- Museum number
Object: Sanjuhachi no maki: Suzumushi 三十八の巻: 鈴むし (Chapter 38: The Bell Cricket)
Series: Genji goshu yojo 源氏後集余情 (Lasting Impressions of a Late Genji Collection)
Colour woodblock diptych print with special printing effects, such as embossing and textile-weave printing. Murasaki (R) dries off after a bath as Mitsuuji (L) holds a tenmoku tea bowl (corresponding to Nise Murasaki inaka Genji, ch. 38, frontispiece). Thirty-third in a group of 38 diptychs plus one frontispiece comprising all the known designs from the series Genji goshū yojō (Lasting Impressions of a Late Genji Collection; 1857-61). Based on the serialized novel Nise Murasaki inaka Genji (A Country Genji by a Fake Murasaki; chapters 1-38, published 1829-42) by Ryutei Tanehiko, and its sequel Sono yukari hina no omokage (A Related Rustic Visage; chapters 39-61, published1847-64) by Tanehiko's followers. Both novels illustrated by Utagawa Kunisada (Toyokuni III).
- Production date
- 1861 (Sixth Month)
Height: 509 millimetres (Mount)
Height: 36.90 centimetres (left)
Height: 37 centimetres (right)
Width: 687 millimetres (Mount)
Width: 25.40 centimetres (left)
Width: 25.50 centimetres (right)
- Curator's comments
Tenmoku tea bowls were used for summer tea gatherings. The position of the figures is reversed from the source illustration, which also shows the view onto a courtyard garden from a veranda covered in a straw mat, and to one side a cupboard filled with tea utensils. The scene is not described in Nise Murasaki inaka Genji, and the source chapter in Genji monogatari is uncertain.
This series belongs to the extensive genre of so-called ‘Genji prints’ (Genji-e). These are the thousands of colour woodblock prints that were published in the mid-nineteenth century as spin-offs from the phenomenally popular illustrated novel Nise Murasaki inaka Genji (A Country Genji by a Fake Murasaki) of 1829–42, a parody of the courtly Genji monogatari (Tale of Genji) composed in the early eleventh century. Seventy-seven sheets are known in the present series, comprising thirty-nine designs, from ‘Introduction: Genji Room at Ishiyama Temple’ (Hottan, Ishiyama-dera Genji no ma; left) to chapter fifty-one, ‘A Drifting Boat’ (Ukifune). The chapter numbers within the print series from one to thirty-eight follow the volume numbers of the parody novel Nise Murasaki inaka Genji. From chapter thirtynine onwards they correspond to the volume numbers of the sequel parody novel Sono yukari hina no omokage (Reflections on His Relation to the Countryside) of 1847–64. The compositions of the prints are reused directly from the cover and frontispiece illustrations designed by Utagawa Kunisada (Toyokuni III) for both those original novels. Also, decorative features such as printing the backgrounds to imitate scattered cut-metal foil derive directly from the novel Nise Murasaki inaka Genji. The first of the print designs to be authorized by the censors in the eleventh month, 1857, were ‘No. 2, Broom Tree’ (Dai-ni, Hahakigi) and ‘No. 3, Young Murasaki’ (Dai-san, Waka-Murasaki); these were issued by Hayashiya Sho-goro-, who published a total of six designs. These were followed by fifteen designs published by Uoya Eikichi. After this the publishers Ebisuya Sho-shichi (seven designs) and Wakasaya Yoichi (eleven designs) also joined the venture. The last design to be authorized in the sixth month, 1861, was ‘No. 38, Bell Cricket’ (Dai-sanjuhachi, Suzumushi), published by Wakasaya. [SS]
Illustration corresponds to Nise Murasaki inaka Genji, chap. 38, leaves 1b-2a (Andreas Marks, Genji's World in Japanese Woodblock Prints, p. 148).
The Tale of Genji, the extended novel in fifty-four chapters composed by Murasaki Shikibu (‘Lady Murasaki’) in the early eleventh century, is the locus classicus of Japanese court culture of the Heian period (794-1185). It developed canonical status in later times. From 1829-1842 the popular writer Ryūtei Tanehiko (1783-1842) and print artist and illustrator Utagawa Kunisada (Toyokuni III, 1786-1864) combined forces to produce an ingenious parody of Lady Murasaki’s original, with the cheeky title A Country Genji by a Fake Murasaki (Nise Murasaki inaka Genji). This took the form of a multi-volume, serial novel with illustrations in the gōkan (‘combined volume’) genre. Until publication was suddenly curtailed in 1842 during the Tenpō Reforms, followed by Tanehiko’s interrogation and possible suicide, the parody had already run to 38 published ‘chapters’ (each in two volumes) that were issued in the unprecedented quantity of 15,000 copies per volume. From 1847-64, Tanehiko's followers added another 23 chapters under the title A Related Rustic Visage (Sono yukari hina no omokage).
The work was a runaway best-seller, prompting a boom in ‘Genji’ publications, plays, fashions and other paraphernalia, all featuring Mitsuuji (the character based on Prince Genji of the original novel) with his trademark ‘lobster-tail’ topknot. Kunisada and his pupils designed no less than thirty-seven Genji print series between 1835 and 1866, totalling thousands of images. The series, Genji goshū yojō (Lasting Impressions of a Late Genji Collection), is considered the best. The Japanese title puns on the phrase ‘Album of Fifty-Four Genji [Chapters]’. Kunisada also designed erotic versions of the parody, issued as several sets of three-volume, deluxe colour-printed books.
The original intention was probably to issue Genji goshū yojō as a prefatory single-sheet print of Lady Murasaki followed by a series of diptychs, one for each chapter of the serial novel. Date seals on the prints make clear that the diptychs were issued in no particular order. Commentators agree that only 38 diptychs by Kunisada were issued before the project was abandoned.
The museum's impressions of this series (2012,3033.1-39) are fresh, unfaded, and generally untrimmed, and have the special printing refinements intact, such as embossing, blind-printing, textile-weave printing, burnishing, gradation, and sprinkled mother-of-pearl. (T. Clark, 11/12)
- The best essay in English on the overall phenomenon of Kunisada’s so-called ‘Genji prints’ remains Eiko Kondo, ‘Inaka Genji Series’, in Matthi Forrer, ed., Essays on Japanese Art Presented to Jack Hillier, London, 1982, pp. 78-93. Kondo comments, ‘These diptychs which present a full-length figure on each sheet against a white background with sprinkled gold and silver dust [not in fact real metal] mostly quite faithfully reproduce the illustrations of Inaka Genji or its covers…’ (p. 90)
- Andreas Marks, ‘A Country Genji: Kunisada’s Single-Sheet Genji Series;, Impressions 27, 2005-6, pp. 58-79, fig. 17. Marks describes this as Kunisada’s ‘major, opulent Genji series…clearly intended as the climactic masterpiece of his many adaptations of A Country Genji’.
- A complete set of the prints, also in very good condition, but trimmed and mounted in an album is in the collection of the National Diet Library of Japan.
- The complete set is published online in ‘The Kunisada Project’. This site confirms that the series was abandoned after 38 diptychs + 1 single sheet of Murasaki. Thumbnails of each design are reproduced from a variety of sources and in a variety of conditions. Chapter numbers and print titles are also transcribed.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2013 3 Oct - 2014 5 Jan, London, BM, Shunga: Sex and pleasure in Japanese art, 1600-1900
- Associated titles
Associated Title: Nise Murasaki inaka Genji (Published 1829-42)
- Acquisition date
- Registration number