Katsushika Hokusai
Poem by Kiyowara no Fukayabu
1836, spring

Signed: Zen Hokusai manji; Publisher’s seal: Eijudō (Nishimuraya Yohachi); censor’s seal: kiwame; ōban, yoko-e, 26.0 x 36.4 cm; nishiki-e

From “One Poem by A Hundred Poets as Explained by the Nurse through Pictures”. The classical poetry collection Hyakunin-isshu is the topic of this last series of woodblock prints by Hokusai. On the left is the stern of an excursion boat with lanterns. In the foreground, a boatsman is punting a restaurant boat with a small kitchen on board, while a ferry transporting guests is nearing from the right. On the upper right is a waka (Hyakunin-isshu No.36) by Kiyohara no Fukayabu (10th c.) on the fleeting nature of a summer’s night.

Kensaburō Wakai; R. G. McNair Scott; Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner and Co. (June 1962)
Riese Collection #131

The first line of the poem speaks of a summer’s night which is beautifully evoked by this tranquil view of pleasure boats on the Sumida River, their passengers enjoying the cool evening breeze. The boat in the foreground is a chokibune, or Boar Tusk, named after its shape. It was the smallest of the pleasure boats, and was often engaged to carry passengers on the part of the way to the Yoshiwara. At the right is yanebune, or roofed boat, which accommodated one small private party and on the left is the Kawaichimaru, the largest and most famous of the yakatabune, pleasure craft which were as large as houses, as their name implies. The lanterns on the large boat give the ship’s name, preceded by the words Shinpan, “Newly Published”, and perhaps this print was the first in a group issued together, and served as a sort of frontispiece. The second half of the poem talks about “the moon somewhere amid the clouds” and one scans the clear grey sky in vain: there is neither moon nor cloud. Isn’t it unusual, though, for the water to be printed over and the bottom of the print with black. Of course it’s night. But the porcelain dish the man is rising in the river, doesn’t that look rather like a moon? As does the shaven head of the green-robed boatman in the centre, with white stripes on his costume intimating clouds.
This is a fine impression with considerable woodgrain visible on the river.

Reproduced in: Ingelheim catalogue, no. 117.