Twelve Months by Toyokuni: The December Pounding of Rice Cakes
This picture is one of a series depicting the annual events and changing lives of people through the seasons from January to December. It was published in Edo (present-day Tokyo) in 1854. The artist, Utagawa Kunisada (circa 1786–1864), a pupil of Utagawa Toyokuni I, took the name Toyokuni III in 1844. In the Edo period, no well-to-do family would greet the New Year without making its own rice cakes. Some of the cakes were made into kagami-mochi, mirror rice cakes, large round hard cakes piled one atop the other, to be offered to deities at the New Year. They represented mirrors, which from ancient times were sacred objects in Japan. Here, three women, their hair covered, are hard at work. At the right, the only man in the scene is pounding steamed glutinous rice, while a woman moistens her hands in cold water and, every time the hammer rises, deftly turns the rice over. At the low table on the left, another woman shapes it into rounds. Beside her, a lady is sitting fanning the rice cakes, while a small child in the arms of a young woman waves a spray of mochibana, little balls of rice cake that look like flowers. Toyokuni III specialized in pictures of actors and beautiful women, and although he is said to have been the most prolific of all the ukiyo-e artists, he also produced many book illustrations in a different style.
Tsutaya Kichizo, Edo
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Set of three : woodblock prints, color ; 37 × 25.5 centimeters
Last updated: November 7, 2011