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Ariko - Sink Beneath the Waves from the series One Hundred Aspects of the Moon

Japanese Color Woodblock Print 

Ariko - Sink Beneath the Waves

from the series One Hundred Aspects of the Moon

by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, 1886

IHL Cat. #51

About This Print

Ariko no Naishi (A.D. 829-900), a lady in waiting in the Heian court, is despondent over an unrequited love. As she prepares to jump from the boat and drown herself, she recites the following verse, How hopeless it is; it would be better for me to sink beneath the waves; perhaps then I could see my man from Moon Capital.

Source: Yoshitoshi's One Hundred Aspects of the Moon, John Stevenson, Hotei Publishing, Netherlands 2001.
This is one of the most charming designs of the series. The moon is shown only in reflection -- the printer's execution of this concept is excellent. In addition to wiping away her tears with a poignant gesture, Ariko seems also to be shading them from the brilliance of the reflected moonlight. The design was a favorite of the writer and critic Noguchi Yone; in a lecture to the London Japan Society in 1914, he described pasting an impression of this print on a screen and his pleasure whenever he looked at it.

The black of Ariko’s robes has been burnished with a piece of ivory, giving it a shiny finish.  The design on the robe is made up of large wheels and stylized vine leaves, probably morning-glories, in a colorful tie-dyed pattern.  (The wheel, associated with the Buddhist concept of the Wheel of Life, was a common religious motif in Japan; as a means of transport, however, wheels were impractical and little used in Japan’s hilly countryside, where objects and people were more usually carried – during the time of Lady Ariko they were most commonly used on the ox carts of the aristocracy.)  A design of small wheels over waves was popular in the Heian period (794-1185), but the oversize wheels here seem more appropriate for a kimono pattern of the Edo period (1600-1868).  Perhaps a kimono design with waves would have seemed excessive for a print where waves are the most important element of the composition.  Most of the bottom half of the design is devoted to the water, which has the effect of drawing the figure downwards.  The waves are choppy, blown by a cool breeze that, if we stop for a moment, we can almost feel and hear.

An early, if not first, state of this print.

The Story Depicted in the Print as Told by John Stevenson

Source: Yoshitoshi's One Hundred Aspects of the Moon, John Stevenson, Hotei Publishing, Netherlands 2001.
The poem at the upper right reads:
How hopeless it is
it would be better for me to sink beneath the waves
perhaps then I could see my man from the Moon Capital
-- Ariko

nami no shita nimo
tsuki no miyako no
hito ya miru tote
- - Ariko

A young woman sits in a small boat on Lake Biwa, weeping. Her right hand, wiping tears from her eyes, holds a plectrum with which she has been strumming the strings of her lute. She is richly dressed and her hair is loose in the courtly Heian manner.  Hopelessly in love, she is preparing to jump from the boat and drown herself.

The lady is Ariko no Naishi, who was a lady-in-waiting at the Heian court.  The “Naishi” of her name is a title which indicates that she was a member of a special bureau, naishi no tsukasa.  This office managed the household of the empress and was made exclusively of women.  The man she loved was Tokudaiji no Sanesada, who held the post of Dainagon, a term for four senior councilors at the imperial court.  The story of Ariko’s unrequited love was made into a Noh play called Ariko no Naishi.  In the play, one of Sanesada’s retainers encounters Ariko’s ghost, and they discuss the passion that led to her suicide.

The tsuki no miyako of the poem, literally “moon capital”, was a poetic name for Kyoto, the Heian capital.  A viewer of the print and reader of the poem might also have been expected to remember the famous final words of Lady Nii in the Heike monogatari.  As the Taira leaders on board their flagship realize the totality of their defeat in a naval battle, she tells the boy-emperor, “in the depths of the ocean is our capital,” hugs him to her, and jumps into the sea where they both are drowned.

Image from Publisher's Bound Album (Issued shortly after Yoshitoshi's death)

About the Series "One Hundred Aspects of the Moon"
For details about this series which consists of one hundred prints with the moon as a unifying motif, see the article on this site Yoshitoshi, One Hundred Aspects of the Moon.

Print Details

 IHL Catalog #51
 Title Ariko - Sink Beneath the Waves  (Ariko 有子)
 Series One Hundred Aspects of the Moon (Tsuki hyaku sugata 月百姿)
 John Stevens Reference No.*
 Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839-1892)
 Yoshitoshi 芳年
 Seal Taiso 大蘇
 Date September 6, 1886 (御届明治十九年九月六日)
 Edition A single sheet issue, never bound into an album
 Publisher  Akiyama Buemon (秋山武右エ門) [Marks: seal 26-132; pub. ref. 005]
 Carver Yamamoto carver  山本刀
 Impression excellent
 Colors good
 Condition good - untrimmed; some light wrinkling in the upper margin; one inch crease at middle right margin; small stains at middle left bottom margin, and slightly into the image area; minor color fading.
 Genre ukiyo-e
 Format oban
 H x W Paper 14 x 9 5/8 in. (35.6 x 24.4 cm)
 H x W Image
 13 x 8 3/4 in. (33 x 22.2 cm)
 Collections This Print Smithsonian National Museum of Asian Art S2003.8.3032; Weatherspoon Art Museum, UNC, Greensboro 1999.42.1; The British Museum 1906,1220,0.1440; The New York Public Library Humanities and Social Sciences Library / Spencer Collection Digital Image ID: 1269834 Digital Record ID:674341; Yale University Art Gallery 2011.143.1.38; Hagi Yamaguchi Prefectural Museum U01537 and U02564; Tokyo Metropolitan Library 加4722-40; The Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum of Waseda University 201-4454; Ritsumeikan University ARC NDL-541-00-049
 Reference Literature * Yoshitoshi’s One Hundred Aspects of the Moon, John Stevenson, Hotei Publishing, Netherlands 2001