Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

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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

Utatane soshi emaki (A Wakeful Sleep)

» Tosa Mitsunobu (Japanese, 1434–1525)

expert perspective

Melissa McCormick Melissa McCormick Professor of Japanese Art and Culture, Harvard University

One of the things about the representation of dreams in Japanese art is the way in which they really mine that sort of state of irreality that comes at the cusp between sleep and waking. One of the best illustrations of the dream tale in Japan is a tale of Wakeful Sleep. It shows the woman lying down in the reclining position with her eyes closed, and near her head is the letter that she dreams of receiving.

There’s another scene where the dream lover appears and is shown appearing in the woman’s dream. And the dream lover is sort of hovering above her head, which suggests that the image of him is actually the inner workings of her imagination. The viewer is caught in this moment of asking whether or not is this a real man or is this the vision in her dream.

So, while dreams were commonly connected to the spiritual or to sacred encounters with Buddhist deities, they were also the territory of romantic yearnings and amorous experiences. Nevertheless, a lot of those Buddhist undertones remained, even in romantic narratives, so that a given relationship between a couple could be kind of cast with a tone of spirituality and given a kind of sense of a fated dimension or something that was divined to be.” 


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