Kume the Immortal Spies on a Beauty


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 sumizuri-e (monochrome print) is unsigned, but recent scholars have attributed this early work to prominent Edo print and book artist Sugimura Jihei, who flourished from the 1680s to early 1700s and was a follower of Hishikawa Moronobu. The subject of the print is Kume the Immortal, a renowned recluse who mastered the power to travel through the air at will. In this depiction, the sight of a young woman baring her legs while washing clothes caused Kume to lose his concentration and fall from the sky.

Last updated: September 18, 2015