The Monkey Street Performer
The Monkey Street Performer by Utagawa Hokusai,
Japan: Late 18th or early 19th century, Woodblock print
The monkey in this print is known as a sarumawashi, or street performer, and he is shown here in costume for a ritual dance performed at New Year’s called the sanbaso dance. This is shown through his large black and gold hat, called a sanbaso eboshi. Because the hat was often worn by monkey street performers, the hat in art has become a symbol of the monkey and, by extension, the monkey years of the zodiac.
Over the monkey’s shoulder is a staff called a gohei, a ritual wand made by attaching zig-zag strips of gold, silver, white or multicolored paper to a wooden staff. Originally an offering to the Shinto deities, gohei stood deep within the sanctuary and came to be viewed as an object in which the spirit of the god resided. Gohei were also used as implements with which to purify worshipers at the shrine. Gohei were not only seen as offerings to the gods, but also as objects in which the gods reside. Because of this, gohei were thought to possess purifying power, and were often used in rituals to ward off or exorcise disease.
Q: How is a woodblock print made?