Comic pictures and verses (toba-e), a handscroll painting

Mid-Edo period, 18th century AD

Toba-e were quickly executed, comical pictures with a lightly satirical element to them. They were highly popular in the Edo period (1600-1868). It is not known when they originated, or who first conceived of them, but the name is said to derive from a famous practitioner, Toba Sōjō (1053-1140), a high-ranking monk-painter. The figures in toba-e are usually highly caricatured, with very long, slender limbs, and exaggerated facial expressions, often laughing. Simple, deft brushwork is used, and only light colour.

A seventeen-syllable comic verse has been added to each picture. These are mostly humorous parodies of well-known sayings. The section illustrated here shows a demon forcibly removing a lump from the face of an old man. This is a reference to the folk-tale Kobu-tori ('pulling off a lump'). On the left a fox is riding a horse - alluding to hatsu-uma, the day of the horse, in the second month, and to the well-known craftiness of the fox.

The scroll is full of such comical scenes, for example, two men cutting a melon with a feather, and a man worshipping the radiant head of a fish. Together they create a world of wry humour, with a cheerful and relaxed tone.

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More information


I. Hirayama and T. Kobayashi (eds.), Hizō Nihon bijutsu taikan-1, vol. 2 (Tokyo, Kodansha, 1992)


Height: 277.000 mm
Width: 10178.000 mm

Museum number

Asia JA JP 344 (1881.12-10.0562)


William Anderson Collection


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