Scenes from ancient Tokyo to return to Edinburgh

The scroll will be returned to Edinburgh for display after restoration. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
The scroll will be returned to Edinburgh for display after restoration. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
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A RARE 18th century Japanese handscroll painting will be returned to the Capital after more than £20,000 worth of funding was awarded to Edinburgh City Libraries.

The scroll, named Pleasures of the East, depicts a street scene in Edo, or modern-day Tokyo, with shops, theatres and people going about their lives.

Measuring more than 44 feet in length, it is thought to be the largest painting yet discovered from Japanese artist Furuyama Moromasa, who spent several years working on the project in the first half of the 18th century.

It was gifted to Edinburgh City Libraries in the 1940s by a relative of Henry Dyer, a Scottish engineer who played a
major part in the industrialisation of Japan.

Mr Dyer was principal of the Imperial College of Engineering in Tokyo for ten years from 1873 and turned it into the most advanced institute of its kind.

Dr Rosina Buckland, senior curator of National Museums Scotland’s Japanese collections, helped interpret the scroll when it was discovered in the library’s special collections five years ago.

“It was forgotten about – it was safe and sound with all the other artworks and never in any danger but it had not been noticed until they were doing an inventory in 2009,” Dr Buckland explained.

“It was passed to me about a year later and I said it was
pretty important. It’s an extremely rare depiction of the theatres in Edo and extremely rare because this handscroll painting is a unique artwork.

“There are other paintings by him but usually in the hanging format which then get taken down again, but with a handscroll we have to look at it with a small group of friends – it’s a pleasurable exercise and it cannot be displayed all at once – it’s like looking at a picture book.”

Dr Buckland said the scroll would have been commissioned for a wealthy client although it is not known how it ended up in the hands of Mr Dyer some 200 years later.

The conservation work, which began this month, is being carried out at the Restorient Studios in Leiden in the Netherlands.

Experts will remove and repair all parts of the artwork during the two-year project before it is brought back to the Capital to be put on public display.

Councillor Richard Lewis, culture and sport convener, said: “Thanks to the funding from The Sumitomo Foundation [a group of Japanese industrialists], we will be able to restore Moromasa’s beautiful painting to its former glory.

“Without the passion and knowledge of our library staff we may not have even discovered the true significance of this very rare artefact.”