Lady Gosechi (Gosechi no myobu)

Several elements in this design point at gone-by wealth, notably the torn tapestry, and the battered blinds. The woman playing the koto is dressed as a nun. Her two visitors wear Heian court costumes. They are moved, either by her music, or the state they find her in, or perhaps both. (printed June 1887) Advertisements

The moon and the helm of a boat (Daro no tsuki)

Kiyotsune was the 3rd son of Taira no Shigemori, and a grandson of Taira no Kiyomori who stood at the basis of the feud between the Taira and the Minamoto. Reportedly he had a tender soul and took all misfortunes close to his heart. In this episode from the Heike monogatari, Kiyotsune has been expelled…

Streetwalker by moonlight

The woman carrying the rolled straw mat is a tsujigimi, one of the lowest ranks of prostitutes. Referring to their heavy white makeup, the verse by the female poet Oshun Hitotose reads: “Like reflections in the rice paddies – the faces of streetwalkers in the darkness are exposed by the autumn moonlight.” (published June 1887)

Huai River Moon – Wu Zixu (Waisui no tsuki – Goshisho)

Most reviewers take for granted that name in the title refers to the story of the Chinese general Wu Zixu (cir. 490 BC), who wanted to avenge his father’s death, and was aided by a Huai River fisherman in locating the grave of the murderer. Perhaps the prominence of the grinning fisherman in this design…

Kinto picks a plum branch in the moonlight

Fujiwara no Kinto (966-1041), aka Shijo-dainagon, was a poet that was highly admired by his contemporaries. He was also a musician, a scholar, and a Heian court official. Snow has fallen on the buildings of the imperial palace during the night, and Kinto has gone out into the moonlit courtyard to pluck and admire a…

Bon Festival Moon (Bon no tsuki)

Villagers dance in the moonlight during the annual Bon festival, when the spirits of the departed ancestors are supposed to return to earth to be fed and entertained. It is a happy festival, that is held every year during the full moon of July, and a typical dance consists of groups of people that move…

Hazy-night moon (Oboroyo no tsuki)

A masked Noh actor performs the role of the robber Kumasaka no Chohan – a scarf tied round his head and carrying a long pike – who was killed in 1174 when his band  unwisely attacked the young Minamoto no Yoshitsune at Akasaka. There is no moon visible in the print, and the title reminds…

Akazome Emon viewing the moon from her palace chambers

Akazome Emon (956-­1041 AD) was a celebrated woman poet at the Heian court. She served in the household of Fujiwara no Michinaga, the prime minister of the day, and father-in-law of several emperors, and she is considered to have been the main author of the Eiga Monogatari, the Fujiwara family history. Here she is portrayed…

Theater-district dawn moon (Shibaimachi no akatsuki)

It is dawn in the Shibaimachi, Tokyo’s theatre district. Staff and guests of the theatres, restaurants and tea houses make their way home. The blackened teeth and shaved eyebrows of the woman in the foreground indicate that she is married. The silhouettes of the kabuki theatre signs are clearly visible against the purple morning sky….

Moon of the enemy’s lair (Zokuso no tsuki)

O-Usu no miko (Little Prince Usu), aka Yamato-Take no Mikoto, was the physically strong and ruthless third son of emperor Keiko, who reigned from 71-130 AD. The many exploits attributed to O-Usu are described in the Kojiki and Nihonji, major histories compiled in the 8th century. We see him here dressed as a woman and…

Moon over the pine forest of Mio

The warrior surveying the scene is Takeda Shingen (1521-1573), warlord and daimyo of the land-locked Kai province that includes Mount Fuji. He eventually conquered a large part of his region, including Suruga province that gave him access to the sea. Takeda sits here looking at Mount Fuji across Suruga Bay. The poem reads: “On the…

The Moon of the Milky Way (Ginga no tsuki)

According to Chinese legend, the constellations known in the West as Aguila and Lyra represent the lovers Niu Lang (Cowherd) and Zhi Nu (Weaving Girl). They were separated by the Emperor of Heaven and placed at different ends of the Milky Way. They are only allowed to meet on the seventh evening of the seventh…