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National Diet Library Newsletter

No. 219, August 2018

Mitate Sano no watari ("Crossing at Sano" Mitate)

Artist: Suzuki Harunobu (1725?-1770)
Published ca. 1765. 28.0 × 20.7 cm
Owned by the National Diet Library, Japan
* Available in the NDL Digital Collections:

At dusk in heavy snow, a young woman is trudging across a bridge. Her feet are bare except for black lacquered clogs; she is holding one long sleeve of her scarlet kimono over her head to protect it from the driving snow.

This picture is based on a waka (Japanese short poem) “Sano no watari” by Fujiwara Teika (1162-1241) in Shin kokin wakashu. The original waka features Teika himself, but in this picture, a contemporary young woman takes his place. A picture substituting a contemporary figure for a person in the past like this is called "mitate-e."

This picture is an e-goyomi, picture calendar, of a kind called daisho-reki. The Daisho-reki calendar showed the long months (of 30 days) and the short months (of 29 days), which changed year by year. This is a daisho-reki of 1765. The numbers are printed very small at the bottom of right corner of the picture on the side of the snow-covered bridge.

Suzuki Harunobu was an ukiyo-e artist working in Edo in the mid-18th century. He was the leading artist in the early stage of the multicolor woodblock prints called nishiki-e, but little is known about his life. His work is celebrated both inside and outside Japan for its colors, poetical atmosphere, and elegance and refinement.