by Doctor Science
I'm finishing up a work project, so I don't have time to write about anything where I might have to monitor the comments closely. So you get culture.
On Tuesday we trained in to NYC and I went to the Met. I didn't get all the way through the exhibit on Storytelling in Japanese Art -- I hope I can get back before it closes in May.
These pictures are from the first set of items in the exhibit, the Illustrated Legends of the Kitano Tenjin Shrine handscrolls.
More pictures under the cut ...
It looks like a pretty familiar journey-to-hell scene, until I realized: it looks familiar. This scroll was painted at pretty much the same time Dante was writing The Divine Comedy -- but the entire width of Eurasia away. I don't know if Europe had even heard of Japan yet: the Mongol conquests were a work in progress, and Marco Polo had only just been born.
So how could the Japanese and Italian hells look so similar? They couldn't have been in anything like direct contact -- is this an archetype in action? Did people at the opposite ends of the world get the idea from the same distant source, probably somewhere in India? Or is it just coincidence, on some level?
The torments of hell, brilliantly envisaged, reflect contemporaneous paintings of hell inspired by Pure Land teachings.I'm guessing that Pure Land Buddhism, like other Buddhist sects, includes Hells for punishment that probably derive from Hindu ideas of Hell. It's not completely clear to me whether Hinduism:Buddhism::Judiasm:Islam::parent:child, or whether the relationship is like Rabbinical Judaism:Christianity, which is more of a sibling relationship -- both being derived, more or less at the same time, from a now-obsolete parent religion. In the case of Judaism & Christianity, the mutual parent is Second Temple Judaism; I don't know if Hinduism as it is today(ish) is terribly like that of the time of Gautama.
But I digress. My point is, do any of you know how Dante illustrations could be produced in 13th-century Japan? Why there was a Hell of flames and punishment, guarded by a multi-headed ... mammal-esque creature, visited by a voyager and his guide? Coincidence, zeitgeist, or archetype?
 The big reason I was so hot to see this exhibit was that I wanted to see by looking how much continuity there is between manga and the traditional Japanese handscroll genre. One point I'm particularly interested in is the distinction between otoko-e (Men's pictures) and onna-e (Women's pictures), which seems to parallel the distinction between shōnen and shōjo manga for boys and girls, respectively. But there was no mention of otoko-e/onna-e in the parts of the exhibit I saw, so I wonder how much of genre difference there actually was. The only thing I noticed was that there was a codex version of one tale -- I think maybe "The Great Woven Cap" -- with a explanatory plaque suggesting that this was intended for women, rather than the handscrolls used by men. That opens up a whole 'nother trove of questions about readership, book production, and gender in premodern Japan, but I have to stop somewhere.