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Seven Variations in a Kyōka Contest in the Bunsei Era

New Year Parade of Fire Brigades to the Capital

Japanese Color Woodblock Print 

Seven Variations in a Kyōka Contest in the Bunsei Era

by an unknown artist (signed Kaishū), 1895

IHL Cat. #1261

About This Print

A strange assortment of Bunsei Era (1818-1830) characters are engaged in writing comic tanka (kyōka) as part of a poetry contest in which the theme is sake.  From right to left we see a farmer, a calligrapher, the Thunder God, a child, the poet Hitomaru (one of the Thirsty-six Immortal Poets), an apprentice geisha and a samurai carrying a long sword over which is slung a tsunodaru, used for transporting sake.

The print references the Go Gawa (五側) poetry club, active during the Bunsei Era.   Members of the club often wrote poetry on illustrated surimono, and signed their work with the Go Gawa symbol, an hourglass resembling the number five.1  The Go Gawa symbol, as shown below, appears on the sake bottles in the center panel and on the object in the farmer's left hand.

The Go Gawa club was associated with the Ichikawa acting family of Japan. It was led by the actor Ichikawa Danjuro VII (also known as Ichikawa Masamochi or Yadoya Meshimori, 1753-1830) who was also a scholar of Japanese classics, and translator of Chinese fables. Poetry clubs "transcended the social system and order under the reign of the Tokugawa Shogunate" and "by using pennames, samurais, merchants and actors could transform to comic-tanka poets."2

1 Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Go_Gawa_poetry_club

Print Details

 IHL Catalog
 Title or Description  Seven Variations in a Kyōka Contest in the Bunsei Era (文政狂歌合七變化)
Unknown artist, signed 魁州画 (artist's signature can be read as "Kaishū ga")
 Signature  see above
 Seal  see above
 Publication Date  1895 (Meiji 28 as appearing in publisher's seal below)
(Can be read as Sakaguchi Chūjirō or Sakaguchi Tadajirō.   Neither name is listed in Marks.)
 Impression  excellent
 Colors  excellent
 Condition  good - slight toning; three separate sheets
 Genre  ukiyo-e
These seals appearing to the left of the publisher's mark may be the seals of a poetry club that perhaps commissioned this print.
The top seal reads  and the bottom seal reads 正?.
 Format  vertical oban triptych
 H x W Paper 
 9 1/4 x  13 13/16 in. (23.5 x 35.1 cm) each sheet
 Collections This Print