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The Printer's Eye: Ukiyo-e from the Grabhorn Collection

A Boys' Day outing
approx. 1680–1690
attrib. to Sugimura Jihei (Japanese, active 1680–1690)
Woodblock print; ink with hand-applied color on paper

A festive outing on Boys' Day — the fifth day of the fifth lunar month — forms the subject of this early hand-colored print. The two youngest members of the party point up at colorful banners flying above a low wall with geometric cutouts.[1] One boy has a pair of toy swords tucked into his waistband, while the other rides on the shoulder of a dandy with a flowered robe and short-cropped hairstyle.

His companion is an attractive young man, or wakashū, his long hair arranged around the shaved top of his head, and with a sword hanging at his side (the hilt is just visible in front of his fan). His wide obi (sash) and elongated sleeves — on a robe with chic vertical stripes — give him a youthful, androgynous appeal. A maid follows the entourage, sheltering the smaller boy's head with a parasol.

Unsigned, the print has been attributed to Sugimura Jihei on stylistic grounds. Jihei was a student of Hishikawa Moronobu, considered the founder of ukiyo-e. Research by David Waterhouse indicates that buyers could choose to order early prints like this one with or without hand-coloring, and that some buyers added color to the print after purchasing them. Laura W. Allen

Courtesy of Asian Art Museum, San Francisco
Gift of the Grabhorn Ukiyo-e Collection, 2005.100.1.

Image © Asian Art Museum, San Francisco.

1. Narazaki Muneshige has suggested that the wall and two-story tower, though possibly parts of a real castle, might represent painted props constructed for the occasion. Ukiyo-e shūka, vol. 10, 136.