Okame as the Third Princess (Nyosan) from the Tale of Genji
an elegant Okame stands swaying slightly as she raises one foot to step forward but glances over her shoulder at an oni dragging on her hem, she holds a box of beans (for the tsuina ritual) and wears a kosode decorated with stylized clouds and a cross-hatch pattern which is loosely belted below her stomach, her long hair flows down her back in a manner suggestive of a Heian Period beauty; with spurious signature, Masatsugu, 19th century
height 2 1/2 in., 6.35 cm
Okame, one of the Seven Lucky Gods and considered the goddess of mirth, was a popular netsuke subject. Identified by her full face and typically an ample body, she is frequently depicted engaging in humorous and naughty behavior. It is not uncommon for her to be paired with an oni, often as an object of her lascivious attention.
Considering Okame's usual earthy role, this netsuke is all the more amusing. At first glance it is of course a reference to the ritual exorcism at the lunar New Year and setsubun (lit. 'seasonal divide', most commonly the first day before spring). During the ritual, known as tsuina, soybeans are scattered while chanting oni-yarai (from harau, lit. to cleanse or purify) to expel any demons from the household. But there is another literary reference at play, an allusion to The Third Princess (Nyosan) from the Genji Monogatari ('The Tale of Genji'). In Chapter 34, Wakana I ('New Herbs: Part One'), Kashiwagi (the son of Genji's close friend To no Chujo) first spies the Third Princess when her cat upsets a bamboo screen as she watched a group of young nobles playing kemari (football) under cherry blossoms. This first encounter leads to an ill-fated affair which results in a pregnancy. Although Genji knew that the child, Kaoru, was not his son, he raised him as his own. Kashiwagi is consumed by guilt and dies; the Princess likewise cannot live with her transgression and becomes a nun.
The subject of Nyosan and her cat became a popular reference in ukiyo-e prints and paintings. An image with a beauty and a cat, usually on her hem, became visual short-hand for the Genji episode, in part for the illicit implications of a forbidden love, but perhaps just as likely because cats, a pampered pet popular with courtesans, were commonly associated with the Yoshiwara pleasure quarters.
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site last updated
April 2, 2020
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