Yoshimori: Literal Expressions from the Floating World
Artist: Utagawa Yoshimori (1830-1885)
Title: Literal Expressions from the Floating World (Ukiyo tatoe)
Here Yoshimori takes literal meaning to the pictorial level, showing illustrations of common Japanese sayings. Some still translate in the modern day, such as the men in pieces “crushing it” and the men with split heads splitting the bill. Each charming vignette has the phrase next to it. Beginning with the right sheet of the diptych, the explanations are as follows.
At the upper right we see two men crushed into pieces, with the saying , “otoko wa atarite kudake” in Japanese. This has the literal translation: “A man should hit straight and crush (it)”, meaning that a man should face a matter with responsibility whether it results in success or not.
The depiction of a young man eating the long sticks accompanies the saying“yariba kuuhito“; literally : A man eating yariba (the meaning here not clear).
The image of a young man biting his father’s leg accompanies the saying, "oya-no sune o kajiru“, literally: “A man biting his parents’(father’s) shin”, which means a man who depends on his parents’ financial help.
The image of two men enjoying a good meal with both of their heads split open represents the saying, “atama-waride sake“, literally: drinking sake with a split head, meaning to enjoy a good meal via Dutch treat, or when splitting the bill. We can see that the man on the right is reaching into his wallet and the man on the left seems to be holding up two coins.
At bottom we see a woman pulling a cart, on which a wealthy-looking man sits and which has a wheel consisting of three mouths. This represents the saying, "kuchi-guruma noseru hito,“ literally a person who puts someone on the cart with the wheel of mouths, meaning that one is persuaded by skillful and fair (ingratiating?) words. Perhaps a wheel of compliments?
The depiction of two men fighting carries the saying, “kenka tsukamu hito: literally “grabbing in fist fighting” (whose meaning not clear). The giant hand above them also seems to be related to this.
Now to the left sheet of the diptych.
Upper left, we see a man who seems to be cooking a woman on the kitchen fireplace. This represents the saying, ”fu o nabe de kuu“, literally: eating wife in a pot, probably meaning that one eats fu (gluten cake) in a hot pot. The writings for fu differ but phonetically are the same.
The depiction of a man washing his left arm carries the saying, “ude o migaku“, literally: “polishing an arm“, meaning training in his skill. Perhaps swordsmanship?
The image of a man who has been wrapped up with a woman pointing to his ear represents the saying, “on-na ni makareru“, literally: wrapped by a woman, meaning a man deceived by a woman.
Upper left we see a huge face with a smaller man who goes into an eye and comes out of the nose. This represents the saying, “me kara hana“, literally: from the eye to the nose, meaning a very smart man.
The depiction of a rough-looking man with a box represents the saying, “te no nagai hito“, literally a man with a long arm, meaning a man with a pilfering tendency.
The depiction of a radish-faced woman playing the shamisen instrument carries the saying, “daikon geisha“, literally: a geisha like a radish, meaning an artist with poor talent.
Lower left we see an image of a man with a long tongue, “shita no nagai hito”, literally: a man with a long tongue, meaning a talkative man.
Yoshimori was a pupil of Kuniyoshi who was known for his Yokohama-e and contemporary caricature in addition to his historical and traditional subjects. His contact with Kawanabe Kyósai and his profession as officer at the Interior Ministry of Meiji Government at one time might have influenced his activities as satirist of the time. (With thanks to Ms. Michiko Sato-Grube for her translation of this interesting work.)
Condition: Very good impression, color and condition. Unbacked with full margins.
Dimensions: ôban diptych (38 x 50.6 cm)
Publisher: Otaya Takichi
Signature: Yoshimori giga (Signed in jest, Yoshimori)