Resource: Hachiman digital handscrolls


Today we introduce a recently launched online resource, the Hachiman Digital Handscrolls site produced by scholars of Heidelberg University. This is a wonderful research tool for art historians, historians, literature specialists, and any other number of scholars. As stated on the website, the aim of this project is:

to enhance the digital presentation of long horizontal pictorial and textual formats, and render them available to a large audience. This objective was developed on the basis of the project leader’s research regarding the Karmic Origins of the Great Hachiman Bodhisattva. Seven Japanese illuminated handscrolls, created between 1389 and the nineteenth century, narrate the religiously, aesthetically and politically highly influential text and paintings.

The Karmic Origins of the Great Hachiman Bodhisattva includes narratives of the legendary invasion and subjugation of the Korean peninsula in the third century AD, led by the pregnant Empress Jingu, and the later manifestation of the deity Hachiman after her success. Numerous versions of this tale have been produced in handscroll format, which are presented in careful comparison here.

There are a great deal of fantastic elements to this website. Among them is the concise background on the scrolls and their history, provided in several sections in the right-hand navigation pane. This provides an uninformed reader with a great entrance into the Hachiman scrolls, complete with extensively cited resources for further reading, and an informed reader access to the present scholarship on the subject.

Next is the accessibility of high resolution images of these amazing handscrolls, which the viewer can easily navigate via the sizing and location tools at the top of the screen or the extended viewing bar at the bottom of the site, where you can move quickly through the full length of the image. The overhead navigation bar includes tagging features to switch to particular areas of interest, such as calligraphy, animals, architecture, etc., and quick-jump options between other handscrolls that contain the same scenes, making this an incredibly valuable tool for cross-comparison of different scrolls over the centuries.


Similarly, if you wish to search for a particular figure or key term, the search bar on the top right allows you to click freely between layers of the images relevant to your search.

hachiman3The convenient sidebar also offers the option to jump to annotations, which appear in a text bubble that pops up when the viewers mouse hovers over a particular section of the scroll. This makes the site also a useful tool for studying the calligraphic forms of the text itself if you are looking to brush up on your kuzushiji. Furthermore, it is possible to toggle between English-language translations and the original classical Japanese text included in the scrolls.

hachiman4Another great and usually underrated feature is that the option to see an exterior view of the scroll, meaning the viewer can observe the more material aspects of each item, such as the box, wrapping, frontispieces, etc. The location of and information on the collections in which each scroll is housed is also available, which is helpful for those who may wish to visit the piece in person where possible.

This site has a number of other wonderful elements that are too numerous to list here. The sheer volume of information, both textual and visual, is stunning, and it is very easy to lose yourself in this resource for a couple hours or more. Check out the original site for more and happy exploring!

About Paula

Paula lives in the vortex of academic life. She studies medieval Japanese history.
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