Tagasago Couple in the Hollow of a Pine Tree


A new and less formal style of poetry called haikai (linked verse) spread among the urbanites of Kyoto, Osaka, and Edo in 17th-century Japan. Haikai was also very much a social activity, with linked-verse parties held on regular occasions in homes or at restaurants. Such poetic gatherings helped give rise to privately commissioned woodblock prints, called surimono (printed matter), which paired images with representative verses from the circle. Both were typically intended to carry the cachet of “insider knowledge” for a cultured and well-educated audience. Because such surimono were not intended for sale but as gifts, artists, engravers, and printers would produce them with extreme care. The final products are, in many cases, among the finest examples of woodblock-printing art. This print by an ukiyo-e master, Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849), alluded to the mythical folk tale of a pine tree in Takasago shrine. It was said that the tree split into two large trunks from one root, which then were transformed into the two deities of creation in Shinto faith, Izanagi and Izanami. The two preached the ways in which a prosperous marriage could be attained, and thereafter the tree came to symbolize unity between married couples.

Last updated: September 18, 2015