Kitagawa Utamaro
Boating on the Sumida River

Signed: Utamaro ga; Publisher’s logo (Tsutaya Jūsaburō); chūban, 26.4 x 18.6 cm; nishiki-e

On the Sumida River a pleasure boat is gliding along under the full moon. The man sitting in the cabin is identified by the symbol kin (gold) in his crest as the kyōka poet Kinkira Kinkei (1767–1807), who is also the author of the poem over the roof. His gesture seems to indicate that he intends to make advances towards his young companion. In the background the wooden arch of the Ryōgoku bridge can be seen.

Mutiaux; Huguette Beres (February 1971)
Riese Collection #64

This print, from an untitled series of pictures with kyōka poems in the small, half-block, chūban format, is particularly interesting since it contains a portrait of Kinkira Kinkei, the author of the poem above, identified by the character Kin in the crest on his kimono. Although he does not wear the cloth forepiece that we usually expect with actors, Kinkei’s companion wears the crest of Segawa Kikunojō III, a well-known actor of female roles in the kabuki theatre. Whether or not this is Kikunojō, the figure does seem to be that of a young man, and although Kinkei is holding a fan, his ambiguous gesture suggests that he is also making advances. The group is in a pleasure boat and the Ryōgoku Bridge can be seen in the distance. The seated youth is holding a glass goblet, probably Dutch by way of Nagasaki. A woman stands outside, disinterestedly enjoying the breeze and view. The poem contains an elaborate play on words linking Ryōgoku with Yagenbori, the Mortar Canal, a district to the west of Ryōgoku, the use of a mortar for pounding, and the observation that cooling off in the summer at Ryōgoku even beats Kyōto, where enjoying the evening cool along the Kamo River was a common summer pastime.

The poem reads:

Yagenbori o
Kodane ni totte
Ryōgoku wa
Kyō no suzumi mo
Ko ni kudakunari
Kikira Kinkei

Reproduced in: Vignier and Inada, Utamaro, no. 15, pl. IX.

This print is rare, only one other impression, in the Musée Guimet, Paris, seems to be recorded.