The Tour of Qushui River
The Tour of Qushui River from the Tale of Genji by Utagawa Toyokuni
Japan: 18th to 19th centuries, Woodblock print
This print is an illustration of a chapter from the Tale of Genji, which was a popular subject of many woodblock prints during the 17th to 20th centuries. The geisha in this print are on a spring outing during the blooming of the cherry blossoms. They watch as their servants float bowls of sake down the river for men to attempt to catch and drink.
Written in 11th century Japan by Murasaki Shikibu, the Tale of Genji is considered by many to be the world’s first novel. This novel tells the story of Hikaru Genji, a son of the Japanese emperor, and sheds light on the life of aristocrats in Japan. Despite being from such an early time period, the novel is quite complex, maintaining constancy between the more than 400 characters that appear in the story.
Many woodblock prints of the Ukiyo-e era, such as the one above, are based on Ryutei Tanehiko’s 1985 novel Nise Murasaki Inaka Genji, which translates to “The Imitation Murasaki and the Rustic Genji.” With its setting placed in the 15th century, this novel follows the story line of the original Tale of Genji and was so popular that it led to a mass production of woodblock prints during this era.
Q: What do the symbols on this and other woodprints mean?