- Museum number
Object: Yamabe no Akahito 山部の赤人
Series: Hyakunin isshu uba ga etoki 百人一首 宇波がゑとき (One Hundred Poems by One Hundred Poets, Explained by the Nurse)
Colour woodblock oban print. Poem by Yamabe no Akahito. Travellers climbing steep gradient on coastal path; one person carried in sedan chair; another man turning back to those following; Mt Fuji coated with snow across Suruga Bay. With poem by Yamabe no Akahito. Trimmed slightly on all sides. Inscribed, signed and sealed.
- Production date
Height: 24.70 centimetres
Width: 36.60 centimetres
- Curator's comments
- Clark 2001
Travellers are climbing a steep gradient on a coastal path, one fortunate person carried in a sedan chair ('kago'). Another man further up the slope seems to turn back to communicate to those following (thereby looking out at us) - perhaps he is excited at having caught a glimpse of Mt Fuji, generously coated with snow, across Suruga Bay. This would chime with the sentiments expressed in the verse below, which is by Yamabe no Akahito (active 724-36), revered together with Kakinomoto no Hitomaro as one of the two 'saints of poetry' ('kasei') and esteemed in particular for his nature poetry. Here is a recent translation by Joshua Mostow:
As I set out on 'Tago no ura ni'
The beach of Tago, and look, 'Uchi-idete mireba'
I see the snow constantly falling 'Shiro-tahe no'
On the high peak of Fuji, 'Fuji no taka-ne ni'
White as mulberry cloth. 'Yuki ha furitsutsu.'
(Joshua S. Mostow, 'Pictures of the Heart: The "Hyakunin Isshu" in Word and Image', Honolulu, University of Hawaii Press, 1996, p. 152.)
Though the poem was originally included in the 8th-century 'Man'yoshu' ('Ten Thousand Leaves') anthology, the version quoted on Hokusai's print is that included in the much later 'Hyakunin isshu' ('One Hundred Poems by One Hundred Poets') anthology compiled by Fujiwara no Teika in the 1230s. This was, after all, the anthology of one hundred canonical poems that Hokusai was illustrating in his series, as if 'explained by the nurse' (i.e. as visualized by a simple country woman) (The explanation given in Peter Morse, 'Hokusai: One Hundred Poets', New York, George Braziller, 1989, pp. 7-8).
The interpretation of laconic but richly associative 31-syllable classical poems ('waka') has been, quite literally, a never-ending process for persons of cultivation and Hokusai was evidently keen to come up with a highly individual, occasionally idiosyncratic, depiction of each famous verse. The sometimes tenuous connection between classical poem and Hokusai picture has been cited as the reason for the abandonment of the series after only twenty-seven designs were published. However, if the hypothetical dating suggested by Roger Keyes of spring 1835 to summer 1836 is accepted, the cause may simply have been general economic depression ('Ibid.', p. 16).
The wording of the poem in its original 'Man'yoshu' form was substantially different, thereby giving rise to a quite dissimilar translation in English and providing a fertile subject for commentators over the centuries (Mostow, 'ibid.', p. 55). An obvious point of basic interest, in the context of Hokusai's picture, is the location of Tago no ura (variously translated as a beach, coast or cove), but it will probably always be impossible to pinpoint this, given the apparently shifting position of this place-name in history, at various spots around the top of Suruga Bay, from present-day Shimazu in the west to south of Numazu in the east. The clarity and balance of the composition and cheerful colouring - the gradated band of red behind the mountain (suggesting a winter dawn?) and the two gradated bands of Berlin blue among the waves - create one of the most attractive designs within the series. The impression in The British Museum has been trimmed slightly on all sides (Compare the impression with margins in the collection of the Japan 'Ukiyoe' Museum, Matsumoto. 'Meihin soroimono ukiyo-e, vol. 9: Hokusai II', Tokyo, Gyosei, 1992, no. 4 (commentary by Nagata Seiji)).
Binyon, Laurence. 'A Catalogue of Japanese and Chinese Woodcuts in the British Museum'. London, British Museum, 1916, [Hokusai] no. 189.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2001, 11 May-29 Jul, BM Japanese Galleries, '100 Views of Mount Fuji'
- Associated titles
Associated Title: Hyakunin isshu (One Hundred Poems by One Hundred Poets) (anthology compiled by Fujiwara no Teika in the 1230s)
- Acquisition date
- Registration number
- Additional IDs
Miscellaneous number: B189