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By now you must be near Komakata, a cuckoo calls - Takao from the series One Hundred Aspects of the Moon

Japanese Color Woodblock Print 

By now you must be near Komakata,

a cuckoo calls - Takao

from the series One Hundred Aspects of the Moon

by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, 1885

Chang E Flees to the Moon from the series One Hundred Aspects of the Moon

IHL Cat. #970

About This Print

Often assumed to be the first print in the series One Hundred Aspects of the Moon, it pictures one of the eleven famous courtesans of the Yoshiwara in the 17th and 18th centuries named Takao.  It is believed Yoshitoshi's print pictures the sixth Takao, known for her poetry.


The Story Depicted in the Print as Told by John Stevenson

Source: Yoshitoshi's One Hundred Aspects of the Moon, John Stevenson, published by Hotei Publishing, Netherlands 2001
1.
By now you must be near Komakata
a cuckoo calls - Takao

Kimi wa ima
Komakata atari
hototogisu - Takao

Takao was the name chosen by eleven famous courtesans of the Yoshiwara pleasure quarters during the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.  Each Takao was famous for a different reason.  The sixth was known for her writing talents, and it may be she who is illustrated here.

It is early morning, and Takao's lover has recently left the pleasure quarters to return to the city.  Takao hears a hototogisu, a sort of cuckoo, whose call is associated with dawn and with loneliness.  Its staccato sound reminds her of the name Komakata, an area on the Sumida river a short distance south of the Yoshiwara, and she imagines her lover arriving at the boat landing in Komakata on his way home.  She composes a poem, which eventually became famous.  Hiroshige (1797-1858) alludes to it in a design of Komakata in his "One Hundred Famous Views of Edo."

Takao's hairstyle and her dark-colored robe with its leaf and calligraphic motifs are typical of the Genroku period (1688-1704), considered a golden age by later generations.  It was a time when the Yoshiwara pleasure quarters maintained an extraordinary hold over the public imagination.  Other pleasure districts in the capital had not yet developed and the formalized institution of geisha had not yet been invented.

Courtesans were appreciated as much for their literary and musical talents as for their beauty, and the courting of them was a sophisticated process which required several meetings and much erudite games-playing.  A favorite pastime was the composing of linked verses.  Yoshitoshi has suggested this game by adding two poems to the print:

momokusa shitau natsu no ariake - Kitazato bōrō Tare
a hundred grasses, longing for the summer dawn - Tare of the Kitazato pleasure house
take no mado sodenashi goromo tuzurasete - Keikaen
by the bamboo window sewing a sleeveless robe - Keikaen

These verses form a sequence with the title poem and build up a picture of a woman thinking of her recently departed lover early on a summer's morning, looking up from her sewing and gazing out of an open window.  Implicit also is an idea of her looking at the summer dawn moon.  There are almost certainly erotic overtones to the word momokusa, "a hundred grasses."  Momo can mean "thigh," and kusa, "grass," is a term sometimes used for pubic hair.

The story of the sixth Takao is a happy one.  A poor dyer of cloth named Jirobei caught sight of her one day and immediately fell in love.  He worked for a year until he had saved enough money to purchase a single evening of her company.  During the brief opportunity he won her heart, and she married him when her period of indebtedness to her brothel was over.  We hear that Jirobei was not a very good dyer but that his business was excellent, thanks to the number of people who came to his shop to catch a glimpse of Takao, the famous beauty.

In the early 1800s Yoshitoshi produced a light-hearted painting of the weighing ceremony of another Takao in the sequence of courtesans, who was bought from her brothel for her weight in gold.  If this design had been intended to depict the gold-weighing Takao, however, a clue of some sort would have been included.

The first five designs of the Moon Series all bear the same date, and we do not know which one Yoshitoshi designed first.  The design of Takao opens this book since it is the print usually placed first in contemporary bound albums of the "One Hundred Aspects of the Moon," also, the two poems placed inside the design against an empty background make it look like a frontispiece.

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  #970
 Title
 By now you must be near Komakata, a cuckoo calls - Takao
 (Kimi wa ima/ Komakata Atari/ hototogisu - Takao
たか雄 君は今駒かたあたりほとゝきす)
 Series  One Hundred Aspects of the Moon (Tsuki hyaku sugata 月百姿)
 John Stevens Reference No.*
 1
 Artist
 Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839-1892)
 Signature
Yoshitoshi 芳年
 Seal  Yoshitoshi (see image above)
 Date  October 1885 (御届明治十八年十月 日) 
 Edition  Likely from the album issued by publisher Akiyama Buemon shortly after Yoshitoshi's death
 Publisher  Akiyama Buemon (秋山武右エ門) [Marks: seal 26-132; pub. ref. 005]
 address: 日本ハシ室町三丁目九番地
 Carver
chōkō Yamamoto tō  彫工山本刀 (carver Yamamoto) (Yamamoto Shinji)
 Impression  excellent
 Colors  excellent
 Condition  good - not backed; minor mounting residue verso corners; very minor marks and flaws; slight trimming to left margin
 Genre  ukiyo-e
 Miscellaneous
 Format  oban
 H x W Paper  13 3/8 x 9 1/2 in. (34 x 24.1 cm)
 H x W Image
 13 x 8 7/8 in. (33 x 22.5 cm)
 Collections This Print  Art Gallery of Greater Victoria 258.2012.1; The British Museum 1906,1220,0.1483; New York Public Library Humanities and Social Sciences Library / Spencer Collection 674323; Yale University Art Gallery 2011.143.1.1; The Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum of Waseda University 201-4504; Ritsumeikan University NDL-541-00-093; Tokyo Metropolitan Library 加4722-3 and 5233-60-3; Edo-Tokyo Museum 99000931
 Reference Literature  * Yoshitoshi’s One Hundred Aspects of the Moon, John Stevenson, Hotei Publishing, Netherlands 2001, pl. 1.

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