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Launch of Digital Art History Website

The Hachiman Digital Handscrolls Project (HDH) has launched a new website comprising seven digitized Japanese handscrolls from the fourteenth to the nineteenth centuries. The website enhances digital presentations of image-text formats. The project headed by Prof. Melanie Trede is a collaboration with the Heidelberg Research Architecture, the Institute of East Asian Art History and the software developer bitGilde.

The new website is based on the open source system HyperImage that enables users to experience Japanese handscrolls as if they were viewing them in reality. At the same time they have possibilities of comparisons and supplemented knowledge. Users can easily view the details of the entire handscrolls using their fingertips, with the transcriptions and English translation of the calligraphies at hand. Additionally, users can explore extensive annotations on the materiality, depicted motifs, calligraphic styles and political, religious or ritual background information.

The project examined and digitized seven Japanese illuminated handscrolls created between 1389 and the nineteenth century, some of which are published for the first time. They narrate a religiously, aesthetically and politically highly influential text and paintings. Each version of the seven handscrolls tells the same story: The first part covers the prehistoric pregnant Empress Jingū and her alleged conquest of the Korean kingdoms by help of indigenous deities. This colorful myth is followed by the birth of the future Emperor Ōjin, and his manifestation as the Great Bodhisattva Hachiman. Hachiman’s miraculous appearances and oracles as well as the foundation tales of the most famous Hachiman shrines cover the second part of the scrolls.

Hachiman is believed to have originated as a local deity of smiths on the Southern Island of Kyūshū until he was venerated by the Imperial Household since the eighth century. A rough estimate of more than one hundred handscrolls on the subject of the Karmic Origins of the Great Bodhisattva Hachiman must have been created throughout the Japanese islands. While earlier versions must have existed, the first extant Hachiman handscroll dates to 1322, the second known extant version of 1389 is owned by the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco and is the oldest scroll included in this project.

An update of the website will include Japanese translations of all English texts, among others, and is projected to be published in the Spring 2016. 

The project members include Prof. Melanie Trede (Research Area B, MC 4), Eric Decker, and Matthias Arnold from the Heidelberg Research Architecture (HRA), and a team of students and graduates in East Asian Art History and Japanese Studies. They worked together with the software developer bitGilde. The project was funded by Heidelberg University’s Field of Focus 3 “Cultural Dynamics in a Globalized World,” and was completed with funds of the project leader.

Visit the Hachiman Digital Handscrolls website


  • Surface of the website (detail)

  • Melanie Trede and Eric Decker showing a facsimile of a project-related handscroll in the original size