On the Creation of an Ebiki
March 7, 1954
More than ten years ago now I began thinking about the creation of an ebiki, a searchable image index somewhat like a dictionary. As I was looking at reproductions of ancient picture scrolls such as the Shigisan Emaki (“Legend of Mount Shigi”), Gakizōshi (“Scroll of the Hungry Ghosts”), Eshizōshi (“Painter’s Scroll”), Ishiyama-dera Engi (“The History of Ishiyama-dera Temple), Kitano Tenjin Emaki (“Legend of the Kitano Shrine”), and others, it occurred to me that the illustrations drawn so painstakingly by the artists also included many details of traditional life.
In the images you can see brushwood fences and hedges; the exterior and interior of shop stalls; the inside of rooms; the placement of hearths; how much or how little care people took in doing their hair; the behavior of children; the way people crouch; whether they are bare-foot or wearing footwear; traditional forms of clothing; two prints with cats showing them being lead like modern dogs with a leash tied to a string around their neck; steam baths; circumstances surrounding giving birth; the use of sutegi (used in place of toilet paper at a time when paper was expensive) in the main street of Kyoto and not just the countryside like now; laundry being done by foot (in Hachinohe in Ōshū girls in the family do the laundry by treading on it together); the scene of a special dinner; shops selling eggplants and squash; and even some of the fish can be identified as well. In addition, kimono tied up for work at a time without aprons or protective sashes, construction materials showing through holes in the walls; the prevalence of rounded wooden containers for liquids; boards being whittled with a small knife before the invention of planes; different ways of carrying items on one’s head; the shape of rice bags; the shape of ovens; the form of early tatami mats; the many styles of roofs; the look of hoes, plows, hatchets, saws, and hand axes; ways of nursing the sick; letters and their delivery; the installation of weirs for river fishing; and an unlimited number of other things not directly related to the subject of the scroll can be seen. These every day details were drawn with less thought than the main subject of the scroll and are thus free of the artist’s individual interpretation or bias. These scrolls are valuable visual records, all the more so because of their contemporary nature.
For some time I thought about various ideas, such as numbering these documents for reference use. If I remember correctly it was around 1940 that my Attic colleagues and I discussed having a selection of picture scrolls studied carefully. We met to discuss how the work would be carried out and decided that the artist and folklorist Hashiura Yasuo would copy each scroll in black and white. Hashiura was the perfect person as neither just an artist nor just a folklorist would suffice, and he was both.
We met many times to make decisions on progress and, when the copies were finished, the images were transferred to cabinet photographic paper and used as a base to minutely inscribe numbers on kimono, obi, footwear, personal effects, cats, eggplants, brushwood fences, and ships and their accessories. Without thinking about the coherence between consecutive sections of the scroll; leaving out details of the general scenery and culture of nobles, priests, and upper class military personnel; and ignoring the scroll’s artistic point of view; we picked out from each picture scroll only those scenes that could be seen as documents of the people. Printing a set number, we all-but decided on a system of adding an index to the end of the scroll with the numbers I mentioned before and a corresponding list of objects categorized by modern names. This was because while there were things that we knew the old name for there were also those that we did not know.
Looking at the example of footwear, divisions were drawn and different numbers given to waraji (straw sandals laced around the ankle), zōri (sandals with a thong made from straw or other material), and ashinaka (half-zōri). In doing so the idea was that one could easily look up where, in which image of which scroll, ashinaka were pictured. If this were completed, one could, with relative ease, look at all the footwear appearing in ancient scrolls and also at the same time realize that very often bare feet were pictured. It would be interesting if we painstakingly numbered the kimono of the common people, including their designs and such. These scrolls also allow us a vivid glimpse of situations like the attendant vigorously scratching an itch while waiting for his lord, and the gestures of children that today are seen only in plays.
Even if they depict old things, picture scrolls made in modern times are not reliable sources because many are copies of earlier scrolls. We continued the work I described above, using reproductions of picture scrolls, with a focus on those from before the Ashikaga period (the 15th and first half of the 16th centuries). We believed that if we continued to regularly publish our work that in time we would create something of use. In this way we continued, a few at a time, completing our work on the Kitano Engi, Ishiyama-dera Emaki, Eshizōshi, Shigisan Emaki, Gakizōshi, Hōnenshōnin Emaki, and others. Eventually, wartime conditions worsened and we had to suspend our work. A considerable portion of the manuscript was placed in an air raid shelter but it was still lost in a fire. The small portion that remained was shown to Dr. Warner after the war when he came all the way to my home to purchase Attic publications, and Dr. Warner found it very interesting.
Although I continue to think that I would like to restart this work sometime, I have procrastinated and am disappointed in myself. Within folklore studies, this work could be an important resource for material culture as it makes clear the chronology and clarifies things that are difficult to understand solely through text. I think it could be helpful to researchers so I would like to see somebody finish the work. Even just looking at trusted reproductions would be enormously time-consuming, so needless to say examining the original of each picture scroll would be even more so. In a world with something as convenient as a dictionary, I feel it would be good to have a dictionary for images (ebiki) so that one would not have to go back and look through each and every picture scroll like Sugita Genpaku had to do in the old days when he copied an entire dictionary by hand.