The Tama River at Ide, Yamashiro Province

Suzuki Harunobu Japanese

Not on view

The poetry of place and place name has a long and evocative tradition in Japanese literature. Locations, celebrated sites called meisho, often evoked a season, a certain emotion or a famous historical or fictional event. The accumulated associations were so strong that a place name became a synedoche, an indispensable device for infusing the short poetic forms of Japan with broader meaning. Ukiyo-e artists, too, made use of such allusions, both to the place and its use in classical literature, to expand and to play upon meaning.

The six Tamagawa ("Jewel Rivers")—Ide, Mishima (or Kinuta), Noji, Kōya, Chōfu and Noda—were a non-traditional meisho subject that became popular in the early eighteenth century as the theme for poetry, song and dance. Harunobu most likely drew inspiration for this print series from the use of the Jewel rivers theme in the haikai circles of his day. The Tamagawa in Ide, south of the old capital, Kyoto, is the river most frequently cited by the ancient poets and, over time and accumulated imagery, came to be associated with the kerria flower, horseback riding and frogs. Harunobu's courtesan and her two younger attendants ford the river, the graceful swirls of the current cool around their feet. The square cartouche contains a poem by Shunzei (Fujiwara Toshinari, 1114–1204) from the Shinkokin waka shu anthology:

Uma tomete
nao mizu kawan
yamabuki no
hana no tsuyu sofu
Ide no tamagawa

I stop my horse
and have him drink for a time
where the dew falls
from the kerria flowers
at the Tamagawa in Ide.

The Tama River at Ide, Yamashiro Province, Suzuki Harunobu (Japanese, 1725–1770), Woodblock print; ink and color on paper, Japan

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