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Photo credit: Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University

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Title: Delightful Things - Chinese Brocade and a Decorated Sword (Medetaki mono - Karanishiki kazaritachi)
Date: commissioned for a New Year, ca. 1820
Medium: Color woodblock print
Dimensions: 8 11/16 x 7 3/8 inches (22 x 18.8 cm)
Credit Line: Gift of Joanna Haab Schoff, Class of 1955
Object Number: 2011.017.025
Label Text: Tsugomori no
Tokoyami mo haya
Akewataru
Kamiyo no haru no
Hatsu tori no koe

Dawn breaks and quickly spreads
Over that eternal darkness
Of the last night of the year
With the first rooster’s cry
In the spring of the Gods
—Kanryu ̄en Shizue

Sakeru kara
Kusa mura wo sura
Kono hana wa
Nokorazu oramu
Sakura karu kesa

Since they’ve bloomed
If you go to the grass village
You’ll find that the plum blossoms
No longer remain—
Now we hunt for cherries this morning
—Zuinichien Katsuyoshi

The Pillow Book was a miscellany written at the end of the tenth century by the court lady Sei Shonagon. The work scatters thematic lists among its short, autobiographical narratives, reflecting its author’s tastes and sensibilities. Others from this set include entries under lists like “things that make the heart beat faster” or “things that arouse memories of the past.” In the present example, the list of “splendid things” includes, in addition to the two in the title, the wood grain of Buddhist statues and long wisteria branches twined around pine trees.

The title itself seems to provide the seeds for the image, with the beautiful woman wearing the costume of a Shirabyo ̄shi dancer, including richly colored and layered silk brocade and carrying a sword with a fancy handle and scabbard. Shirabyo ̄shi dancers dressed like men for their performances, and were frequently associated with eroticism and prostitution, but the shinto ̄ exorcising wand (gohei) tucked into her sash indicate the dancer’s ritual functions. The first poem, which suggests the primordial scene in which the Sun Goddess is drawn from her cave by music, laughter, and bawdy dance, provides some connection to the theme of the dancer. The second poem is a palindrome (kaibun), reading exactly the same from back to front in its original inscription, an overt cleverness that leads to somewhat forced wording. Palindromes were popular in New Year verse, perhaps for what they suggest about order and repetition.


NOTE: This electronic record is compiled from historic documentation which may not reflect the Johnson Museum's complete or current knowledge of the object. Review and refinement of such records is ongoing.