Asia Society

Okumura Masanobu: Innovator and Entrepreneur

Courtesan Poling Daruma in a Reed Boat

Okumura Masanobu (1686–1764)
Courtesan Poling Daruma in a Reed Boat
Early 1710s
Woodcut, handcolored with orange pigment
48.9 x 29.8 cm
Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, Gift of the Grabhorn Ukiyo-e Collection, 2005.100.8

One of Masanobu’s most important contributions was his extensive use of the witty allusions and parodies now known as mitate-e, “allusive pictures.” In ukiyo-e, mitate-e cleverly reinterpret, often with a modish twist, a classical or other well-known theme. A favorite motif is the interaction between courtesans and Daruma, or Bodhidharma, the legendary founder of Zen Buddhism. Daruma is depicted here much as he would be in an old-fashioned Zen (Chinese: Chan) painting, crossing the Yangtze River on a reed. Here, however, because he is being ferried by a Japanese courtesan wearing gaily patterned robes, the Sumida River in Edo replaces the Chinese setting, and his destination becomes the Yoshiwara. Masanobu’s skill at this kind of parody greatly influenced Harunobu.

Photo: Kaz Tsuruta. © Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.