Twelve Months by Toyokuni: First Dancing Practice of the New Year


This nishiki-e (Japanese multicolored woodblock print) is one of a 12-part series depicting annual events and the changing of people’s lives with the seasons, from January to December, modeled on beautiful women in Edo (present-day Tokyo) in the early 19th century. This picture, a happy and brilliant scene that symbolizes the New Year, represents January and is titled in the top left-hand corner. It shows two young women having their first dancing practice of the New Year to a shamisen accompaniment. The dance is Harukoma, which expresses the wish for health and prosperity throughout the year. The two dancers are each holding a horse’s head puppet with a scarf representing a bridle. Their long-sleeved kimonos have a pattern of plovers, the waterfowl that from ancient times has represented winter in Japan. The women’s red under-garments have a hemp-leaf pattern, a popular motif at the time, as hemp is a strong, fast-growing plant. Their black obis have wave-like swirls. The screens in the background show young pines and full-blown ume (Japanese apricot) blossoms. The pine tree has a strong life force and signifies prosperity, while the ume, which blossoms in the coldest season, is the flower that celebrates the New Year in Japan. At the bottom of the picture are printed the artist’s name, the year 1854, and the names of the publisher and the engraver. Utagawa Toyokuni III (circa 1786-1864) was a prolific artist in the ukiyo-e style, who also produced many book illustrations. He flourished at around the same time as Utagawa Hiroshige I (1797–1858) and Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849).

Date Created

Subject Date

Publication Information

Tsutaya Kichizo, Edo


Title in Original Language

豊国十二ケ月「十二月ノ内 孟春踊始」

Type of Item

Physical Description

Set of three : woodblock prints, color ; 37 × 25.5 centimeters


  1. Ted Heckathorn. "Kane, Elisa Kent," American National Biography (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000).

Last updated: January 6, 2016