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The Plain of Musashi

late 17th century-18th century


Unknown Artist

Alternate image of The Plain of Musashi by
Alternate image of The Plain of Musashi by
  • Details

    Alternative title
    Musashino zu byôbu
    Place where the work was made
    Edo (Tokugawa) period 1615 - 1868 → Japan
    late 17th century-18th century
    Media categories
    Screen , Painting
    Materials used
    pair of six-panel screens (byobu); ink, colour and gold on paper

    a - right screen - moon, 156 x 360 cm

    b - left screen - mountain, 156 x 360 cm

    Signature & date

    Not signed. Not dated.

    Art Gallery of New South Wales Foundation Purchase 2000
    Not on display
    Accession number

    Reproduction requests

  • About

    Screens depicting Musashino are one of the great classical subjects of Japanese art. In Japanese painting there is a specific category (called 'meisho-e', literally 'famous places') for the most revered places, which are usually those immortalised by famous poems and/or literary tales. Such a place is Musashino: every Japanese responds to the poetic associations of Musashino which appears in Chapter 12 of the famous Ise Monogatari (Tale of Ise), a 10th century collection of lyrical episodes. In Chapter 12, a man kidnapped a young woman and concealed her among the grass of Musashino when they were pursued by the provincial governor. As the governor was about to light the grass to flush out the lovers, the young woman wrote a poignant 'waka' (particular Japanese poetic form): 'Please do not burn the fresh grass of Musashino. Both he and I are hidden within'.

    Another layer of poetic association was added with the poem by Minamoto Michikata (1189-1238):
    'On the Musashi plain
    There is no mountain
    Behind which the moon disappears.
    It rises and sinks among the grass.'

    It is the latter poem that inspired the typical format of Musashino screens: on the left a full autumn moon rises through autumn susuki grass, wild chrysanthemums, bush clover, pinks, and Chinese bell flowers. The right screen depicts Mt Fuji, another 'meisho-e' layered in religious (Shinto), poetic and literary allusions, above an equally lyrical depiction of autumn grasses. This screen is a visual panegyric to the beauty of Mount Fuji as seen in autumn from the vast plain of Musashi which once existed to the south-west of Tokyo.'

  • Places

    Where the work was made


  • Exhibition history

    Shown in 1 exhibition

    • Glorious, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 27 May 2017–06 Jan 2019

  • Bibliography

    Referenced in 5 publications