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. Haruo Shirane wrote in a section on “Parody and Mitate“: “The reception of the ‘Eight Views of Xiao and Xiang’ (Shōshō-hakkei), a major Chinese painting and poetry (kanshi) topic… is a good example of the impact of ‘haikai culture’ on both visual and poetic genres. Except for Lake Dongting and the Xiao and Xiang rivers, the ‘Eight Views’ are not specific place-names. The flexibility of locale in the ‘Eight Views’, allowed the Japanese artist, poet, and audience to graft their favorite domestic and local places onto them. This led to the ‘Eight Views of Ōmi’ (Ōmi hakkei), ‘Eight Views of Edo,’ ‘Eight Views of Kanazawa,’ and so forth. The ‘Eight Views’ became so popular in the Edo period that they sprang up in various provinces.” But the earliest were those of Ōmi, northeast of Kyoto.

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.  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.

Murck noted the emotional symbolism of Sung Ti’s paintings in her Poetry and Painting in Song China: The Subtle Art of Dissent: his predecessor Li Ch’eng invented the wind and rain genre (fengyu tu), “a literary metaphor for vicissitudes”; “snowy landscapes with hoary pine trees…” were readily understood “as a metaphor for a man of integrity surviving in a cold and hostile world.” Song Di had served in the bureaucracy for thirty years when he was summarily dismissed in 1074. The result was his Eight Views.

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. It should also be noted that Yü-Chien “…initiated a tradition of adding poems to pictures on the eight views.”

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

I may actually have run across an answer. In a footnote referencing Chinese Painting, vol. 2, by Osvald Siren it says that two Japanese monks who knew Mu Ch’i, Sogen (1226-66) and Benen (ca. 1279), actively acquired his paintings and brought them back to Japan.

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 #1, 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 verse below, 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.

#2 – 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.

#3 – 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

#4 – Harunobu’s Autumn Moon at Ishiyama – “A full moon shines over the pagoda and various other buildings of Ishiyamadera, which lie half-veiled in mist on a hillside by Lake Biwa. In the foreground pilgrims are alighting from an open boat, and starting to make their way to the gate of the monastery. It is autumn, and the trees bear red leaves.” (Waterhouse)

At Ishiyama
Biwa, Lake of Grebes, gleams in
the light of the moon –
but Akashi and Suma
too are gleaming just as much!


Murasaki Shikibu is said to have written the Tale of Genji at Ishiyamadera. That is why there are references to Akashi and Suma in the poem above. Below is an Eizan print from Boston showing a beautiful woman – a courtesan – as a stand-in for Lady Murasaki, deep in thought with the temple in the background. The moon is implied. This print comes from another series dealing with the Eight Views of Ōmi. This one is called Fashionable Eight Views of Ōmi (Fūryū Ōmi hakkei).


Taking this relationship between The Tale of Genji and this series from Ōmi one step further are the offshoot images created in the 19th century based on the popular novels telling the story of the Rustic Genji. One such example by Kunisada II, out of thousands and thousands of examples, is a triptych from the Lyon Collection, showing the Rustic Genji with Ishiyamadera and the moon in the background.

Lyon_Collection_Kunisada_triptych_Rustic_Genji_Ishiyama_moon_7b   Lyon Collection

#5 – Harunobu’s Returning Sails at Yabase – “In the foreground a boat with a single square sail amidships and nine men aboard is sailing with a strong tail wind, off a landing point with two cottages and other boats lying at moorings. In the distance, farther out in the choppy waters of the lak, other single-sailed boats are moving in the same direction, beneath scudding clouds.” (Waterhouse).

Full sails pull them as
they return to Yabase:
and now the boats have left the beach at Uchide
behind, in following wind.


Below is Koitsu’s version from 1940, but with on y one sailboat.


As with so many other Japanese prints, the one shown below by Eisen, refers to a classical theme, but can only be understood by the title or a scholar who can read the inscription in the upper right corner. The title is, as posted by the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, “Returning Sails at Yabase (Yabase no kihan): Sonohama of the Owariya, No. 7 from the series Eight Views in the Yoshiwara (Yoshiwara hakkei)”. Is the oiran returning or going out? Is she awaiting the arrival of her lover? Men often arrived in the Yoshiwara district after traveling much of the way by boat. Is that the allusion?


#6 – Harunobu’s Descending Geese at Katada – “In the foreground is an open fishing boat working in shallow water near a shore with fields where geese are resting. Beyond, a small pavilion has been built on piles in the lake, with a gangway leading to it; and a flight of geese is coming down overhead. Farther in the distance we see three sailing boats out in the lake, and the masts of others hidden behind reeds at the water’s edge.” (Waterhouse)

Over many peaks
do they cross on their journey
North, and now first near
Katada they stiip down and
alight – the wild crying geese.

MFA_Descending _geese_katada_7b

Then there is Hokusai’s Descending Geese on the Sumida River from the Eight Views of Edo

Chazen_Hokusai_Descending_Geese_on_Sumida_7b   Chazen Museum of Art

Wanna see somthin’ neat? There is another version of the Hokusai seen above, but this one is in the British Museum.

BM_Hokusai_Sumida_Rakugan_7   © Trustees of the British Museum

Now for another Hokusai version on this theme of descending geese, and one I consider remarkable in its simplicity, is Descending Geese at Katada (Katada no rakugan) from the series Eight Views of Omi in Etching Style (Doban Omi hakkei). This series title comes from the curatorial files of the Art Institute of Chicago. However, like all Japanese titles, this series can be nuanced in a somewhat different direction. Matthi Forrer calls it Eight Views of Lake Biwa as Copper Engravings. He dates it to ca. 1811-12. Richard Lane noted that the print below comes from a demand for ‘home-grown exotica.’ He adds: “The series bears the subtitle ‘Dōban’ (Copper Prints), but these prints are not, of course, dōban, only imitations.”

AIC_Hokusai_Doban_hakkei_7   ©The Art Institute of Chicago

The winter of 1690 was particularly cold. Basho had been invited to stay there, but while there he fell ill. This is the poem he composed about this event:

sick goose
night-cold from falling

#7 – Harunobu’s Twilight Snow at Mt. Hira – “In the foreground, a man carrying bundles on a shoulder pole leads a pack horse along a snow-covered path beside Lake Biwa. Pine trees and a rocky slope, all covered in snow, overshadow them. Out in the lake, two fishermen are at work in a long boat, while other boats lie huddled inshore next to a group of cottages. In the distance across the water the rounded form of Mount Hira rises out of the mist.” (Waterhouse)

The snow is clearing from
the lofty peak of Hira,
and at sundown the
sight of it surpasses the
flowers of spring in full bloom.


Mt. Hira, at 3,875′, is the tallest mountain on the west side of Lake Biwa. There is a passage in a modern work by Inoue Yasushi (1907-1991), The Rhododendrons of Hira, that makes references to Lake Biwa, Katada and Mount Hira:

“There are more famous spots for viewing Lake Biwa than you can count on your fingers,” the owner of this inn used to say, 
“but there is no place along the entire lake shore that is better than Katada for viewing Mount Hira.” In particular, he liked
to boast that no view of Hira could compare with the one from the northeast room of the Reihōkan Inn itself. Indeed the
Reihōkan, “Inn of the Holy Mount,” takes its name from the fact that Hira viewed from here looks its grandest and most god-like.
The view is not like that from Hakone, with Hira sweeping the horizon east to west, the very essence of the great mountain mass;
but from here it has a dignity and character you do not find in ordinary mountains. Calmly enfolding those deep valleys,
the summit more often than not hidden in clouds, it sweeps down to plant its foot solidly on the shore of the lake.
There is no denying its beauty.

Masayoshi’s version –


Bashō wrote:

kosui no ako no
hiro no hatsushimo

To Lake Biwa  comes autumn,
with Mount Hira’s first frost.

Below is a picture of the Hira range as posted at commons.wikimedia by Kiyo Gaius.


And here is only one of Hiroshige’s versions – or should I say ‘visions’? –


A most remarkable and luscious example that stops just short of the kitchen sink – There is another Eisen print of a high-class prostitute in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston which is an eye-popper. It is entitled ‘Twilight Snow on Mt. Hira’ and it not only features those snowy peaks, but it also shows descending geese and a rustic bridge which appears in another of the Eight Views of Omi. Therefore, it is at least three-in-one on one luxurious robe. Take a look.


#8 Harunobu’s The Sunset Glow at Seta – “In the foreground a gentleman on horseback, led by a groom with a switch, is ridding over part of the long bridge at Seta. The river  surges below past the piles of the bridge and a rocky islet which connects its two spans. Beyond we see a cottage by the shore and two vessels out on the lake.” (Waterhouse)

Dew and showers of rain
drench the hills, but leaving them
ever more distant
we are crossing at twilight
over the long bridge at Seta.


Below is a version by Ryuryukyo Shinsai (1764?-1820).


A good/great 20th century example is a print by Hiroshi Yoshida. See below –


I am adding one more Twilight at Seta because I find it so charming. It is one of Hiroshige’s many prints of this bridge, but it is the one which appeals to me the most. It, too, comes from the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. What an astounding and beautiful collection.


The Seta bridge has a history apart from the Eight Views: think centipedes! – In an earlier post, in which I dealt loosely with the snake used in the Japanese Zodiac, I wrote about the story of Fujiwara no Hidesato (aka Tawara Tōda) killing of a gigantic centipede with an arrow shot from the bridge at Seta. Below is postcard from the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston which reinterprets this tale in a very modern way – albeit decades old now. Click on the postcard to go to my post ‘Not quite the Zodiac – Part Five – the Snake – hebi – 蛇’. You will find it about 60% down the page or so.


Another great and early print by Kiyoharu from the early 18th century shows the same theme, but in this case it isn’t a postcard but a calendar print. Roger Keyes wrote about it: “The numbers for the long months of 1731 are written in the upper right corner of the print, while the numbers for the short months, 1, 3, 7, 10, and 12, are concealed in the figure of the warrior.

Oberlin_Kiyoharu_centipede_monster_7b   Allen Memorial Art Museum, Ainsworth Collection, Oberlin College

Why I chose the specific translations of poems used on this page – Recently someone named Chris – I don’t know the gender – wrote:

I am curious. I have found an alternative version of the poem for the Mii Bansho; this one on the Hiroshige work:

Omou mono
Akatsuki chigiru
Hajjime zo to
Mazu kiku Mii no
Iri-ai no kane.

Translated as:

Lovers think
“So begin our
[to] dawn vows”
When first they hear
The evening bell of Mii Temple.

This version is more fitting for Koitsu’s version certainly.
Any ideas about the source/history of this divergence? Thanks!

Thanks Chris. This is a problem I have struggled with for a long time. Actually, I have finally given up trying to figure it out. The best explanation of why one translation might or might not be better than another comes in a book called Hokusai: One Hundred Poems by Peter Morse. Morse wrote:

“Every scholar has commented on the vast difficulty of translating Japanese poetry into Western languages. Despite this obstacle, there have been no fewer than fourteen complete translations of the One Hundred Poets anthology into English. (There have also been at least three into German, one into French, one into Italian and one into Ukranian.) Selecting among these has provided an embarrassment of riches.”

Elsewhere, I added: “Later, and this is really important to keep in mind, he offers a ‘Comparison of Thirty-Six English Translations of Ono no Komachi (Poem Number 9).’ Imagine 36 credible and decent variations on the translation of a single poem. All of you should keep this in mind when either reading, recalling or quoting a specific title, poem, commentary or passage. It would appear that there is no ‘correct’ answer. There are many.

Since the jumping off point for most of the thematic images on this page are from the prints of The Eight Views by Harunobu, I used the translations offered by David Waterhouse in his monumental, two-volume set of books on that artist cataloguing only those prints by him in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. I could have substituted any number of other translations, but for the sake of consistency and possibly because I am a bit lazy intellectually, I chose only those provided by Waterhouse himself.

Our brilliant, but mad poet – Ezra Pound – Pound (1885-1972) like many of us have had a fascination with the Eight Views of Hsiao-Hsiang and their Japanese counterparts from Lake Biwa. In fact, in Canto 49 there are many references to the scenes the Chinese artists loved to paint. He talks about boats sailing away and returning, the Autumn moon where “…hills rise about lakes”, “heavy rain in the twilight”, “Comes then snow scur on the river/And a world is covered with jade”, “Wild geese swoop to the sand-bar”. (Below on the left is from a 1920 photo I found at commons.wikimedia and on the right is The Wall of  Pound posted at Flickr by Ben H.

Ezra_Pound_by_E.O._Hoppé_in_1920_commons_7b                The_Wall_of_Pound_Ben_H_Flickr_Cantos_7


For those of you who would like to see more information about Japanese art and culture please visit my other web site at

For a ton more information – scattered and diverse – visit my index/glossary pages. You will find links to numerous individual pages about half way down the home page. Just click on any of them and then brace yourself. Enjoy the ride! Thanks!

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