Hell Scroll & Hungry Ghost Scroll

Complete Full-scale Reproductions in a Set of Two Handscrolls / Supervised by Kobayashi Tadashi / Designated National Treasure

Similar to today, in the last decades of the Heian period (794-1185), social disturbances along with earthquakes, tsunamis and epidemics broke out frequently in Japan. Simultaneously, a Buddhist doctrine known as mappō (a period of lawlessness) spread around among people who sought salvation by becoming devout Buddhist believers.

In Buddhism, the afterlife world of reincarnation is called the Six Realms (Rokudo), out of which Animals, Hungry Ghosts and Hell are regarded as three evil realms and reserved for those fallen by evil deeds. Hell, in particular, has been so frightening as to be often visualized in the picture form as the most painful place to inhabit.

Pictures of the Six Realms were extensively illustrated, but most of them have been scattered and lost now. It is fortunate to introduce “Hell Scroll” and “Hungry Ghost Scroll” that were created during the last years of the Heian period in order to convey the substance of “Pictures of the Six Realms.” Both Scrolls are designated as National Treasure.

Hell Scroll

What we call now the Hell Scroll consists of two scrolls and fragments, shown below, which have been joined to one handscroll in this project.

  1. Former collection of Anjū-in Temple, Okayama Prefecture (Collection of Tokyo National Museum) - One scroll

  2. Former collections of Daishō-in Temple, Tokyo and Hara family, Kanagawa Prefecture (Collection of Nara National Museum) - One scroll

Former Anjū-in scroll (Collection of Tokyo National Museum)

Hell exists by multiple layers known as the eight great hells. From the top, Tōkatsu (repeating tortures), Kokujō (iron rope), Shugō (iron mountains), Kyōkan (screaming), Dai-kyōkan (great screaming), Shōnetsu (scorching), Dai-shōnetsu (great scorching) and Abi (infinity) are piled up. The heavier the sins committed in this world are, the deeper down sinners fall. Furthermore, there are sixteen bessho (little hell) in every great hell, totaling 128 places. It is believed that all the sixteen bessho of this “Kyōkan Jigoku” have been originally illustrated.

  • Passage 1: Hatsukaru (hell of iron dog and eagle), Passage 2: Kamatsuchū (hell of worms), Passage 3: Unkamu (hell of flames), Passage 4: Uen-kaseki (hell of bloody river)

Former Hara family scroll (Collection of Nara National Museum)

It consists of six passages of kobagaki and seven passages of illustrations, but the kotobagaki for the seventh passage is missing. The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston holds fragments that seemed to constitute one complete passage. The former Hara family scroll represents sixteen bessho described in “Jigoku-bon (hell sutra),” second volume of Kise-kyo Sutra. Styles of handwriting as well as illustrations do not look the same as those of the former Anjū-in scroll. Both scrolls seem to have been created by different artists and calligraphers.

  • Passage 1: Shifun-jo (hell of excrements), Passage 2: Kanryō-sho (hell of measures), Passage 3: Tetsugai-jo (hell of iron mortar), Passage 4: Tori-jigoku (hell of cock), Passage 5: Kokuun-sha (hell of gravel rain), Passage 6: Nōketsu-sho (hell of pus), Passage 7: Korō-jigoku (hell of foxes and wolves)

Hungry Ghost Scroll

The scrolls known as “Hungry Ghost Scroll” are the two scrolls below, which have been joined to one handscroll for this project. Those who have committed deadly sins in food and drink are doomed to fall in the path of the hungry ghosts, where figures of hungry ghosts, always suffering from hunger and thirst, are depicted.

  1. Former collection of Kōmoto family, Okayama Prefecture (Collection of Tokyo National Museum) - One scroll

  2. Former collection of Sōgen-ji Temple, Okayama Prefecture (Collection of Kyoto National Museum) - One scroll

Former Kōmoto family scroll(Collection of Tokyo National Museum)

kotobagaki have been lost and illustrations for 10 passages remain today. Due to the contents, all images possibly indicate the source of “ gaki hon (hungry ghost scroll)” in Shōbōnenjo-kyō Sutra , which describes 36 kinds of hungry ghost. Originally all 36 kinds of hungry ghost must have been pictorialized in this scroll.

    Passage 1: Yokujiki gaki (greedy hungry ghost), Passage 2: Shieijiben gaki (hungry ghost of infanticide) Passage 3: Shiben gaki (hungry ghost of excrements), Passage 4: Shikkō gaki (hungry ghost of speed running), Passage 5: Jikifun gaki (hungry ghost of eating excreta), Passage 6: Kōya gaki (hungry ghost wandering in the wide plain), Passage 7: Sesshin gaki (hungry ghost of sacrifice)., Passage 8: Jūchōkanjiki-netsukaido gaki (hungry ghost of hot ashes), Passage 9: Jikito gaki (hungry ghost of vomiting), Passage 10: Jikisui gaki (hungry ghost of craving for water)

    Due to Ojōyōshū, there are two dwellings for hungry ghosts. One is the world of hungry ghosts controlled by the King of Hell (Yama) and the other by the world of Humans. In the former Kōmoto family scroll, the former part demonstrates hungry ghosts in relation to human lives and the latter part mainly displays the figures of hungry ghosts, who are suffering from tortures in the different world. The existence of hungry ghosts appearing in human life shows man’s meanness, and a sense of irony for the stupidity of human beings who are unaware of the approaching hungry ghosts.

Former Sōgen-ji scroll(Collection of Kyoto National Museum)

The illustration and kotobagaki consist of 7 passages. Different from the former Kōmoto scroll that is based solely on Shōbōnenjo-kyo Sutra, this is based on multiple sutras including Urabon-kyō Sutra, Dainehan-kyō Sutra and Gubatsuenku-gaki Dharani Sutra. The Sōgen-ji depicts the process on how to save hungry ghosts from their predicament. In the scene of the salvation of Enku Gaki by Anan at the Passage 6, a good contrast of beauty and ugliness is well depicted so that a situation is dramatically emphasized.

  • Passage 1: Jikisui gaki (hungry ghost of craving for water), Passage 2: Jikisui gaki (hungry ghost of craving for water), Passage 3: Mokuren kumo (Mokuren of saving his mother), Passage 4: Mokuren kumo (Mokuren of saving his mother), Passage 5: Jikisui gaki (hungry ghost of craving for water), Passage 6: Saving of Enku gaki (hungry ghost of flames), Passage 7: Se-gaki (hungry ghost of making offerings)


Tomoe Ueno

Commentaries (w/ English translation) and the reprint by Ueno Tomoe, senior curator at the Suntory Museum of Art, are extremely detailed and provide valuable research material.

Specifications / Price

  • A set of two scrolls

    Hell Scroll, Hungry Ghost Scroll


    Scroll one (Hell): 27.6 by 707.0 cm

    Scroll two (Hungry Ghost): 28.6 by 920.0 cm


    Printed on Bagasse paper


    Hand in the handscroll format with a box of paulownia wood


    US$2,500.00 (free shipping)

    Produced and Published

    Toppan Forms Co., Ltd.


    e-Art Co., Ltd.


    Kobayashi Tadashi


    Ueno Tomoe


    January, 2021