The ninth-century poet Ono no Komachi (小野小町) was one of the rokkasen (six poetic immortals: 六歌仙), along with Sôjô Henjô (816-890: 僧正遍昭), Bunya Yasuhide (dates unknown: 文屋康秀), Kisen Hôshi (dates unknown: 喜撰法師), Ôtomo no Kuronushi (dates unknown: 大友黒主), and Ariwara no Narihira (825-880: 在原業平). Komachi was a preeminent literary figure and a reputed beauty who became a singular icon for many ukiyo-e artists. The legends recounting her beauty and passionate nature were so compelling and compatible with the subjects and methods of story telling in the floating world that many ukiyo-e artists depicted her in their prints. This was especially true with mitate-e ("likening pictures," or analogues: 見立絵), imaginative transformations in which the Rokkasen were associated with modern-day figures (frequently fashionable beauties or courtesans).
Komachi's poetry was of the first order. There are eighteen surviving poems ascribed to her, all found in the imperial anthology Kokin wakashû (Collection of Japanese poems from ancient and modern times: 古今和歌集) or Kokinshû (Collection of Ancient and Modern Times: 古今集), circa 905. She was especially skillful in expressing a woman's passion, a poetic concern undemonstrated by previous Japanese court poets.
Komachi’s biography is not known, but certain themes have emerged, in part due to the codification of seven plays about her (Nana Komachi or "Seven Komachi": 七小町), written in the fourteenth century by the originators of the Nô drama, Kan'ami (1333-1384) and his son, Zeami (1363-1443). Five of the seven plays survive, one is known by plot only, and one only by title. They were probably based more on commentaries from the later Kamakura period (1185-1333) than on original texts from the ninth century. The seven stories were popular in ukiyo-e books, prints, and paintings.
One of these legends is called Amagoi Komachi (Praying for Rain Komachi: 雨乞小町) in which the poet ended a drought through the beauty and power of her poetic genius. Summoned by the Emperor to provide a verse to bring forth rain, she composed a poem, lit incense to Ryû (Dragon Deity: 竜), and recited her lines. She next tossed the poem slip into a pond, which initiated a thunderous rainstorm lasting for three days. The poem associated with this episode has been translated as: Though it is true that Japan / lies under the sun / where its light afflicts us / even so this land is also / below the rain (Kotowari ya / hi no moto nareba / teri mo sen / sari tote wa mata / ame ga shita to wa).*
The title reads Ono no Komachi Meifu ryaku (Ono no Komachi—an outline of a famous woman: おののこまち名婦畧). The names of the artisans are given in the yellow cartouche in the lower right margin: Block Cutter: hori Heizô (彫平三); Printer: suri Oto (摺音)
Komachi's painted eyebrows are called kurai-boshi ("class dot" or "rank mark"), dotted make-up eyebrows placed above shaved natural eyebrows, signifying a high rank in society. Another term was tsukuri-mayu ("made eyebrows"), particularly when associated with attendants at court or in the homes of Kyoto nobility.
Note: This is one of most successful bijinga (pictures of beautiful women: 美人画) from Meiji-period Osaka printmaking. The rain is printed in silver and the mica on the umbrella has tarnished nicely. The liberal use of aniline dyes is vivid but not garish, while Sadanobu's animated drawing marks this as particularly fine in conception and execution.
* Translation from Waterhouse, Harunobu and His Age, London, 1964, p. 82