Ryūryūkyo Shinsai
New Year’s Surimono with Auspicious Objects
c. 1820

Signed: Shinsai; surimono, shikishi-ban, 21.0 x 18.5 cm; nishiki-e with kinginzuri

Toy bows and arrows (hamayumi and hamaya), here resting against a screen, originally played a role in many Japanese ceremonies intended to drive out evil spirits. Later they became a New Year’s present for young boys meant to bring good fortune. Above them are two New Year’s poems by Shō’utei and Shūchōdō, which make references to the good luck symbols in the surimono. Shūchōdō was the director of the circle of poets that commissioned this elaborate print.

H. Czrellitzer; Horst A. Rittershofer, Berlin (October 1965)
Riese Collection #114

The Japanese, being animists, believed in what was important to exorcise evil spirits regularly. The most familiar ceremony, which is still repeated in many households to this day is setsubun. On the 3rd day of the 2nd month of the lunar calendar, the last day of winter, householders would hang sardines in their doorway and throw a certain bean in handfuls out the door, to disperse any demons who may have taken up residence in the house during the winter. In olden days there was another ceremony for dispelling evil spirits. This was done in the first month of the lunar year and a bow and arrows were used. By the Edo period this custom seems to have fallen into desuetude in the cities, but the bows which were called hamayumi, or “devil-driving bows”, were thought to make nice presents for male children during the New Year season. One of these ornamental sets, more decorative than useful, is shown in Shinsai’s print, and they occasionally appear in the designs of Harunobu and other figure artists. The poems are little more distinguished than the design.
They read:

Hamayumi o
We shoot our

iwaute ani to
devil-driving bows together;

yobu ume ni
“Brother” you cry,

o kashitaru
and we celebrate,

like Momotarō in the spring.

Ite tsuzoki
The archer is strong

haru no samusa mo
the singing arrows

hamayumi no
of the devil-driving bows

hikime ni sakeru
break the cold of spring

baika hyōretsu
as “plum blossoms crack the ice”.

Shūchōdō was the leader of the poetry circle that commissioned the print. His poem is interesting for using a Chinese phrase for the last line. The arrows shot by the devil-driving bows had special tips that hummed, frightening the demons. Momotarō, or Peach Boy, as he is often called, sailed with three companions to the Island of Devils and conquered them, bringing their treasure home to his aged parents. His return is usually depicted as during the spring. Tarōzuki is a euphemism for the first month of the lunar calendar. “Shooting together” is homophonous with “celebrate”. Elaborate.

Reproduced in: Ingelheim catalogue, no. 120a.