Vegder's Blog

September 11, 2014

The Eight Views (八景) of… Whatever – Part One

I spend a lot of my time working as one of the several ‘administrators’ of the collection of Japanese woodblock prints which belongs to a friend of mine, Mike Lyon. The other day I was trying to work out some of the information for a print by Keisai Eisen (1790-1848) which shows a beautiful, high-ranking courtesan wearing an elegant, but casual robe decorated with hanging gourds. She is sitting, looking somewhat contemplative or wistful, on what appears to be a storage unit – decorated with paintings of peonies. In the upper rightof the print is a scene of boats on a river, a bridge and some buildings all printed in a monochromatic grisaille. The title of the series of this print is Eight Views of the Shin-Yoshiwara (新吉原八景) and the inset is referred to as Returning Sails at San’yabori (三谷堀の帰帆). Despite my many efforts I was unable to find the other seven prints from this series or any of them for that matter – but never fear, I will in time if they are out there.

Yet, the more I thought about this print the more intrigued I became. Suddenly my lightbulb came on and I got the idea for a whole new series of posts. Intellectually fascinating, this little-known print has its roots in the poetic and painterly arts of China from the 11th century – approximately 800 years earlier. This may not be obvious at first, but I will try to make it clear as possible as I go along. Join me. Below is an image of that Eisen print. Click on it to go to the Lyon Collection example where you can enlarge it many times over and can study all of its elements in detail almost down to the fibers of the paper it is printed on.

Eisen_Lyon_Collection_San'yabori_7   Lyon Collection

Update: I did find another print from this series on the cover of a publication listed as Tobacco Book, vol. 13. That print shows in the inset the flight of geese returning to a sandy shore.


A little explanation first about the title of this post before I get to all of the other stuff – The Japanese borrowed a great many Chinese themes, but in time they began to give their own twist to each of them. Anything which could be made into a variation on the original Eight View of the Hsiao and Hsiang Rivers was. Even the Chinese were not simply giving us a clear-cut representation of a particular scene so that their paintings could be read and understood on several levels. A person could look at one of the eight views and simply dream about that specific image. Or, they could view it metaphorically as something far more romantic or nostalgic. The Japanese, on the other hand, ran with the idea of the metaphor and the term ‘Eight Views’ came to be applied to almost anything from their own lives. At first the Japanese versions corresponded more directly to those of the Chinese. That is how and why they came up with the Eight Views of Ōmi. However, in time, the ‘Eight Views’ strayed far afield and everything became fair game. This will eventually become clear as you read through this post. But for now let’s go back to and focus on the Chinese origins.

But first a note on orthography - You will notice that there is no consistency in the spelling of names and words in this post. Sometimes it is the ‘Hsiao and Hsiang Rivers’ and sometimes it is the ‘Xiao and Xiang Rivers’ and sometimes… Just consider my frustrations with all of this. Sometimes I call something a tomato (toe-may-toe) and someone I am quoting calls it a tomato (toe-mah-toe). See what I mean? Try to forgive my failure to communicate properly and figure things out for yourself. That will save us both a lot of trouble.

 It all started in China in the 11th century – At Princeton University there is a handscroll by Wang Hung (王洪) from ca. 1150 entitled Eight View of the Hsiao and Hsiang Rivers. [The Japanese title is Shōsō-hakkei.] This may be the earliest extant representation of this theme anywhere. As a scroll it seems to emphasis the narrative factors: “…a river view with people arriving by boat to barter goods at a mountain hamlet, while merchants carrying bags on shoulder poles gather between two rows of buildings on the river embankment.”

The Eight Views are: 1) Geese Alighting on a Sandy Shore; 2) Sails off Distant Shores; 3) Mountain Village (or Market) in Clearing Mist – as seen here; 4) Autumn Moon over Lake Dongting; 5)  Night Rain over Xiao-Xiang; 6) Evening Bell from a Mist-shrouded Temple; 7) Sunset Glow over a Fishing Village;  and 8) Evening Snow Blending River and Sky.

Wang_Hung_8_Views_scene_Princeton_7   Princeton University Art Museum

Wang Hung was not the first to paint these scenes. A court official, Sung Ti (宋迪: ca. 1015 – ca. 1080), “…painted a set of landscapes that came to be called Eight Views of Xiao-Xiang 潇湘八景. The misty landscapes immediately attracted attention: they were praised for their poetic quality, were lauded in poetry, and for centuries were widely imitated by other painters.” This quote comes from a paper by Alfreda Murck who went on to say that the titles most likely were inspired by the work of the 8th century poet Du Fu (杜甫: 712-70). Richard Barnhart noted that the Eight Views, in regard to Wang Hung’s scroll, that: “Each [scene] represents a single moment or brief passage of time, and that each is related to those that precede and follow, the set comprising a succession of times marking the end of day, evening, and then nightfall.” It has been speculated, and I buy into this theory, that the Eight Views were only an extension of the ideas of the seasonal quartets which always ended with snowy landscape.

Sung Ti’s Eight Views from ca. 1070 were “…the most popular and celebrated sequence of Sung [dynasty] landscape views.” “As Shimada Shujirō has shown, the poet-painter Sung Ti helped to consolidate the relationship between poetry and painting in his ‘invention’ of the Eight View of the Hsiao and Hsiang Rivers (Hsiao-Hsiang pa-ch’ing t’u 潇湘八景圖). While no paintings are extant, he left his influence on the circle of his literary friends, Shen Kua, Su Shih, and Wen T’ung (文同 1019-79).” Sung Ti integrated “…the idea of poetry and poetic form in landscape.” Shen Kua is the first person to name the Eight Views. “These titles evoke some quality not represented by a fixed or tangible form: distance, wind, snow, moonlight, night rain, evening bell, and setting sun.” According to Marilyn Wong-Gleysteen these titles/scenes were not meant to capture “the absolute correctness of an external reality.”

The evolution of the Eight Views came quickly in Japan. Wen Fong cites an album painting on the same theme as the one shown above, but created nearly 100 years later by Hsia Kuei (夏珪: ca. 1180-1230) in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I am pleased that he did so, because Hsia Kuei is one of my favorites and was much loved in Japan, too. In fact, I read somewhere that Hsia Kuei and his contemporary Ma Yüan were called the two pillars of 12th century Chinese art and they certainly were that. Anyway, Professor Fong pointed out that Hsia’s depiction was more poetic than Wang’s. (Of course, because of my biases, everything Hsia did was more poetic. See for yourself.)


By the mid-13th century this misty, mountain market (山市晴嵐) had attained a new level of abstraction in the hands of Yü-Chien (玉澗). The evolution continued.

Idemitsu_Yu_Chien_Clearing_Mist_7b  Idemitsu Museum of Arts

Three Chinese representations of the same specific image, three separate, brilliant artistic inspirations. The Chinese were free in their range and scope. Then why shouldn’t the Japanese do the same in their own personal ways?

Before we leave this section and to drive the point home that Japanese artists created their own renditions of Hsiao-Hsiang themes, let’s take another look at the Eisen print at the top of the page and contrast that with another Yü-Chien painting of the same theme: Returning Sailboats (遠浦帰帆). Below is Yü-Chien’s version found in the Tokugawa Museum of Art and below that is an enlargement of the inset detail from the Eisen print. Same theme, but with completely different approaches.

Tokugawa_Museum_Yu_Chien_returning_saliboat_7c   Tokugawa Art Museum

Eisen_Returning_Sails_Lyon_Collection_7c   Lyon Collection detail

Serendipity – While researching this topic I ran across a Toyokuni II print in the collection in Boston. It, like the Eisen, shows a beautiful courtesan with an inset in the upper right labeled as Returning Sails at San’yabori coming from a series with the title Yoshiwara hakkei or Eight Views of the Yoshiwara. It is much flashier than that of the Eisen print, but may well be contemporaneous or from a few years later.


Staying on the same theme of returning sails – One of the gods of Japanese woodblock prints, and deservedly so, was Suzuki Harunobu. Not only was he the first to produce multi-colored prints, nishiki-e, which were the product of separately inked woodblocks, but he was also one of the most clever and intelligent artists ever of the floating world genre. Below is one of his erotic prints from the collection of the British Museum which identifies it as a Returning Sail at the Towel Rack (Tenugui-kake kihan – 手拭掛帰帆) from the series Eight Fashionable Views of Interiors (Fūryū zashiki hakkei – 風流座敷八景). The woman is tweezing the hairs from her lover’s face.

In another print, from a similar series by Harunobu, the Zashiki hakkei, a poem reads:

‘Returning Sail of the Joyful Rack’

By the water stoup
a breeze there has caught it on
the hand towel rack:
just look how it resembles
the “ya” shape of a ship’s sail!

BM_Harunobu_Returning_Sail_at_the_Towel_Rack_7b   © Trustees of the British Museum

Following along the same lines is a Kuniyasu (1794-1832) print in Boston. It, too, is a Returning Sail at the Towel Rack, but this time it is from the Eight Views of Bedroom Furniture (Neyachū dōgu hakkei – 閨中道具八景). Make sure to notice the towel flapping in the wind.


Let’s go back to original concepts – “What a crazy upside-down view!” – Tung Ch’i-ch’ang (董其昌: 1555-1636) wrote about viewing a painting of the Hsiao-Hsiang rivers by Tung Yüan (董源: active ca. 937-62), a painting which predates the Eight Views genre:

Xiao_and_Xiang_rivers_Tung_Yuan_Palace_Museum_Beijing_commons_7b   Palace Museum, Beijing
(I found this at commons.wikimedia.)

I recall that when I was in office in Ch’ang-sha in 1596 I traveled the Hsiao-Hsiang road. The reeds, the fishing nets,
the sand banks and clustered trees, the simple cottages and woodcutters’ paths, clear hills, distant dikes – each was
exactly as in this picture. It makes one once again a guest of the lakes and rivers without even taking a step. Someone 
once said that a painting is a false landscape, while landscape itself is true painting. What a crazy upside-down view!

Quoted from: Words and Images: Chinese Poetry, Calligraphy, and Painting, p. 4.

Why the number eight? – In a 21012 doctoral thesis at the University of Leiden Huang Fei wrote: “The practice of selecting best views (shengjing ⊅㘗) started in the eleventh century. Here, ‘best views’ can be explained as scenic spots and viewpoints. Later, this practice of selecting best views spread to every city and town throughout China and East Asia. Normally, ‘eight views’ (bajing ℓ㘗) is the standard number of best views for an administrative unit, although there are exceptions consisting of another even number, such as four, six, ten or twelve.”

The author goes on to state: “The earliest record of eight-view series can be found in Dream Pool Essays (Mengxi bitan 夢㹒䫮婯) by Shen Gua 沈括 (ca. 1031-1095).” They were named: ‘Geese Descending to Sandbar’ (pingsha luoyan 平㱁句晩), ‘Returning Sails from Distant Shore’ (yuanpu guifan 遠浦帰帆), ‘Mountain Market in Clearing Mist’ (shanshi qinglan 山市晴嵐), ‘River and Sky in Evening Snow’ (jiangtian muxue 江天暮雪), ‘Autumn Moon on Dongting Lake’ (dongting qiuyue 洞庭秋月), ‘Night Rain on Xiao Xiang’ (xiaoxiang yeyu 瀟湘夜雨), ‘Evening Bell from Mist-Shrouded Temple’ (yansi wanzhong 烟寺晩鐘), and ‘Fishing Village in Evening Glow’ (yucun xizhao 漁村夕照).

I bet someone has already done the research, but I have yet to find it - The question: When did images of the Eight Views of the Hsiao and Hsiang Rivers arrive in Japan and how did they get there? If someone could point me in the right direction I would really appreciate it. What I do know is that there is a painting of the Evening Glow over a Fishing Village, attributed to the 13th century Mu Ch’i, in the Nezo Institute of Fine Arts, Tokyo.

Fishing_village_in_the_evening_glow   Nezo Institute of Fine Arts, Tokyo

The earliest Japanese version I have found so far is – a painting at Yale attributed to Kano Motonobu (1476-1559).

Yale_attributed_Kano_Motonobu_8_Views_7b   Yale University Art Gallery

The curatorial files say: “The Eight Views of the Xiao-Xiang Region was a well-established subject imported from China long before the artist created this version. Traditionally, depictions of Chinese river scenes were rendered as a series of eight separate paintings. For this painting, the artist blended the eight views from different seasons and times of day into the same painting, creating a new Japanese style. This harmonious blending is characteristic of Japanese art; unlike Chinese paintings that emphasize the integrity of the individual scene, Japanese scrolls often evoke the Zen idea of multiplicity distilled in a single work. Scrolls like this one would have been admired at places such as temples and wabi tea ceremonies.”

The traditional names and the lists can be a bit confusing – Further up this page I gave you a list provided by the art museum at Princeton of the 8 Views based on the Wang Hung scroll at Princeton. Koop and Inada, Japanese Names and How to Read Them: A Manual for Art-Collectors and Students…, one of the great and most useful reference books, give their own list.

1. Tōtei (洞庭, lake) no shūgwatsu (Tung-t’ing ch’iu yüeh)
2. Kōten (江天, ‘river sky’) no bosetsu (Chiang t’ien mu hsüeh)
3. Giosan (漁村, ‘fishing hamlet’) no sekishō (Yü ts’un hsi chao)
4. Yenji (遠寺, ‘distant temple’) no banshō (Yüan ssu wan chung)
5. Yempo (遠浦, ‘distant shore’) no kihan (Yüan p’u kuei fan)
6. Sanshi (山市, ‘hill town’) no seiran (Shan shih ch’ing lan)
7. Shōsō (the two rivers) no yau (Hsiao Hsiang yeh yü)
8. Heisa (平沙, ‘flat sands’) no rakugan (P’ing sha lo yen)

Oh Me, Oh My, ŌMI – The Eight Views of Ōmi (aka, sometimes, the Eight Views of Lake Biwa) were among the first and the greatest Japanese adaptation and morphing of the original Chinese Eight Views. Roger Keyes wrote: “The Eight Views of the Hsiao and Hsiang Rivers near Lake Tung=t’ing in Hunan province were a common classical theme of Chinese academic painting. They were transposed into the repertory of Japanese art as the Eight Views of Omi, the province in which much of the west shore of Lake Biwa, the location of the views, rests. The Eight Views were a subject of Japanese painting long before they began to appear in woodblock prints. The first prints of the Eight Views may be the set of landscapes in irregularly shaped oval borders which are drawn in a non-descript traditional painting style and have been provisionally dated to the late seventeenth century. Although dull as pictures, the prints are interesting because half of them represent the eight Chinese vies, half of them the Japanese counterparts. A set of prints, published in Ukiyo-e magazine, is in the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts in San Francisco.

The Eight Views did not become a common subject for prints, however, until the late 1710s or early 1720s when Masanobu, Shigenaga, and Kiyomasu II all designed sets in the hosoban or narrow upright format. The sets are strikingly similar in their iconography, and all bear the same canonical 11-syllable verses, which are repeated on most prints of the eight views of Lake Biwa that were published through the middle of the nineteenth century. The source of these poems and the iconography have been discussed in an unpublished article by Bruce Coates, Harvard University.

Harunobu’s prints of the Eight Views repeat the stiff conventions of the earlier prints; they were sometimes printed with conventional black outlines, as here… sometimes with pale colored outlines. These impressions were called mizu-e or ‘blue prints.’ Mizu means ‘water.’ but also indicates the fugitive blue color derived from the dayflower which was used to print the keyblock on many of these prints. Landscape did not particularly appeal to Harunobu or his literary patrons, but i the middle 1760s they produced a set of Eight Parlor Views with titles of the picture, like Returning Sail of the Towel Rack [see the example further up this page] and Descending Geese o the Koto, were based on the tradition eight views.

The prints were popular and other artists swiftly followed Harunobu’s lead: by the end of the eighteenth century nearly every designer of figure prints had designed sets of eight views… [including Masanobu, Shūchō and Toyohiro], many of them with titles like Night Rain and Evening Bell, which were taken from the conventional views of Lake Biwa.”

Order ain’t everything – It is nice to be able to learn the order of any series so you can rely upon it. However, in the case of some series – like the Views of Ōmi – the original, intellectual impetus gets lost in the production process. Now it becomes only a question of “Did you draw all eight themes?” and not “You did follow the pattern exactly.” Please keep that in mind while looking at any series or individual prints being shown here. That said, here is the Koop and Inada list of the Eight Views of Ōmi:

1. Ishiyama no shūgwatsu 石山秋月 (‘the Autumn Moon at Ishiyama‘)
2. Hira no bosetsu 比良暮雪 (‘Lingering Snow on Mt. Hira’)
3. Seta no sekishō 瀬田夕照 (‘Evening Glow at Seta’)
4. Mii no banshō 三井晩鐘 (‘the Evening Bell at Miidera’)
5. Yabase no kihan 矢橋帰帆 (‘Returning Sailboats at Yabase’)
6. Awadzu no seiran 粟津晴嵐 (‘Glorious Sunset Sky at Awadzu’)
7. Karasaki no yau 唐崎夜雨 (‘Evening Rain at Karasaki’)
8. Katata no rakugan 堅田落雁 (‘Wild-geese alighting at Katata’)

Note: Even Koop and Inada agree in a footnote: “There is actually no fixed order in this and analogous series.”

So let’s get right to Harunobu, but first… – Let’s look at several of the 8 Views related prints from the previous generation(s). First there is a hand-colored, anonymous print showing geese alighting. It was published by Izumiya Gonshirō in the 1730s or earlier and is the only one from the set I know of so far.

Tokyo Metropolitan Library

There is another print, this one by Nishimura Shigenaga, showing the Evening Rain at Karasaki. It dates from ca. 1720 and is number 4 from the set, but it should be noted that the numbering of any series is not necessarily consistent with any other series. In that case, it is the imagery presented to us today that helps us to identify the scenes visually.

Oberlin_Shigenaga_Evening_Rain_Karasaki_ca.1720s_7b    Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College

The Autumn Moon at Ishiyama Temple dates from ca. 1730 and is by Torii Kiyomasu II. It comes from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.


Harunobu’s less than inspiring set of Eight Views of Ōmi – As noted by Roger Keyes, Harunobu was not as interested in landscapes as he was in story-telling or figurative art. However, whatever Harunobu created is worth taking the time to study and by the nature of his brush whatever he did – even the lesser works – are important. Let’s start with the Evening Bell at Miidera dating from the 1760s. David Waterhouse wrote: “In the foreground, travellers pas along the main street of Ōtsu, behind which on a hillside overlooking the lake rise the building of Miidera. The sails of three boats are visible on the lake, and inshore we see the masts of other boats moored in the harbour.”

On the right is another Harunobu print from the same collection in Boston. Naturally it quotes the same poem.

MFA_Harunobu_Evening_Bell_Miidera_7b   MFA_Harunobu_Miidera_Bell_8b

The title appears on the poem slip in the upper right:

omou sono
akatsuki chigiru

hajime zo to 
matsu kiku Mii no 
iriai no kane

They are thinking that
it is a first promise of
the dawn that will come:
patient pine trees listening to
the vespers bell of Mii.

Wouldn’t it be presumptuous…? There is a story that a man from Ōmi once asked the great poet, Bashō (芭蕉: 1644-94), if he would write a haiku about the Eight Views. “It was perhaps the hardest task that ever embarrassed any poet; why, even mentioning the names of the ‘Eight Views’ would require at least 60 syllables! After a few moments’ reflection, the resourceful poet composed the above verse, which astonished the Ōmi man.”

Shichikei wa
Kiri ni kakurete
Mii no kane

The Seven Views deep hidden in the mist
The evening bell of Mii booms.

This photo was posted at commons.wikimedia by Fg2.

Harunobu’s Night Rain at Karasaki is rather non-descript, but I have to tell you some of the images created by artists since then bring me a tingle, i.e., goosebumps because they are so beautiful or evocative or both in the same package. I harripolate. But before I show you any or just one of those let’s look at Harunobu’s version. The example on the left is from the second state. The one on the right is from the first state. When I look at that one I stop just short of horripilation.

MFA_Harunobu_Night_Rain_Karasaki_7b   MFA_Harunobu_Night_Rain_Karasaki_1st_state_7f

“A cormorant fisher’s boat is being punted offshore by the point known as Karasaki, on which grows an enormous pine tree, together with several smaller ones. A torii gateway and a small shrine stand in front of it. Beyond, a squall of rain is beating down on the lake from clouds which mask the lower reaches of the surrounding hills.” (Waterhouse) The poem slip reads:

yoru no ame ni
oto wo yuzurite

yūkaze wo
yoso ni na tatsuru
Karasaki no matsu

By night its sound gives
place to that of the rain: but
in the evening breeze
its name resounds elsewhere, the
pine tree of Karasaki!

Of course, one of the most beautiful 19th century prints on this theme is by Hiroshige -

Harvard_Night_Rain_Karasaki_Hiroshige_7b   Harvard Art Museums

“The pine-tree of Karasaki is said to be ” one of the most curious trees in the world “; and so it is. Here is a tree of great age, with neither height nor proportion, distorted out of all natural shape, patched up with plaster, propped up with stones, and supported on a small forest of rough-hewn timbers. The trunk is about twelve feet in diameter, and might have reached the height of one hundred feet; but the tree has been forced into branching out laterally and, while it does this in every direction over a large area, the branches are unable to sustain their own weight, and must therefore be kept from falling by artificial means.” Quoted from: Around the World Through Japan by Walter de Mar, 1904, p 229.

While researching this special pine tree I found a wonderful close up of the props at Flickr. It was posted by Brent Miller.


Bashō, in the 17th century, wrote:

the pine tree of
Karasaki, looking hazier
than the blooms

Centuries earlier the Emperor Go-toba (1180-1239) wrote:

At Karasaki
the green of the pine tree
is also in the haze
that extends from the blossoms -
dawn on a spring day.

Harunobu’s Clearing Weather at Awazu – Below are two examples from the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. On the right is the first state and on the left is the second.

Waterhouse calls these prints Awasu no seiran, ‘Cool Mountain Gust at Awazu’. He wrote: “In the foreground, a traveller in pilgrim’s garb makes his way along the shore of Lake Biwa, followed by a beare with his luggage on a shoulder pole. Offshore a solitary boatman punts his craft towards the land; and in the middle distance we see the walls and donjon (tenshukaku) of a castle rising out [of] the water and half-veiled in mist. Beyond it, out in the lake, are two small sailing boats, and in the far distance rise mist-covered mountains on the opposite side of the lake.” Inscribed on the poem slip:

 The clouds disperse, and
following a steady wind
a hundred ships, a
thousand ships are approaching
Awazu, borne on its waves.

MFA_Clearing_weather_awazu_Harunobu_7b   MFA_Clearing_weather_awazu_Harunobu_8e

Tokugawa Ieyasu ordered that a new castle be built in 1601 near Zeze, aka Awasu Castle. “In layout Zeze Castle was very unusual, with a series of irregular courtyards built out into the lake.” Damaged in the great quake of 1662, it was rebuilt and held by the Honda clan until the Meiji Restoration. “In 1870 the keep of Zeze-jo was pulled down, in keeping with the spirit of the new Japan, and at the present day the site is almost level with Awazu-ga-hara.”

Below is one of Hiroshige’s version of the scene – from a different perspective, as was his wont – showing a somewhat toy-model-like castle, mainly printed in blues.


In 1917 Shinsui produced a print which shows us what it looked like after the castle was torn down.

Harvard_Shinsui_Awazu_8_Views_1917_7b   Harvard Art Museums


Anyone familiar with my method of working will know that 1) I am just beginning and 2) I am never finished. For that reason, I hope you will come back here often to see what new directions I have taken. Don’t be surprised if it seems a bit unpredictable. I never know what I am going to do next. Why should you? Thanks!


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