Ban Dainagon Ekotoba

Ban Dainagon Ekotoba

Japan — 12th century

Three gorgeous scrolls artfully present a tale of intrigue among the courtiers of the imperial court during Japan’s early Heian period

  1. The Ōtenmon Conspiracy of 866 revolved around the burning of imperial palace’s main gate

  2. Tomo no Yoshio, also known as Ban Dainagon, tried to frame his rival Minamoto no Makoto

  3. In the late-12th century, Tokiwa Mitsunaga created a three-scroll masterpiece retelling the events

Ban Dainagon Ekotoba

  1. Description
  2. Facsimile Editions (1)
Description
Ban Dainagon Ekotoba

The Ōtenmon Conspiracy was an event that took place in the year 866 during Japan’s early Heian period, so-called because it was centered on the destruction of the Ōtenmon or main gate of the Imperial Palace in Kyoto. Ban Dainagon Ekotoba or "The Tale of Great Minister Ban" is a late-12th century work retelling the event that consists of three scrolls created by court painter Tokiwa Mitsunaga at the behest of the retired Emperor Go-Shirakawa (1127-1192). The events are presented in such a way that one scene follows the next in a manner that is both dramatic and suspenseful while also being easy for the reader to follow.

Ban Dainagon Ekotoba

Tomo no Yoshio, also known as Ban Dainagon, was a counsellor of state who set the Ōtenmon gate on fire and then blamed it on his rival, Minamoto no Makoto. Known as the Ōtenmon Conspiracy Yoshio’s plan was unsuccessful and after his guilt was established, he was banished to Izu Province. These events are gorgeously presented in the Ban Dainagon Ekotoba or "The Tale of Great Minister Ban", a finely illuminated manuscript consisting of three scrolls. According to legend, the manuscript was created to pacify the angry spirit of Tomo no Yoshio after the Ōtenmon gate burnt down again during the 1177 Kyoto fire, which also burned down the Kaishōmon and Suzakumon gates of the imperial palace.

A Tale of Intrigue in Three Scrolls

Regardless of the reasons for its creation, this masterpiece is a primary work of medieval Japanese literature that offers a fascinating look into the intrigues of the imperial court during Japan’s classical period. The artist’s dynamic approach to illustrating the scrolls allows the events to progress naturally and keeps the reader engaged by not getting bogged down in any one episode. Some events are purposefully not depicted by the artist in order to heighten the suspense for the reader. The first scroll shows the burning of the gate and the efforts to put out the fire, followed by proof the Makoto was unjustly accused of the crime. Next, the second scroll shows Makoto praying to the gods and Buddha despite the fact that he is innocent. Suspicions begin to arise about Tomo no Yoshio, which is depicted by showing children arguing in the street who are then joined by their parents who begin sharing gossip concerning Tomo no Yoshio culpability in the fire. Finally, the third scroll shows Tomo no Yoshio being arrested and sent into exile in an ox cart after a servant betrays him and tells the police who the real culprit is.

A Unique Style

Mitsunaga’s artistic style is very realistic in contrast with most contemporary artists. His painting of the burning Ōtenmon with bright red and orange made from cinnabar contrasting with black charcoal is so violent and vivid that it is possible the artist witnessed the fire of 1177 firsthand. Mitsunaga created his unique aesthetic by blending styles, combining otoko-e – using calligraphic lines to define figures – and tsukuri-e – thick coats of bright colors. Furthermore, he made use of the suyari kasumi technique to create the appearance of haze or fog that often aided in transitioning from one scene to another. Another method for conveying the passage of time within a scene is iji dōzuhō, whereby the character is depicted in various timelines. The blending of these styles and techniques created a gorgeous “political thriller” that is counted among the most important Emakimono – illustrated scrolls produced since the 10th century – to survive today.

Codicology

Alternative Titles
Ban Dainagon E
Ban Dainagon
Size / Format
3 scrolls / 31.5 × 839.5 cm 31.5 × 858.7 cm 31.5 × 931.7 cm
Origin
Japan
Date
12th century
Content
The events of the Ōtemmon Conspiracy
Artist / School
Previous Owners
Sakai family, Ohama

Available facsimile editions:
Ban Dainagon E
Limited Edition: Not limited
Facsimile Editions

#1 Ban Dainagon E

Limited Edition: Not limited
Commentary: 1 volume by Taizo Kuroda
Language: Japanese
1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size) Reproduction of the entire original document as detailed as possible (scope, format, colors). The binding may not correspond to the original or current document binding.
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