The Poetry-Shell Matching Game of the Genroku Era: The Cherry Blossom Shell
(Genroku kasen kai-awase: Sakuragai)
porters resting, a woman in a palanquin smoking; signed Getchi rojin Iitsu hitsu (Moonstruck Old Man Iitsu), commissioned by the Yomogawa (Four Directions Group) for New Year 1821, Year of the Snake
shikishiban 7 5/8 by 7 in., 19.4 by 17.7 cm
In 1821 Hokuksai was commissioned by one of the most prestigious kyoka poetry groups, the Yomogawa (and two of its sub-groups), to produce a large series of thirty-six New Year surimono based on the subject of seashells. As it was the year of the Snake, the subject of shells is actually an allusion to the zodiac year by way of the goddess Benten, frequently depicted with her messenger, a white snake. Shrines devoted to Benten are usually situated near water, the most well-known of which is on the island of Enoshima, located near Kamakura on Sagami Bay east of Edo. Enoshima was a popular destination for day-trippers from Edo who would gather shells on the beaches or purchase souvenirs made from shells.
The size and title of the series, Genroku kasen kai-awase, references an anthology published in 1689 (second year of the Genroku period) of thirty-six classical poems which mention a specific marine shell. Each print from Hokusai's series likewise features a specific type of shell illustrated and identified within a folding fan-shaped cartouche, and two poems which allude (some more obliquely than others) to that type of shell, often in the form of a pun.
Gian Carolo Calza, Hokusai: Il vecchio pazzo per la pittura, 1999, p. 252, no. V.7.3
Gian Carlo Calza, Hokusai, 2003, p. 238, no. v.7.3
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site last updated
June 16, 2021
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