Polychrome woodblock print; ink and color on paper
H. 11 in. (27.9 cm); W. 10 1/2 in. (26.7 cm)
medium-size block (chu-ban)
The Howard Mansfield Collection, Purchase, Rogers Fund, 1936
Not on view
Hakurakuten is a classic Noh play dealing with the intellectual debate on the relative attainments of Japanese and Chinese culture: has the Japanese waka poem achieved superiority over the venerated Tang Chinese poem? The play presents this debate in the form of a discussion between Bo Juyi (Hakurakuten) and Sumiyoshi Myōjin, the Japanese god of waka. Harunobu's print is a delightfully ludicrous rendition of this high-minded contest, substituting a Japanese girl for the god of waka and a Korean ambassador for the Chinese poet. He wears a square pendant and an official Korean costume with a high waist.
Instead of poetry as the measure of national culture, the opponents face each other with paintings. Despite the pride he feels about the Chinese (or Korean) ink painting, Bo Juyi (or the Korean ambassador) cannot help but wistfully place his finger in his mouth in a traditional gesture of envy, a sign of his admiration for his lovely competitor with her painting in the Japanese ukiyo-e style.
Signature: Harunobu ga (on kakemono held by woman)