Drawing the First Water of the New Year

Suzuki Harunobu Japanese

Not on view

Symbols of spring abound in this poem. A young couple draws the “first water of the New Year” (wakamizu) in decorated buckets; pine saplings sit by the doorway, and plum blossoms burst into bloom. The scene also calls to mind an episode from the tenth-century Tales of Ise (Ise monogatari) known as the “Well curb,” in which young lovers recall measuring their heights by the well as children. It reads

Haru o hete
kyō tatematsuru
wakamizu ni
chitose no kage ya
matsu ukamuramu .

As spring arrives,
today, we offer to the gods
the year’s first drawn water
attached with pine shoots
as from time immemorial
—Trans. John T. Carpenter

Drawing the First Water of the New Year, Suzuki Harunobu (Japanese, 1725–1770), Woodblock print; ink and color on paper, Japan

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