Thursday, 12 February 2009

Masayuki Miyata

Masayuki Miyata (1926-1997) was a Japanese artist who specialised in woodblocks, serigraphs and, most particularly, kiri-e. Kiri-e is an artform that uses paper, scalpels and fine motor control to produce intricate pictures. Complicated shapes are cut out and layered to produce the final image, making full use of the textures of the paper to produce various effects.

Masayuki is deservedly well known in both Japan and China, but rather less so in the West. However, Japanese-English publishers Kodansha have made available four works of classic Japanese literature heavily illustrated with Masayuki's work. They are beautiful books (though it has to be said that the covers have way too much text on them, distracting from the kiri-e images).

The first is Love Songs from the Man'yōshū. The Man'yōshū is the oldest surviving collection of Japanese poetry, perhaps 1250 years old. This bilingual selection of the love poetry shows Masayuki at full strength. (For all images below, click for much bigger, readable versions.)

Next is The Narrow Road to Oku, a hybrid travelogue and haiku collection by Matsuo Bashō, the great Seventeenth-Century poet, whose On Love and Barley collection is a masterpiece.

The great Japanese writer Yasunari Kawabata produced a version of an old legend, The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, which was also illustrated by Masayuki.

Finally, we have Lady Murasaki's The Take of Genji (and if you haven't read Murasaki's diaries, they're fascinating too). This book does not contain the text of the great early novel--instead, it has a summary of each chapter, with Masayuki illustrating each. It's a shame nobody has yet brought together the novel's full text and these illustrations in one edition. Kodansha, see to it!

There is a website dedicated to Masayuki Miyata here, full of (admittedly small) scans of his other artwork. It's almost entirely in Japanese, but pretty easy to navigate.


Ian Koviak said...

Wow. you can really see what influenced japanimation in this artwork. Very beautiful.

Readymade said...

Great stuff. I first encountered Miyata's work when I came across the Manyoshu book. Liked it so much I did a paper on the book :)

Levi Stahl said...

Those are really beautiful. I'm going to have to pick up all four--which will be even more fun because I'm not at all familiar with the anthology or the Kawabata volume.

JRSM said...

Ian: I hadn't thought of the Japanimation angle--now I'm imagining a short film with each frame done kiri-e style. That would be cool!

Readymade: Anywhere this paper can be read online? I had a lot of trouble rounding up info about Miyata beyond what was in the 4 books.

Levi: You're a man of taste and distinction! I told you you'd like them.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the larger images -- they really show off the man's talents.

I stumbled across a Japanese-only anthology of this man's work in a used bookstore a while back, and bought it immediately upon opening it and seeing what was inside. Before that I'd seen his design work in a book of Akutagawa's short stories translated into English (under the rather hoary title "Exotic Japanese Stories").

I'll be making a post to my own blog about this and will link back here shortly.

Anonymous said...

"I'm imagining a short film with each frame done kiri-e style. That would be cool!"

There's something vaguely like that in the stop-motion puppetry of Kihachiro Kawamoto. Check out "The Book of the Dead" (on DVD in the U.S.) for a good example of this. It's not the same thing, but it conveys the same sense of the objects themselves having texture, rather than just being, say, injection-molded pieces of CGI. It feels handmade.

JRSM said...

I had no idea about the Akutagawa collection--I'll have to see if I can track it down. A book of his artwork would be a wonderful find: no doubt they can be had from Amazon Japan, but I don't have the language skills to try! And I will have to track down 'The Book of the Dead': it sounds wonderful.

aubergine said...

Hi, there.
I second's recommendation of Kawamoto, but you might find his shorter works more approachable. They're done in a great variety of styles and textures. My favourite is the chiller Oni (The Demon).The DVDs for both the short films and "The Book of the Dead" are available at

As for Miyata, I believe this is the only art collection of Miyata's in Japanese that's still in print.
The product and order pages are in English, so you shouldn't have any problems ordering it. The shipping costs are exorbitant though.

This is my favourite blog by the way. Thanks for the great posts.

JRSM said...

Wa-hey! Thanks for the praise! And for that link: I might just have to take the plunge, postage costs be damned. And the 'Other customers who bought this also bought...' suggestions includes some amazing-looking books, too. I have no idea what they're called or what they're about, but they look extremely cool!

aubergine said...

Ooops, I don't know how I could have missed these among the 'Other customers who bought this also bought...', but there are two more collections of Miyata's work in Japanese still in print from the same publisher.

Bakin's Hakkenden (I believe Bakin was featured in your lovely post "Treasures").

Illustrations for Chinese Classics like Romance of the Three Kingdoms, The Water Margin etc.

JRSM said...

See, now you're just trying to drive me into poverty!

aubergine said...

:). While we're at it, have you ever seen Satake Miho's dramatic covers for the Japanese editions of Diana Wynne Jones's books? They put the US and UK editions to shame.

The Chrestomanci series

Howl's Moving Castle

Castle in the Air

Having said that, some of the recent HarperCollins UK re-issues do show some imagination.

JRSM said...

The Satake Miho covers are really attractive and dynamic. Thanks for pointing out all of these to me: any other beauties you come across, please feel free to let me know about them.