Cry of the Crane


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. These two prints are by Okumura Masanobu (1686–1764). The larger one shows the legendary warrior-monk Benkei fighting another warrior, while the envelope depicts a flying crane. Benkei was the guardian of General Minamoto no Yoshitsune, and his loyalty and superhuman strength made him a popular subject of Kabuki and Noh (masked plays). The Benkei print is an example of tan-e (red prints), a technique using the combination of black ink and red pigment before the development of nishiki-e (full-color prints) in 1765. While there is speculation that the Benkei print may have been distributed in the envelope, Tsuru no hitokoe (Cry of the crane), this has not been confirmed.

Date Created

Subject Date


Title in Original Language

弁慶、袋 武者鶴の一声

Type of Item

Physical Description

2 prints : woodcut ; 62 x 32.2 centimeters (image), 20.8 x 13.8 centimeters (envelope)

Last updated: September 18, 2015