Names in this site follow the Japanese custom of family name first.

May 26, 2012

The Art of Copying - Senshu Bunko (Museums)

The Senshu Bunko, or "Library of a Thousand Autumns," comprises the collection of manuscripts, documents, paintings, and old maps of the Satake clan, the hereditary daimyo family that ruled what is now Akita prefecture. It gives a good impression of the tastes of a local ruling clan in the Edo period. Above all, it provides a glimpse of an interesting phenomenon from the Edo period, the culture of making copies of famous paintings.

Senshu Bunko Museum, Tokyo
[Senshu Bunko Museum, Tokyo. Photo Ad Blankestijn]

The Satake clan was established by Minamoto Yoshimitsu (1045-1127) in the village of Satake in Hitachi province (now Ibaraki). They were a major power in the northern Kanto, helping Minamoto no Yoritomo to establish his shogunate in Kamakura. Afterwards, they supported the Ashikaga and in the years of internal strife in the 15th and 16th centuries greatly expanded their territory to the whole of Ibaraki and Tochigi. Toyotomi Hideyoshi made them lords of Mito castle, but Tokugawa Ieyasu feared their power and moved them to a much smaller fief, safely out of the way in Akita. Here they ruled for 260 years.
The 34th head of the clan, Marquis Satake Yoshiharu, gave the whole clan library to his trusted steward, Kobayashi Shoji, who after 40 years of struggle, in 1971 finally managed to establish the present museum. Thanks to these efforts, the collection as such remained intact and was not sold off and dispersed as happened to many other daimyo archives and painting collections. Among the documents of the museum are letters by Ashikaga Naoyoshi (1351) and Date Masamune (1612); there are maps of Japan, of Akita castle, of the Satake estate, and of the Battle of Sekigahara; materials about the tea ceremony; and the seals of the various daimyo.

Paintings include copies of famous Sesshu works, such as Amanohashidate and other landscape paintings, or his Karako (Chinese boys). There is a copy of a Kannon with monkey and crane by Mu Xi, and of a dragon and tiger by the same artist. Why this copying frenzy? Simply because it was the only way to see (and eventually own) a famous painting. There were of course no museums; the Satakes could only see Sesshu's Amanohashidate when their fellow daimyo who owned it, was so kind to show it to them. As one could not go back every year to see the painting, it was logical to have it copied. Apparently, a whole copying culture existed, based on works that were circulated among the various daimyo. There were even copy specialists, such as Kano Shusui and Sugawara Dosai, two Edo-period painters who worked for the Satake family.

The installation is beautiful, in glass cases with tatami matting. The paintings are not always in prime state (apparently, they have been cut loose from old mountings), but mostly beautifully remounted. The Senshu Bunko exudes the proper antiquarian atmosphere, and although there are no national treasures (and no ceramics, lacquer or other utensils - it is basically a library), it is fascinating to see the 'everyday collection' of one daimyo family.
Address: 2-1-36 Kudan-minami, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo. Tel. 03-3261-0075

Access: 10-min. walk from Kagurazaka Station on the Tozai Subway Line or Iidabashi Station on the Yurakucho Subway Line.

Admission: 10:00-16:00; CL Mon, NH, March 25-27, Augt 1-10, Dec 25-Jan 5, occasional special days.