Catching Cicadas


The term ukiyo-e, literally “pictures of the floating world,” refers to a genre of Japanese artwork that flourished in the Edo period (1600–1868). As the phrase “floating world” suggests, with its roots in the ephemeral worldview of Buddhism, ukiyo-e captured the fleeting dynamics of contemporary urban life. While being accessible and catering to “common” tastes, the artistic and technical details of these prints show remarkable sophistication, their subjects ranging from portraits of courtesans and actors to classical literature. This print is a page from an egoyomi (pictorial calendar), which circulated among the populace and were used to determine the varying number of days in lunar months. The high demand and private commissions for these calendars helped to establish ukiyo-e as a popular art form among the public, as well as to advance nishiki-e (full-color prints) woodblock-printing technology. Departing from conventional calendar formats, the letters and numbers of the egoyomi were cleverly merged with the image, and the challenge of deciphering the symbols contributed to their popularity. In this print, prominent ukiyo-e painter Suzuki Harunobu (1725–70) depicts a woman and child attempting to catch cicadas, making a seasonal reference through this popular summer pastime. On the lower left corner of the net is the character shō (small), indicating that there are only 29 days in this month.

Last updated: May 23, 2012