Just across the canal from Osaka's Dôtonbori theater district was an area called Shimanouchi (島ノ内), the city's largest unofficial pleasure
quarter. 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