This print has two inscribed proverbs - Ningen banji Saiō no uma 人間万事塞翁が馬 and Kuchi wa wazawai no kado 口は禍の門. The first translates as "The luck of men is like Saiō's horse" referring to a well-known Chinese folktale, in which bad news turns to good news, good news turns to bad news, and nothing is what it seems. Basically, this saying means there's no way to know how things will turn out. The second translates as "The mouth is the front-gate of all misfortune" or "The mouth is the root of trouble." I do not know how the two proverbs play against each other in this print.
The popularity of these small prints led to numerous printings over the years. One variant state of the print is shown below.
Source: Comic Genius: Kawanabe Kyōsai, Oikawa Shigeru, Clark Timothy and Forrer Matthi, Tokyo Shinbun, 1996, p. 206.
This print was issued as part of the series the Kyōsai hyakuzu 狂斎百図 (One Hundred Pictures by Kyōsai) which consists of more than 200 pictorializations of proverbs and depictions of famous subjects unrelated to proverbs. The prints were published continuously from 1863 to 1866* by the publisher Wakasaya and the works were later reprinted in album form by the publisher Ōkura Magobei (Ōkuraya) in 1881 and 1886. The prints in this collection are likely from one of Ōkura Magobei's reprint editions, as they show evidence of having been removed from an album.
One hundred of the proverbs depicted in Kyōsai hyakuzu were translated into French in 1885 under the title Cent Proverbes Japonais by Francis Steenackers and Ueda Tokunosuke.
This print series was very popular, enhancing Kyōsai's reputation and making a large profit for the publishers.
*1863-1866 are the most common publication dates provided for these prints, though the literature cites dates as early as 1862 for the first publication date and reprints of this series are still being made. The prints were first issued by publisher Wakasaya Yoichi (aka Jakurindō Yoichi) as single-sheet prints, sold in ten print packages in a decorative envelope. Ōkura Magobei (aka Yorozuya Magobei) re-published the prints in bound book/album form in the 1880s.
| IHL Catalog
|Title or Description|| The Luck of Men is Like Saiō's Horse; The Mouth is the Gate of Misfortune
人間万事塞翁が馬 Ningen banji Saiō no uma
口は禍の門 Kuchi wa wazawai no kado
|Artist|| Kawanabe Kyōsai (1831-1889)
|Series||Kyōsai hyakuzu 狂斎百図 (One Hundred Pictures by Kyosai)|
|Seal (of the artist)||
|Publication Date|| likely c. 1863-1866
|Publisher||possibly Wakasaya Yoichi as the print is not backed - originally issued by Wakasaya Yoichi and then reprinted in book form by Ōkura Magobei|
|Condition||excellent - not backed|
|Genre|| ukiyo-e; giga (comic print)
|Format||koban [Vertical yotsugiri (quarter ōban)]|
| H x W Paper
|| 7 1/8 x 4 3/4 in. (18.1 x 12.1 cm)
||Museum of Fine Arts, Boston 11.22658 and 11.36996|
| Reference Literature