Irises at Yatsuhashi (Eight Bridges)

Artist: Ogata Kōrin (Japanese, 1658–1716)

Period: Edo period (1615–1868)

Date: after 1709

Culture: Japan

Medium: Pair of six-panel folding screens; ink and color on gold leaf on paper

Dimensions: Image (each screen): 64 7/16 in. x 11ft. 6 3/4 in. (163.7 x 352.4 cm)
Overall (each screen): 70 1/2 in. x 12 ft. 2 1/4 in. (179.1 x 371.5 cm)

Classification: Screens

Credit Line: Purchase, Louisa Eldridge McBurney Gift, 1953

Accession Number: 53.7.1, .2


The stately, vertical forms of irises set against an angular bridge that sweeps diagonally across both screens refer to an episode in The Ise Stories (Ise monogatari). Exiled from Kyoto after an affair with a high-ranking court lady, the story’s protagonist stops at Yatsuhashi, a place where a stream branches into eight channels, each with its own bridge. The sight of irises prompts him to compose a nostalgic love poem. The first syllable of each line forms the Japanese word for irises (kakitsubata). The English translation, though unable to convey the complex wordplay of the original, is also an acrostic:

kitsutsu narenishi
tsuma shi areba
harubaru kinuru
tabi o shi zo omou

I wear robes with well-worn hems,
Reminding me of my dear wife
I fondly think of always,

So as my sojourn stretches on

Ever farther from home,

Sadness fills my thoughts.
—Trans. John T. Carpenter