoshi is a tenth-century story of a motherless girl who overcomes her conniving stepmother’s abuse. A dashing courtier falls in love with the young woman, but the stepmother fools him into marrying one of her own daughters instead. The girl flees to Sumiyoshi, where she finds protection with her mother’s former nurse. Through the benevolent intervention of the bodhisattva Kannon of Hasedera Temple, the courtier finds her. This scene shows him taking her back to the capital, where they will live happily ever after. Plotlines, character types, and settings from romantic narratives such as this served as inspiration to the court lady Murasaki Shikibu when she wrote the renowned Tale of Genji, roughly a century after the Tale of Sumiyoshi was composed.

b) Only a few precious sections of original text that accompanied the illustrations of this handscroll survive. The text related to this example reads: “Then they arrived in the capital and went up to the mansion of Chūjō’s father, who was upset about his son’s secret marriage to an unknown country girl. Nevertheless, he built a special wing of the house for them and there established the newlyweds.”

The Tale of Sumiyoshi, a) Painting section from a handscroll mounted as a hanging scroll; ink and color on paper
b) Calligraphy from handscroll section mounted as a hanging scroll; ink on paper, Japan

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