These screens are a guide to the multitude of pleasures that await a visitor to the capital. Panoramic overviews of contemporary Kyoto filled with endlessly fascinating detail first appeared in the beginning of the 16th century and remained popular until the middle of the Edo period. Such screens were in great demand among the people of Kyoto, and were puchased also by out-of-town visitors as a souvenir of their visits to the capital. A few screens can be attributed to a specific artist, but most are the work of anonymous shop painters in large ateliers.
The organization of the screens evolved in the late 16th and early 17th century in response to political changes, notably the strengthened authority of the Tokugawa shogunate, the activities of the ordinary citizens and the secular world of entertainment. In this example the cityscape is arranged with east and west Kyoto on the right and left screens respectively. The north-south orientation of the screens is such that the northern end of the city is at the left side of the right screen, and at the right side of the left screen. To appreciate their geographic orientation, one must therefore imagine the screens facing one another on opposite sides of a room, rather than joined at the center.
Kyoto is surrounded on three sides by hills. The eastern hills (Higashiyama) run along the top of the right screen, with the Kamo River running due south along the foot of the mountains. The Kamo River is spanned by three bridges. From right to left (screens are "read" from right to left), they are the Fifth Avenue (Gojo) bridge (in the second panel), the very small Fourth Avenue (Shijo) bridge, and the large Third Avenue (Sanjo) bridge in the fourth and fifth panels. The northern hills (Kitayama) and the western hills (Nishiyama) are seen at the top of the left screen. The Oi River moves southeast from Takao to Arashiyama at the upper left of the far left panel of the left screen. The Horikawa Canal runs the length of the bottom of the left screen.
Elements of traditional Japanese painting have been retained in this composition. All four seasons are represented, for example. Cherry blossoms are in full bloom in the Higashiyama hills on the right screen. The Gion Festival which takes place in mid-summer is in full swing in the commercial district of the right screen. The northern hills on the left screen are dusted with snow, while the nearby western hills are ablaze with red autumn foliage. Ribbons of gold clouds are used in the conventional manner to subdivide and organize space, encircling individual buildings, for example. But there are many details of modern, urban life that energize the painting: these include shopkeepers, pilgrims, tea vendors, prostitutes in the brothel district, sightseers, monks, farmers bringing their produce to town, and children playing in the streets. The most important activity is the annual Gion Festival with its procession of colorful decorated carts called yama and hoko. The yama are box-like structures carried on long poles on men's shoulders and featuring life-size dolls representing themes from Chinese and Japanese history. The hoko are the double-decked wagons carrying musicians that are pulled by teams of strong young men. A tourist attraction even today, this festival originated in the 9th century to ward off the evils of a mid-summer epidemic. The sacred carts and poles bearing halberds were paraded through the streets to exorcise the demons of the epidemic.
The city is ringed with temples and shrines, some established as early as the end of the 8th century. The streets and buildings are laid out in an orderly, well-organized scheme, and major structures are identified with labels. The right-hand screen features the Great Buddha Hall of Hokoji (second panel), which was dedicated to Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1591. The two-storied hall and enormous image of the Buddha were larger than the great 8th-century Buddha of Todaiji in Nara. The long, low Sanjusangendo, where archers have gathered for a contest, stands immediately to the right of the Great Buddha Hall. Above is the familiar Kiyomizu Temple, easily recognizable by its open balcony cantilevered on high stilts. Following along on the northern bank we come to the beautiful pagoda of the Yasaka Shrine, the smaller pagoda at the Gion Shrine, and the temples Chionin and Nanzenji. The Imperial Palace is located at the bottom of the last two panels of the right screen; above it on the last panel is a scene of horse-racing at Kamigamo Shrine.
The left screen is dominated by Nijo Castle, residence of the shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu who succeeded Hideyoshi as ruler of the country after the battle of Sekigahara in 1600. The castle was erected in 1603, but was renovated and greatly enlarged around 1626, at which time the tenshu-kaku ("keep") was moved to the back and slightly separated from the main buildings. In the suburbs, beginning to the north, at the upper right corner, is the Kinkakuji (the Golden Pavilion), with the Kitano Shrine and the Zen temple Daitokuji shown below it, followed by the Shakado in Saga, and Tenryuji in Arashiyama. The tall pagoda of Toji in the last panel marks the southern boudnary of town.
The difficulty with using architectural evidence for dating is that artists worked from drawings kept in their studios. Because these drawings, or "ready-made" painting models, remained in circulation for a long time (they were used to train apprentices in professional ateliers), the terminus ad quem or latest date for a particular screen, based on architectural evidence alone, must be accepted only with caution. Also, few if any comparable screens are securely dated. The screens shown here are thought to date from the second quarter of the 17th century, the Kan'ei era (1624-44). The doll-like, simply- rendered figure style suggests a Tosa school artist.