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Art Pieces Once Owned by Japan’s Imperial Family to be Named National Treasures

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has said the government will help “reinvigorate cultural tourism through the attraction of cultural properties.”



“Karajishi” (Chinese guardian lions) on a folding screen painted by Kano Eitoku.



The Agency for Cultural Affairs has nominated five items of fine arts and crafts that were once owned by the imperial family for inclusion on the list of Japan’s national treasures. 

Currently, the art pieces are preserved at the Sannomaru Shozokan (Museum of the Imperial Collections) in the East Garden of the Imperial Palace. The artwork, Colorful Realm of Living Beings by Ito Jakuchu (1716-1800), a prominent painter of the Edo Period, is among the five. The Illustrated Narrative of the Mongol Invasions, depicting attempted incursions by the Mongols in the 13th century, is also nominated.

The council, an advisory body to the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), submitted the recommendations to Education Minister Koichi Hagiuda last July 16. 

This marks the first time artwork conserved at the Sannomaru Shozokan museum will receive national treasure designation. Previously, items preserved at Sannomaru Shozokan were considered outside the scope of the Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties

The museum houses a large number of artwork connected to the imperial family, including national treasures and important cultural properties. 

Painting of cocks, by Ito Jakuchu, from the series, “Colorful Realm of Living Beings”.

In his January 2021 policy speech before the National Diet, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga made references to the Sannomaru Shozokan museum’s artifacts, saying that the government was set to “loan them proactively to various parts of the country to help reinvigorate cultural tourism through the attraction of cultural properties.” The hope is that the planned designation of the museum’s artifacts as national treasures will help clarify their value as tourism resources.

Four of the five items are paintings. Among them, the work by Jakuchu (1716-1800), titled Colorful Realm of Living Beings, is a 30-scroll set of bird-and-flower paintings presenting richly colored flora and fauna, such as chickens and pines, in meticulous detail. It is regarded as representing the “pinnacle of Japanese flower-and-bird paintings.” 

From the “Illustrated Narrative of the Mongol Invasions,” on the theme of the Mongol Invasion attempts against Japan in the 13th century. Artist unknown.

Illustrated Narrative of the Mongol Invasions is a pair of war story picture scrolls by an unknown author. They depict two attempted Mongol invasions against Japan in the latter half of the 13th century, and were drawn almost concurrently with the incidents, making them invaluable as historical materials. They are often featured in school textbooks.

The two other artworks will also be designated as national treasures. One, Karajishi (Chinese guardian lions), is painted on a six-paneled folding screen. It shows a couple of lions walking gallantly and majestically, drawn by Kano Eitoku (1543-1590).

The other piece is Kasuga Gongen Genki E (Illustrated Tales of the Miracles of the Avatars of Kasuga), which is acclaimed as one of Japan’s best emakimono (painted handscrolls). 

Work of Ono no Michikaze (894-967), a master calligrapher of the Heian Period (late 8th century to the late 12th century), will also be named a national treasure.

The designations are expected to be finalized no later than this coming autumn, bringing the number of fine arts and crafts designated as Japan’s important cultural assets to 10,812, including 902 national treasures. 

The Agency for Cultural Affairs plans to continue working with the Imperial Household Agency on the designation of other items in the Sannomaru Shozokan’s collection.


BOOK REVIEW | ‘The World of Itō Jakuchū: Classical Japanese Painter of All Things Great and Small in Nature’ by Yasuhiro Sato

(Read The Sankei Shimbun article in Japanese at this link.)

Author: The Sankei Shimbun