Traditional Japanese living rooms feature a set-back recess area called a Toko-No-Ma that usually features some kind of Japanese Wall Scroll and/or Ikebana flower arrangement (also see how article on Japanese decor). The scrolls traditionally feature calligraphy or artworks, most charactistially in the style of a sumi-e black ink.
Traditionally, these were one of a kind artworks, often by artists of renown.
Today, good quality representations can be found that achieve a similar effect at very reasonable price.
We’ll get into the nitty gritty of different types of Japanese Scrolls below but first of all let’s show you our favourite option for scrolls available online.These are custom scrolls produced by master calligrapher Eri Takase. We love that you can either choose one of the premade scrolls, or work with Takase-sensei to make your own. From Takase-Sensei’s Etsy Page:
“Master Takase creates this beautiful art when your order is placed. Personally preparing the ink and brushing your art that proudly bears her signature and seal. This is truly an original work of art.
The Japanese Scrolls (kakejiku) are special and we are very proud of them. We have worked with our scroll maker in Nara, Japan for more than a decade and these scrolls are exceptional. They have a light brown silk border, gold brocade highlights, and Japanese paper. These fine materials are layered so that when displayed the finished scroll hangs straight and will not warp over time. And the paper takes the ink just right so subtle brush strokes come out just as expected. This beautiful art is meant to last generations.”
Custom & Handmade
Japanese Wall Scroll – Custom “Laugh Now, Cry Later”View product
Custom & Handmade
Japanese Wall Scroll – Custom “Beautiful Mistakes”View product
The Japanese Wall Scroll Tradition
The Japanese wall scroll has a long history. It was introduced to Japan from China during the Asuka era (592 to 645). In China, these were widely seen as Buddhist imagery for ceremonies during the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127).
Japanese scrolls have a deep connection to Zen Buddhism. Hanging scrolls were introduced to Japan through the religion in the Kamakura period (1185–1333).
Introduced from China, Zen Buddhism spread Chinese-style architectural styles and art to Japan along with Buddhist teachings. The technique of ink painting also came in at this time.
Hanging scrolls were initially used for Buddhist rituals. They gradually evolved into an art form in their own right. Styles such as 花鳥画, kachouga “Flower and Bird Paintings”, and 山水画 sansuiga “Mountain and Water Paintings” were also produced.
The development and promulgation of the Japanese wall scroll is intertwined with the development of 水墨画 suibokuga ink painting.
When the tea room was created during the Muromachi period, the hanging scrolls became even more artistic in order to provide accent to the tatami mats on the floors. Sen no Rikyu, who pioneered the modern tea ceremony, also insisted on the importance of hanging scrolls.
From the Edo period to the Meiji and Taisho eras, Japanese scrolls were developed as highly refined interior items decorating various Japanese rooms.
Types of Japanese Scrolls
Japanese wall scrolls can be roughly divided into three types.
書 sho “Calligraphy” 絵 e and “Pictures”, and “works that combine both calligraphy and pictures.”
Calligraphy works include 漢詩 Kanshi Chinese poems, and Japanese poems in forms including 和歌 waka, 俳句 haiku. Works have been created by, warlords, aristocrats, and monks, as well as modern-day political and business people and poets.
Paintings include ink paintings, Japanese paintings, hand drawn ukiyo-e paintings, and Japanese paintings after the Meiji era.
Pictures that are a combination of calligraphy and painting are called 詩画軸 Shigajiku “poetry axis”. These are composed of calligraphy drawn on the upper part of the vertical and pictures drawn on the lower. These works combine Chinese poems, poems, haiku, to match the picture.
There are also hanging scrolls made in Korea, which are similarly influenced by Chinese culture.
日本画 nihonga Japanese painting
Although hanging scroll art is introduced from China, there are many works that have evolved uniquely in Japan, such as 美人画 Bijinga “Paintings of Beautiful People” and 花鳥画 kachouga “Flower and Bird Paintings”.
Japanese wall scrolls are said to have undergone a dramatic increase in value with the rise of the hand-painted Ukiyo-e of the Edo period. During the Meiji and Taisho eras, Japanese scrolls and Japanese paintings existed in a symbiotic relationship where each helped raise the value of the other.
These works are recognized for their high artistic value as antiques.
中国掛軸 chugoku kakejiku Chinese hanging scrolls
The hanging scrolls drawn and displayed by Chinese artists are sometimes called 中国掛軸 chugoku kakejiku.
仏画 Butsuga Buddhist Japanese Scrolls
There are various compositions and types of Buddhist paintings. Motifs include 曼荼羅 mandala, 来迎図 raigouzu which depict the coming of the Amida Buddha, 六道絵 Rokudou-e which depict the six buddhist realms, and 高僧 Koso portraits of high priests.
水墨画 Sansuiga Ink paintings
The 山水 Sansui landscape painting, came to Japan from China along with the idea of Zen and became popular along with the new philosophies..
These ink paintings, also called sumi-e, are characterized by delicate and bold expressions using techniques such as “blurring” and “shading”.
花鳥画 Kachoga Flower and bird painting
Japanese Wall Scroll Buying Options
If you are after a Japanese Scroll, your options are for purchasing a scroll are:
- Prints and Reproductions
- Custom Made
Prints and Reproductions
You can see a list of reproductions available on Amazon here
Custom & Hand Made
You can see a list of handmade scrolls on Etsy here
See a list of vintage scrolls on Etsy here
Konnichiwa! If you’ve ever tried to learn Japanese, you’ve probably been taught the phrase “O-genki desu ka?” as the standard way to say “How are
In preparing this article we referred to the Japanese website Antique Kaitori (in Japanese)
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Hi, I’m Peter. I lived in Japan for four years as a University student completing a Masters Degree in Musicology. I have succesfully completed the highest level of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (N1). I have toured the country six times playing music and singing songs in Japanese and English.