Exhibitions/ Art Object

Six Jewel Rivers (Mu-Tamagawa)

Sakai Ōho (Japanese, 1808–1841)
Edo period (1615–1868)
ca. 1839
Six handscrolls; ink, color, and gold on silk
Overall (a): 3 9/16 x 46 7/16 in. (9 x 118 cm) Overall (b): 3 9/16 x 46 15/16 in. (9 x 119.2 cm) Overall (c): 3 1/2 x 46 7/16 in. (8.9 x 118 cm) Overall (d): 3 9/16 x 48 13/16 in. (9 x 124 cm) Overall (e): 3 5/8 x 46 1/2 in. (9.2 x 118.1 cm) Overall (f): 3 1/2 x 46 7/8 in. (8.9 x 119.1 cm)
Credit Line:
Mary Griggs Burke Collection, Gift of the Mary and Jackson Burke Foundation, 2015
Accession Number:
Not on view
The titles of the six small-format handscrolls in this set refer to the six rivers in various parts of Japan that are named Tamagawa, or Jewel River. Each scroll shows a horizontal expanse of landscape in which the main elements of the composition are gradually introduced and then slowly fade out in almost cinematic fashion. The theme of six beautiful rivers enjoyed great popularity in the nineteenth century among both poets and ukiyo-e printmakers.

Sakai Ōho, one of the last Rinpa artists of the Edo period, died when he was quite young, leaving only a small body of work. Many of his paintings are based on or inspired by the work of Sakai Hōitsu, his adoptive father and teacher.
These six handscrolls are so tiny that when rolled up each fits comfortably in the palm of the hand. The paintings, which are in pristine condition, shimmer with vibrant color. There is no text. The subject is identified by the title of each scroll, which is inscribed on a small piece of paper affixed to the scroll's cover. The titles refer to six rivers in various parts of Japan that are named Tamagawa, or Jewel River: Noda no Tamagawa, Tetsukuri no Tamagawa, Noji no Tamagawa, Ide no Tamagawa, Kinuta no Tamagawa, and Koya no Tamagawa. The labels were most likely executed by Nakano Kigyoku, a student of Suzuki Kiitsu (cat. no. 135) who also wrote the two inscriptions on the lid of the two-tiered box in which the paintings are kept. On the outside of the lid the scrolls are identified as Mu Tamagawa rokkan (Six Scrolls of the Six Jewel Rivers); on the underside are the inscriptions "Ōho hitsu" (Painted by Ōho) and "Seisei Kigyoku shi" (Recorded by Seisei Kigyoku). Ōho himself signed "Ōho hitsu" at the end of each scroll, which is also impressed with his hansei seal.

Each scroll shows a horizontal expanse of landscape in which the main elements of the composition are gradually introduced and then slowly fade out in almost cinematic fashion. The tradition of miniature handscrolls—which offered the singular challenge of working within a format that allowed little room for vertical expansion while providing a broad horizontal space—had been established long before Ōho's time; ko-e (little pictures), of which many examples are extant, are mentioned in the literature of the Muromachi period.[1]

Hills and shorelines are here rendered in soft gray ink, and a light shade of robin's-egg blue leads the eye to the middle section of each scroll, where breathtaking views of the river in midcurrent unfold in vivid hues of aquamarine. Ōho made no attempt to organize the scenes according to the four seasons or any other sequence. An arbitrary system is therefore adopted here, though the northernmost river, Noda no Tamagawa, is placed first and the southernmost, at Kōya, south of Nara, is placed last.

Noda no Tamagawa is located at Noda, near Sendai, in the province of Mutsu (Miyagi Prefecture). An aristocratic lady, elegantly dressed, is shown with a male servant. Their attention is diverted by a flight of beach plovers; the lady turns her head toward the birds, partially shielding her face with a raised sleeve in a gesture reminiscent of a dance pose. A boat with a white sail appears on the far horizon, and a cluster of houses at the foot of the hills across the water suggests the great distance they have yet to cover. The vast space serves to evoke both the mood of the travelers and the lonely isolation of the far north.

Tetsukuri no Tamagawa is on the Musashino plain, west of Tokyo. In this scene, two women beat clothes in a tub; strips of white fabric have been hung up to dry near the farmhouses behind them. The riverbanks are protected by a weir. At the end of a sandbar, the bent figure of a woman can be seen as she rinses her clothes in the stream. Across the water is Mount Fuji, its majestic snow-covered peak rising high above a range of hills.

In the next scene, a courtier and his two attendants stand on the bank of Noji no Tamagawa, in Omi Province (Shiga Prefecture), contemplating a grove of bush clover resplendent with autumn color. (The river is also known as Hagi no Tamagawa, or Jewel River of Bush Clover.)

Ide no Tamagawa lies south of Kyoto. In this scene a courtier on horseback, accompanied by two attendants on foot, crosses the river in the spring. Yellow yamabuki are in bloom, and cherry trees blossom on the distant hills.

Kinuta no Tamagawa is in Osaka. The shadows cast by eulalia plants that ring the base of low-lying hills are a harbinger of evening. Plumes of eulalia in the foreground are tinged with gold, while the hills and trees in the distance are submerged in shadowy gray. Two women are hard at work fulling cloth, their night repast close at hand. Spots of gold wash applied to the teapot, cups, and fulling block reflect the radiance of the full moon, hanging high above the river at the left, and a flock of geese traverses the shining circle, their cries shattering the stillness of the evening.

The final handscroll shows the Tamagawa located deep in the sacred mountains at Kōya, south of Nara. Dark ink tones dominate, in combination with a deep green that enhances the shadowy depths of the mountain range. The current is rough, broken by stones and rocks, and no flowering plants are visible. The figure taking in this wild, barren scene is, appropriately, an aged Buddhist monk accompanied by a young acolyte. The atmosphere is somber, befitting the holy character of the site.

The name "Tamagawa" may originally have been used to refer to any beautiful river, as the word tama (jewel) was often employed by itself as an adjective to describe any splendid or elegant object. The theme of six beautiful rivers enjoyed great popularity in the nineteenth century, especially among ukiyo-e printmakers. Nevertheless, these six tiny handscrolls remain, so far, one of only two extant examples of paintings on the theme, the other being a single handscroll by Sumiyoshi Gukei (1631–1705).[2] We do not know when these particular rivers were singled out or when the six were grouped together to form a set.

A poem about a Tamagawa appears in Japan's earliest anthology of poetry, the late eighth-century Man'yōshū ( Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves). This verse, from the section "Azuma uta" (Eastern Poems), refers to the bleaching of cloth, an occupation later selected for inclusion in images of Tetsukuri no Tamagawa. The name "Tamagawa" was eventually included in a large compendium of place names used as utamakura (pillow words), phrases that served to inspire poets; subsequently, many verses were composed about rivers called Tamagawa.[3] Although the majority of such poems mention "beautiful rivers" without reference to sites, a small number describe objects, activities, or attributes that later became associated with six specific rivers:[4]

Noda no Tamagawa: Beach plover, new

green leaves

Tetsukuri no Tamagawa: Bleaching and

drying of cloth

Noji no Tamagawa: Bush clover, moon

Ide no Tamagawa: Yamabuki flowers,

unohana flowers, horseback riding, frogs

Kinuta no Tamagawa: Fulling of cloth, pines

Koya no Tamagawa: Travelers

While many meisho (famous scenic places) served as subjects for paintings (meisho-e) during the Heian and Kamakura periods, apparently none of the six Tamagawa was among them. Only one poem about a Tamagawa painting is recorded in the Heian period.[5] Interestingly, among the many meisho on sliding screens at the palace complex of the Saishō Shiten'nōin, which was built for retired emperor Go-Toba in 1207, there was not a single one that represented a Tamagawa.[6]

There are few references to meisho-e from subsequent eras,[7] but it is possible that the iconographic standard for the representation of the theme was established shortly before the production of a set of six Tamagawa prints by the woodblock-print master Suzuki Harunobu (1725–1770 ). These can be dated to between 1765 and the year of Harunobu's death. In 1765, Harunobu perfected the technique of nishiki-e (brocade pictures, or colored prints) by using multiple blocks for a single image. The prints bear the title Mu Tamagawa; each scene depicts a river and includes a quotation from a Heian-period poem. It is not unlikely that these prints provided a prototype for other ukiyo-e artists, whose works include the same poems and some of the same sites:

1. Noda no Tamagawa

When evening approaches,

plovers cry in the briny air

over Tamagawa’s stream

at Noda of Michinoku.

—Nōin Hoshi[8]

2. Tetsukuri no Tamagawa

The cloth that is hung

over the fence for bleaching

catches the morning dew

at the village of Tamagawa.

—Fujiwara Nagakiyo [9]

3. Noji no Tamagawa

I shall come back again tomorrow

to the Tamagawa of Noji.

The moon shines over the bush clovers

and rests upon the river's colored waves.

—-Minamoto Toshiyori[10]

4. Ide no Tamagawa

As I stop my horse

to give him water,

dew from the yamabuki flowers

is lost in the stream of Tamagawa at Ide.

—Fujiwara Shunzei"

5. Kinuta no Tamagawa

The autumn wind over the pines

sounds forlorn.

In the loneliness,

the sound of fulling cloth at Tamagawa.

—Minamoto Toshiyori [12]

6. Kōya no Tamagawa

Forgetting the warning

not to do so,

a traveler to Kōya's Tamagawa

dips his hand in the water.

—Kōbō Daishi13

If, as seems to be the case, the iconographic tradition for Mu Tamagawa was established sometime before Harunobu's prints, it can be traced clearly only in printmaking, literature, and music. About 1700, a number of essays by haikai poets were published that included the name Mu Tamagawa in their titles.[14] And nearly contemporaneous with Harunobu's prints, a musical composition written for the koto by Mitsuhashi Kengyō (d. 1760) was also titled Mu Tamagawa. The composition apparently inspired a series of song and dance pieces that were used until the mid-nineteenth century by such major schools of music as the Tomimoto, Jōruri, Nagauta, and Kiyomoto.

Documentation on the room decorations of Edo Castle may provide an important clue to the origins of the theme in painting. Now used as the residence of the imperial family in Tokyo, Edo Castle was the seat of the Tokugawa administration and the residence of the shoguns. First constructed in 1456, it was chosen as the Tokugawa power base by Ieyasu (r. 1603–5) in 1600. The castle underwent a succession of constructions and renovations throughout the Edo period, while the city of Edo, a small fishing village before Ieyasu's day, expanded by leaps and bounds. Edo's mushrooming population suffered from a chronic water shortage, particularly disastrous in the wake of the fires that frequently ravaged the city.

Nothing of the splendor of the castle's Edo-period interior decoration remains, but the plan of the sliding screens can be determined from the sketches made in preparation for the reconstruction of the nishi no maru (the residence of the retired shoguns and heirs-apparent) and the hon maru (the living quarters of the reigning shoguns), carried out in 1839 and 1845, respectively. The drawings, now mounted on 264 handscrolls, are preserved in the Tokyo National Museum, along with the many volumes of the Kōyō nikki (Chronicles of Official Projects), which were kept by Kano Osanobu (1796–1846), the leader of the Kano school, to whom responsibility for both reconstruction projects had been given.[15]

Osanobu's orders from the shogun were to copy the screen paintings that remained in the hon maru. These panels had been executed by the most revered of the Kano-school masters, Kano Tan'yū (cat. nos. 107, 108) for a much earlier reconstruction, of 1659, and were still in situ. Sadly, they were destroyed by fire in 1844, and it is thus impossible to determine whether Tan’yū's panels were used as models for all the paintings made for Osanobu's restoration. It seems safe to assume, however, that most of them were based closely on the mid-seventeenth-century works.[16]

In both the nishi no maru and the hon maru, the kyūsoku no ma (rooms for relaxation) were decorated with numerous meisho-e. Understandably, these included famous sites recently selected from the eastern and northern provinces, which were closer to Edo, rather than the western and southern sites favored during the Heian and Kamakura periods.[17] Scenes of the Tamagawa were among these pictures (fig. 52), and it is possible that their inclusion marked their debut in the genre of meisho painting. Most significantly, the scenes are identifiable even without inscriptions, as the principal pictorial elements are identical to those that appear in Harunobu's woodblock prints and in the present paintings by Ōho. Also notable is the fact that most of the scenes were placed in the bottom areas on small screens, while Tetsukuri no Tamagawa occupied the entire length of a full screen. What prompted Tan’yū, in 1659, to accord such a prominent position to Tetsukuri no Tamagawa? The answer to this question may be found in the records of the city construction projects commissioned by the Edo bakufu. In 1652, to alleviate the chronic water shortage, the bakufu launched an ambitious project to construct an aqueduct that would bring water to the city from the river of Musashino. This aqueduct, known as the Tamagawa Jōsui, is still partially preserved in the western section of Tokyo.[18] Its completion in 1654 was enthusiastically welcomed by both the citizens of the city and the residents of Edo Castle.[19] It may thus be posited that the theme of the six Tamagawa was devised to commemorate the government's successful undertaking. The grouping together of six rivers was clearly inspired by the tradition of assembling objects, themes, or persons into groups of six. The many examples would include, most prominently, the Rokudō (Six Realms of Reincarnation) and the Rokkasen (The Six Immortal Poets). Ōho, one of the last Rinpa artists of the Edo period, died when he was quite young, leaving only a small body of work. Many of his paintings are based on, or inspired by, the work of Sakai Hōitsu (cat. no. 134), his adoptive father and teacher. The second son of a monk at Honganji, Edo, Ōho was adopted at age twelve and later assumed Hōitsu's artistic mantle. His paintings reflect not only the influence of Hōitsu but also that of Suzuki Kiitsu (cat. no. 135), Hōitsu's star pupil. Hōitsu was a noted haikai poet, with a number of poetry anthologies to his credit, and Kiitsu pursued similar interests. Ōho was perhaps inspired to use the Tamagawa theme because of its popularity with the circle of haikai poetry enthusiasts who gathered around his teacher and his older colleague. Other factors may also have encouraged Ōho to turn to this subject. It is well known, for instance, that early in his career Hōitsu experimented with ukiyo-e, and it was among the ukiyo-e printmakers at Edo that the theme was first established. It is entirely possible that Ōho himself may have had a close working relationship with such master printmakers as Hiroshige (cat. no. 152), who produced a large number of woodcuts on this subject, including a set of six that is identical to Ōho's but which appears to postdate Ōho's death in, 1841. The Mu Tamagawa theme might well have disappeared as a subject for painting after Tan’yū used it in 1659. Fortunately, it was revived in 1839, when Osanobu copied Tan’yū's wall paintings; Ōho's handscrolls may be dated to about the same time. Although no connection has been established, it is also possible that Ōho was first introduced to the imagery of the Jewel Rivers by artists of the Kano school. [Miyeko Murase 2000, Bridge of Dreams] [1] Umezu Jirō 1961, pp. 103-4. [2] This scroll, in a private collection in the United States, dates to between 1691 and 1705. Poems are inscribed on the scroll, and its painted scenes are quite different from those on the Burke set; one of the six rivers, moreover, is located in a different place. See Murase 1995, pp. 98–99 and fig. 10. [3] Katagiri Yōichi 1972, pp. 418–19. [4] Takahashi Yoshio 1974, pp. 2–21. [5] The preface of poem 899 (listed again as poem 931), by Mibu no Tadami, dated 958, states that it was "composed about a painting on a byōbu which depicts a man leaning over a fence as he attempts to entice a young girl at Ide, where yamabuki flowers are in bloom." See Ienaga Saburō 1966a. [6] These screens, depicting forty-six meisho, are lost, but a diary kept by the courtier-poet Fujiwara Teika (1162–1241) preserves the Meigetsuki, a day-to-day account of the progress of the project and provides information about the artists, the places chosen as subjects, and the layout of the scenes. The appearance of the lost paintings can be reconstructed from the 460 poems by ten poets (one poem per meisho for each) that were written to accompany the paintings. The poems can be found in Gunsho ruijū 1928–37, vol. 8, pp. 398–410. See alsoMeigetsuki 1977, vol. 2, p. 297. [7] Inoue Ken'ichirō 1977, pp. 150–55. [8] Nōin (b. 988), Shin kokinshū (New Collection of Poems Ancient and Modern, ca. 1206), poem 643. [9] Fujiwara Nagakiyo, Fuboku wakashō, poem 14647. [10] Toshiyori (ca. 1055–ca. 1129), Senzaishū (ca. 1188), poem 280. [11] Toshinari (Shunzei, 1114–1204), Shin kokinshū, poem 159. [12] Senzaishū, poem 339. [13] Kūkai (Kōbō Daishi, 774–835), Fūgashū (1344–46), poem 1788. [14] Takahashi Yoshio 1974, p. 9. [15] For excerpts from this chronicle, see Tokyo National Museum 1989a, vol. 1, pp. 167–461. [16] Ibid., pp. 22–23. [17] For the hon maru wall paintings, see ibid., vol. 2, p. 58; for the nishi no maru paintings, see ibid., p. 129 (these are reproduced in color, in a larger plate, in Tokyo National Museum 1988, p. 18); see also Murase 1995, fig. 9. [18] It originally extended for 85 kilometers (53 miles) through the open field of Musashino, first as an open canal and then, inside the city proper, as a series of pipes made of wood and bamboo. [19] For a summary of this project, see Hamurocho Kyōiku Iinkai 1980.
Signature: Oho hitsu

Marking: Seal: Hansei
Mary and Jackson Burke Foundation , New York (until 2015; donated to MMA)
Murashige Yasushi and Kobayashi Tadashi, eds. Rinpa. Vol. 5, Sōgō (Assorted themes; Supplementary works). Kyoto: Shikōsha, 1992, suppl. 3, no. 111.

Murase, Miyeko. Jewel Rivers: Japanese Art from the Burke Collection. Exh. cat. Richmond: Virginia Museum of Fine Art, 1993, cat. no. 39.

Yasumura Toshinobu. Hōitsu to Edo Rinpa (Hōitsu and Rinpa in Edo). Rinpa Bijutsukan (Rinpa Museum), 3. Tokyo: Shūeisha, nos. 94–101.

Murase, Miyeko. “The Evolution of Meisho-e and the Case of Mu Tamagawa.” Orientations 26, no. 1 (January 1995): pp. 94–97.

Murase, Miyeko. Bridge of Dreams: The Mary Griggs Burke Collection of Japanese Art. Exh. cat. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000, cat. no. 138.

Tsuji Nobuo et al. Nyūyōku Bāku korekushon-ten: Nihon no bi sanzennen no kagayaki / Enduring Legacy of Japanese Art: The Mary Griggs Burke Collection. Exh. cat., Museum of Fine Arts, Gifu; Hiroshima Prefectural Museum of Art; Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum; and Miho Museum, Shigaraki, Shiga Prefecture. [Tokyo]: Nihon Keizai Shinbunsha, 2005, cat. no. 96.

Nakamachi Keiko, ed. Edo Rinpa no suijin: Sakai Hōitsu (Sakai Hōitsu: A sophisticate of Edo Rinpa). Nihon no kokoro (Spirit of Japan), 177. Tokyo: Heibonsha, 2010, pp. 156–57.

Carpenter, John T. Designing Nature: The Rinpa Aesthetic in Japanese Art. Exh. cat. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2012, cat. no. no. 38 (Kinuta no Tamagawa).
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