Unknown Artist: Caricature of Men as Birds; Very Strange Story Now in Our World About Hoojou-e(世の中に、とんだはなしや、方生会)

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Artist: Unknown Utagawa School Artist
Title: Very Strange Story Now in Our World About Hoojou-e [Hoshô-kai](世の中に、とんだはなしや、方生会)
Date: ca 1860

Amusing diptych that uses plays on words (homonyms) that contain the same phonetic “tori”: these include  bird、捕りto catch; 取りto get/gain. Here all the different meanings are depicted as men in the shape of birds, carrying things related to the various meanings. The subject refers to Hôjô-e 方生會, the Buddhist ceremony, wherein captured birds and fish are released alive as a method of gaining positive karma. However, the birds here seem to represent other things entirely. During the  Edo Period any criticism of the government was not tolerated at all. Until well into the Meiji period one can assume that even political satire was not taken kindly. This work bears no signature, no publisher’s seal and no date, indicating that it must be a sort of political satire.

Two noblemen on the porch lower right are pulling strings attached to naruto, the wooden clappers for scaring birds away from crops. These two are caricatured by naming them “naruto-tori”, catching with the clapper. Perhaps it means that they are figuratively pulling the strings of society in some way?

On the bottom row two birds are named “awa kui-dori” which means eating awa, millet, a grain generally consumed by the poor. One bird on the right is watching them and is named “awa kui-dori” , meaning this time men taken by surprise. In the air, one birdman with a big black chest is named “tada-tori”, meaning taking things for nothing; one in blue kimono seemingly shouting is called “kono tori kyukyu to naku”, meaning warbling poor, poor, not chirping chuuchuu. Further “maru-dori”, taking all only for himself, etc. At upper right is perched what looks like a samurai bird poised for takeoff; he holds a box beneath one wing. (With thanks to Michiko Sato-Grube for her translation and description assistance.)

Condition: Very good impression, color and condition. Lightly backed.

Dimensions: oban diptych (36 x 48 cm)
Signed: Unsigned, as usual