Mitate-e:Crossing at Sano


Suzuki Harunobu (circa 1725–70) was a master of ukiyo-e in Edo (present-day Tokyo) and the key figure in developing nishiki-e (Japanese multicolored woodblock prints), such as this one. It shows a young woman at dusk in heavy snow, trudging across a bridge. Her feet are bare except for black lacquered clogs, and she is holding one long sleeve of her kimono over her head to protect her from the driving snow. The picture is based on the waka (short poem) “Sano no watari” (Crossing at Sano) by Fujiwara Teika (1162–1241) in Shin kokin wakashu (an imperial poetry anthology). The original waka features Teika himself, but in this mitate-e (a picture substituting a contemporary figure for a person in the past), a young woman takes his place. This picture is an e-goyomi (picture calendar), of a type called daishō-reki. The daishō-reki showed the long months (of 30 days) and the short months (of 29 days), which changed each year. This one is a calendar of 1765. The numbers are printed very small, at the bottom right corner of the picture on the side of the snow-covered bridge. Little is known about Harunobu’s life. His work is celebrated both inside and outside Japan for its colors, poetic atmosphere, elegance, and refinement.

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1 paper : woodblock prints, color ; 28 × 20.7 centimeters

Last updated: November 7, 2011