The web page for the Shōsōin Office 正倉院事務所, which has for some number of years included images of Shōsōin treasures, has also begun to add a limited number of color images of Shōsōin documents. I first learned of this from the Blog for the Shōsōin monjo Kenkyūkai 正倉院文書研究会, which is the best place for news on Shōsōin documents. At present, the Shōsōin Office 正倉院事務所 only has select images of the Seishū 正集. While I hope that one day we will have color images online of complete scrolls from all six collections, there are a few gems included here. The scroll that caught my eye is Seishū 7, which includes documents in the hands of famous monks such as Rōben 良弁 and Dōkyō 道鏡. For me, these documents humanize these monks, particularly for figures such as Dōkyō, who have often been demonized in later historical narratives. These sources show them as figures borrowing texts and commissioning transcription projects and in doing so provide a perspective into their scholastic and devotional lives. And while I’m never convinced that we can truly see the character of someone solely through his hand, viewing Dōkyō’s writing instantly makes him real. In part, this is the magic of the Shōsōin documents; they provide a more direct window–or at the very least a radically different vantage point–into the period compared with officially commissioned and heavily edited national chronicles and perhaps more subtly colored collections of Buddhist narrative tales, the standard sources for Nara history.
To see these photographs, click on 書蹟・地図 in the right hand menu of the Shōsōin Office 正倉院事務所‘s web page under 用途. Then change the settings to allow one hundred entries at a time. The Seishū 正集 scrolls begin about halfway down the page. Enjoy!