Katsushika Hokusai
The Miyakogai Shell

Signed: Getchi rōjin I’itsu hitsu; square surimono, shikishi-ban, 20.0 x 17. 8 cm; nishiki-e with with kinginzuri and karazuri

From “A Matching Game with Genroku Era (1688–1703) Poem Shells”. This surimono is part of a series ordered by a poets’ circle and refers to the reader Kasen kai-awase (“Matching Game of Master Poets”) from 1689. In the Utsusegai print a snake in the form of the character mi (“snake”) and the long months of the Year of the Snake 1821 are depicted. The series refers to the traditional pass time Kai-awase, a game with 360 pairs of shells, similar to Memory.

Unidentified Japanese collection(?); F. Tikotin; Gift of C. Ouwehand
Riese Collection #117

In the Tales of Ise, Ariwara and Narihira, the Heian poet and courtier decides to leave the intrigue and complication of court life for a while and travel in the country. He decides to journey to the sparsely inhabited lands of the east. When he reaches the Sumida River, along whose banks the city of Edo later was to stand, he boarded a ferry. Noticing some unfamiliar birds sporting on the water, he asked the boatman for their name. “Those, sir? We call them Capital Birds.” The poet, hearing the name of the capital became nostalgic for all the loves he had left behind, and deftly composed a poem addressing to the birds, asking them if they were indeed Capital Birds, to tell him whether his loves still cared for him or not. The three poems above Hokusai’s elegant design, more or less cleverly interweave allusions to this story with references to spring, to shells, and to screens made of shell which were souvenirs of Enoshima. Because of these many references, the poems would sound laboured in translation, so they are simply transliterated here to assist any other enthusiastic soul who wishes some assistance in the labyrinthine intricacies of late Edo calligraphic script.

Aoyagi no
kemuru shizue ni
harukaze wa
ari ya nashi ya to
tou Sumidagawa.
(Hana no Miyako)

tatsu no miyako no
kai byōbū
ori ni medetaki
Enoshima miyage.
(Kasadō Kakusai)

Kusakusa to
kai o awasete
tori no na no
miyako no sato ni
iza to iwannan
(Shūchōdō Monoyama, the leader of the poetry circle who published these prints)

Reproduced in: Ingelheim catalogue, no. 110.