Baby Whitefish


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 Ryūryūkyo Shinsai (circa 1764–1820) is a still life of cut vegetables and a pot containing icefish on a tray. The translated poem by Dontontei Wataru (d. 1822) in this surimono reads: “Icefish (cooking) like melting snow/Peacefully the wine warms my breast/I feel like a spring of a thousand gold coins.”

Last updated: September 18, 2015