View 11 (of 12) © President and Fellows of Harvard College
Identification and Creation
Object Number
Attributed to Tosa Mitsunobu, Japanese (active c. 1469-1522)
Tale of the Rat (Nezumi zōshi emaki)
Other Titles
Transliterated Title: Nezumi zōshi emaki
Work Type
handscroll, painting
Muromachi period, circa 1469
Creation Place: East Asia, Japan, Kyôto Metropolitan Area, Kyôto
Muromachi period, 1392-1568
Physical Descriptions
Handscroll; ink, color, and gold on paper
actual: H. 16.7 x W. 431 cm (6 9/16 x 169 11/16 in.)
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Bequest of the Hofer Collection of the Arts of Asia
Accession Year
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art
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Label Text: 32Q: 2600 East Asian, Japanese, Chinese and Korean , written 2015
Small, illustrated narrative handscrolls of the Muromachi period (1392–1573) blend literary and pictorial sources into sequences of text and image, intended to be appreciated in a single sitting by individuals or small groups. Many popular tales composed during the medieval period recount stories of lonely people succumbing to seemingly wonderful suitors, only to discover later that the suitor is not human. This scroll tells the tragic story of a young woman in love with a rat masquerading as a noble. In the final painting of the scroll, the relationship ends tragically when the noble is attacked by the family’s cat, revealing his true form. His impending transformation is indicated by his rodent-like appearance: his carefully defined hair stands on end and his rounded, beady eyes contrast sharply with the style of delineating eyes in one brushstroke (hikime)—the convention for depicting nobility, as seen in the other characters.

Publication History

James Cuno, Harvard's Art Museums: 100 Years of Collecting, Harvard University Art Museums/Harry N. Abrams, Inc. (Cambridge, MA, 1996), pp. 78-79

Melissa McCormick, Tosa Mitsunobu and the Small Scroll in Medieval Japan, University of Washington Press (Seattle, WA, 2009), pp. 66-69, fig. 25

Exhibition History

Masterworks of East Asian Painting, Harvard University Art Museums, Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 11/03/1995 - 06/09/1996

A Compelling Legacy: Masterworks of East Asian Painting, Harvard University Art Museums, Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 08/24/2004 - 03/20/2005

32Q: 2600 East Asian, Japanese, Chinese and Korean, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 06/04/2015 - 11/29/2015

Subjects and Contexts

Collection Highlights

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art at