Poetic Imagery: Illustrations of the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu Anthology

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    Chōkōsai Eishō (act. c. 1795-1801). 'Minister Narihira’s Coming of Age,' Japan, Edo period (1615–1868), c. 1790s. Woodblock print; ink and color on paper. Gift of James A. Michener, 1991. (22064a-c)

August 29, 2013 - October 27, 2013
Honolulu Museum of Art

Exhibition Overview

The anthology One Hundred Poems by One Hundred Poets (Ogura Hyakunin Isshu), undoubtedly the most frequently referenced work of poetry in the genre of ukiyo-e, was compiled by the poet Fujiwara no Teika (1162–1241) during his residence in the Ogura district of Kyoto. The poems are all in the waka (literally, “Japanese poetry”) style, in which works are typically 31 syllables in length divided into a 5-7-5-7-7 meter. The contributing poets were largely active during the Heian period (794–1185), and the authors include emperors, empresses, and lower-ranking members of the Heian aristocracy.

During the Edo period (1615–1868), the shogunate’s campaign to improve public literacy through the development of a public school system in the provinces led to the popularization of the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu. Though artists often referenced the text in humorous parodies, many well- known print designers offered faithful illustrations of the anthology as well. This rotation of prints in the Robert F. Lange Foundation Gallery focuses upon a particularly ambitious and lavish series of illustrations created by Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797–1861) in around 1840. The alcove of the adjoining Japan Gallery includes similar works inspired by Japan’s rich literary history.

In the Robert F. Lange Foundation Gallery: The James A. and Mari Michener Collection of Japanese Woodblock Prints