A trip to the Eisei Bunko archives

Screen Shot 2013-03-19 at 12.23.20 PMThe Eisei Bunko (永青文庫) archives, in Meijiro-dai, are housed in a large, blockish building with grating on the windows, of a type that can often be seen in private libraries on the estates of former samurai lords, of which it is in fact one. The grounds belonged to the powerful Hosokawa (細川) family for generations. The Hosokawa clan are of particular interest to me, as it was in their hospitality that Miyamoto Musashi spent a large part of his latter years in Kumamoto, Kyūshū. The daimyō Hosokawa Tadatoshi was a particularly close friend; the two practiced various arts together, and Musashi instructed him in swordsmanship, writing for him the Thirty-five Articles on Strategy (兵法三十五箇条). As a major clan, the Hosokawa also maintained an estate in Edo (江戸, now Tokyo), now converted into this archive and museum, and the grounds into the pleasant New Edogawa Park, which slopes down a hill away from the archives and around a pond.

I came here especially for an exhibit featuring some rarely-shown paintings of Musashi’s, somewhat peculiarly called “Musashi and the ‘Dandyism’ of the Bushi“. It points out that despite the fearsome reputation of the bushi as warriors, they were very fond of their refinements in clothing and personal articles, including some perhaps surprisingly intricate and delicate designs in their sword fittings and such. I say “peculiarly” because while this was certainly a feature of the bushi culture of the time, Musashi’s work — in keeping with the message of his writing — is nothing of the sort, characterized instead by a bold simplicity.

Ink painting on screens attributed to Musashi; copies of the "Five Rings" scrolls

Ink painting on screens attributed to Musashi; copies of the “Five Rings” scrolls

There are some beautiful works, no doubt, some of them very elegant. The ink works by Musashi were classic, simple and bold. There were also a small wooden sheath for a pocketknife and a fairly famous little wooden statue of Fudō Myō-ō (不動明王), although about the last there is some contention regarding whether or not the work is in fact Musashi’s. There were also early copies of the Five Rings scrolls, attributed to Terao Magonojo, one of Musashi’s original students.  A list of all the articles exhibited can be found here: 2013_03_16_20_47_01 (in Japanese).

The Archives also house many other treasures in the form of other documents and artwork.  Also on display were a number of magnificent examples of calligraphy from various eras, including a fantastic 「龍虎」(“Ryū-Ko” or “Dragon and Tiger”) by the Emperor Goyōzei (後陽成天皇).

This exhibit has now ended, but the Archives are definitely worth a visit for anyone interested in Japanese history and art. The former gardens of the Hosokawa estate, now the Shin Edogawa Park, also make for a very pleasant walk before or afterwards.

2 thoughts on “A trip to the Eisei Bunko archives

  1. In the Eisei Bunko is a major Chinese calligraphy work by 11th century calligrapher Huang tingjian. It was formerly in the possession of Chang Dachien, the famous Chinese painter who died in 1983. He had entrusted this treasure to his Japanese friend to make copies at the Benrido in Kyoto. He did not ask for a receipt. His friend died before the copy was made and his widow denied all knowlege of the scroll. Later Chang was contacted by the Hosokawa collection founder to authenticate a Chinese calligraphy scroll. To his surprise the scroll was the one which was stolen from him. But all the museum head could say is “sorry, sorry”. Chang penned a colophon on the scroll detailing how he lost it–to date this collophon has not seen the light of day. At current prices, the scroll could not be had for even $40 million…..

  2. Please note that the museum will only mention that the scroll has inscriptions of 16 century collectors Dong Qichang and Wen Zhengming. Not a word on Chang Dachian even though his seals are on the scroll. This has got to be the art heist of the century given the value of scroll, of which there are only 3 or four in the world. Today it is classified an important cultural treasure of Japan. Good luck trying to research the provenance of the scroll……

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