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2 / Dreams and Visions

Utatane soshi emaki (A Wakeful Sleep)
Utatane soshi emaki (A Wakeful Sleep)
Artist / Origin Tosa Mitsunobu (Japanese, 1434–1525)
Region: East Asia
Date Late 15th–early 16th century
Material Ink, color, and gold on paper
Medium: Painting
Location National Museum of Japanese History, Chiba Prefecture, Japan
Credit National Museum of Japanese History, Chiba Prefecture, Japan

expert perspective

Melissa McCormickProfessor of Japanese Art and Culture, Harvard University

Additional Resources

Mason, Penelope. History of Japanese Art. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2004.

Mccormick, Melissa. Tosa Mitsunobu and the Small Scroll in Medieval Japan. Seattle: University of Washington, Press, 2009.

Stanley-Baker, Joan. Japanese Art, rev. and expanded ed. London: Thames & Hudson, 2000.

Utatane soshi emaki (A Wakeful Sleep)

» Tosa Mitsunobu (Japanese, 1434–1525)

Working in collaboration with the courtier-scholar Sanjonishi Sanetaka (1455–1537), imperial court painter Tosa Mitsunobu created some of the most impressive examples of the small narrative scrolls known as ko-e in fifteenth-century Japan.

Utatane soshi emaki (A Wakeful Sleep) is one of these. Like other scrolls in the genre, it is diminutive in size, and features a story that revolves around a sole protagonist.

A Wakeful Sleep is a notable example of a Japanese dream tale. This particular scroll tells the story of a young female courtier who falls asleep while gazing at the cherry tree in her garden. She dreams first of receiving a beautiful love letter, then later, of being visited by her lover—a man she has never met in real life. The images in A Wakeful Sleep occupy an ambiguous space between dreams and reality. In this particular image we see the woman sleeping, but are left to wonder whether we are looking at the world as it exists or the world conjured through her dreaming.

While touching on Buddhist ideas about the illusory nature of earthly desires, dreams also offer a space for the realization of fantasies that might not be possible in the real world. At the end of the story, the protagonist of A Wakeful Sleep is miraculously united with the man from her dreams.

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