Parodies of Hichobo and Rogo
each panel signed Harunobu ga, the right panel with publisher's tomoe mark and seal Nishimura (Nishimuraya Yohachi) of Eijudo, ca. 1770
hashira-e 12 5/8 by 5 1/2 in., 32.2 by 14.1 cm
The figures on both panels are mitate (parody) of classical legends. Although there are a number of possible references for the subject of the beauty on the right seated on a flying crane while holding a long letter, it is most likely a parody of the Chinese Immortal Fei Changfang (Hichobo in Japanese). According to the legend, Fei Chanfang was an official who learned the secret of immortality from an old man he found hiding inside a large jar. The story makes no reference to flying on a crane, however, cranes are associated with longevity and the first two syllables of his name in Japanese can mean 'flying bird' if written with different characters. Thus in a typical Japanese fashion the Chinese legend is appropriated and with a play on words given a new meaning. The left panel depicting a young man holding a fishing pole and creel while riding on a large tortoise through the surf is a mitate of the Chinese Immortal Lu Ao (Rogo in Japanese), whose vehicle is the minogame, a mythical tortoise associated with longevity.
Harunobu illustrated both of these subjects on other prints; in some designs the Rogo figure is depicted as a beauty. However, other impressions of this print have not yet been located. In this possibly unique pairing, the tortoiseshell pattern on the kimono of the beauty on the right subtly references the minogame depicted on the left. There is a similar hashira-e composition from the Michener Collection in the The Art Institute of Chicago identified as the legend of Urashima Taro, a fisherman that visited the kingdom of the Dragon King for what felt like a brief stay but upon his return he discovered he had been gone for hundreds of years.
This print likely dates to circa 1770, around the same time as Harunobu designed an untitled Omi Hakkei (Eight Famous Views) series which was also published by Nishimuraya Yohachi (Eijudo).
Edwin Grabhorn, San Francisco (1889-1968)
Ukiyo-e Shuka, vol. 10, 1980, p. 199, no. 47 (Grabhorn)
Margaret O. Gentles, The Clarence Buckingham Collection of Japanese Prints, The Art Institute of Chicago, 1965, p. 79, cat. no. 130 (identified as Urashima Taro), accession no. 1958.132
David Waterhouse, The Harunobu Decade, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 2012, p. 130, cat. no. 184 (legend of Hichobo)
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