Resource: Interactive Heiji Scroll Viewer

On the heels of our last post about the Mongol Invasion website from Bowdoin College, this week we give you a quick look at another great site they maintain for close examination of handscroll paintings.

In addition to the Mongol scrolls, Bowdoin also maintains a site for the thirteenth century Heiji scrolls (Heiji monogatari emaki), which depict the Heiji Disturbance, an armed skirmish in the capital that occurred in 1159 and set the stage for the later Genpei Wars. Regarding the significance these scrolls, the website states:

The Heiji scrolls date from the thirteenth century and represent a masterpiece of “Yamato” style painting. They can be documented as being treasured artifacts in the fifteenth century, when nobles mention viewing them, but they now only survive in fragmentary form. The scene appearing here, entitled “A Night Attack on the Sanjo Palace” is the property of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and provides a rare and valuable depiction of Japanese armor as it was worn during the early Kamakura era (1185-1333). By contrast, most surviving picture scrolls showing warriors date from the fourteenth century and show later styles of armor.

The scrolls themselves are visually stunning. When you enter the main page, you can select “LAUNCH Interactive Scroll Viewer” to the right, which takes you to a scroll-viewing page with high resolution navigation of the handscroll. Below you can find an explanation of image navigation and two mobile windows for more information about the details of the scroll.


One such window, Exploring the Images, states it is a guided view of the arms and armor of the scroll. By clicking on the view numbers, you will be jumped to individual scenes with a more detailed explanation of the images. In addition to arms and armor, however, there are also views that include technical explanations about the production of the scroll, such as areas where the original sketches beneath the coloring are visible or the images were clearly redrawn several times.

The Reading the Scroll window provides narrative details about how the scroll visually unfolds the story of the Heiji Disturbance. Although this area of the scroll viewing is a bit sparse in explanation, to the right there is also a button for “Translation” that offers another mobile pop-up window with a translation of the opening portion of the scroll.


Although not as detailed as Bowdoin’s site on the Mongol invasions, access to high resolution images of such an important scroll alone would make this site worth checking out. The English explanations are an added bonus for those unable to navigate Japanese language museum sites easily. Check it out!

About Paula

Paula lives in the vortex of academic life. She studies medieval Japanese history.
This entry was posted in culture, graduate school, main posts, study tools, undergraduate, useful links and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Resource: Interactive Heiji Scroll Viewer

  1. Caleb Carter says:

    Thanks Paula! This perfectly coincides with my lecture today for J civ!

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