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Archive: Hokuei (北英)

Geisha Emu of the Matsu-ya as a ukai (one who fishes with a cormorant) from the series Shimanouchi nerimono (Costume parade in Shimanouchi: 島ノ内ねり物)
Sekkarô Hokuei ga
No Artist Seal
Tenki (Tenmaya Kihei: 天満屋喜兵衞)
(H x W)

Oban nishiki-e
37.5 x 26.0 cm

Very good impression, deluxe edition with metallics (furikake 振掛 with simulated gold and silver)
Excellent color, unbacked; rubbing and soil lower right; two faint paper creases, transfer shadow to left of bottom of hakama
Price (USD/¥):


Inquiry (Ref #HKE44)


Just across the canal from Osaka's Dôtonbori theater district was an area called Shimanouchi (島ノ内), where the city’s largest unofficial pleasure quarter could be found. Shimanouchi hosted an annual parade early each summer featuring waitresses, geisha, and courtesans dressed in costumes while performing skits or pantomimes about well-known figures from contemporary society, theater, history, and legend. In this colorful pageant the women were accompanied by decorative floats carrying musicians and dancers.

Ukai (cormorant fishing: 鵜飼) is a centuries-old practice whereby cormorants are trained to dive and catch small river fish (often a species called ayu: 鮎). Ukai fishermen use small flat bottomed boats called ubune (cormorant-fishing boat: 鵜舟) that can navigate the shallow waters of rivers where the fish are easier to catch. Ayu are illuminated and lured toward the boats at night by burning torches or logs suspended from the boats in metal baskets, while the beating of a drum or the knocking of an oar against the side of the boat also helps to attract the fish. The fishermen skillfully control the birds with thin ropes or leashes attached to a small metal ring placed around the bird's neck, just big enough to let the smallest fish pass through, but too narrow to let a bird swallow any fish sufficiently large for human consumption.


In her pantomime for the costume parade, Emu of the Matsu-ya holds a flaming torch to light the river where the ayu might be found. In her left hand she grips thin cords (here printed with a silver-color metallic pigment) attached to two cormorants (actually painted stage scenery presumably placed upon a float).

The publisher seal includes Tenki's address and may be read as: Osaka shinsaibashi hachimansui Tenki.

This is one of only six designs by Hokuei known to bear his Sekkarô Hokuei ga (雪花楼北英画) signature. The artists Hokuju, Sadahiro, Sadanobu, and Shigeharu also designed prints for this series.

References: OSP, no. 265