Moral Teaching for Young Girls Mirrored in the Thirty-six Poets

Part I

(Sanjûrokkasen dôjo kyôkun kagami, 三十六歌仙童女教訓鏡)

Publisher: Wakasa-ya Yoichi



The title of this series is translated as Thirty-six Immortals of Poetry: Mirror of Ethics for Girls on the website of the British Museum.  The “Thirty-Six Immortal Poets” is a collection of 36 waka (31-syllable) poems written from the 7th to the 11th centuries.  This series of prints likens beautiful women to these famous poems, and is listed as number 98 in Kuniyoshi by Basil William Robinson (Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1961).  The subterfuge of moral teachings and classic poetry was a way of circumventing a ban on prints of beautiful women.  The prints are each about 14 by 10 inches (36 by 25 centimeters), a size known as ôban.  I am grateful to Ward Pieters and Robert Pryor for assisting with this series.



Poet: Chûnagon Yakamochi (中納言家持)

Description: Beauty with a fan and a peacock in the background


NOTE: A chûnagon (中納言) was a counselor of the second rank in the Imperial court of Japan.




Another state without any purple


Another state with purple clouds in the text cartouche


Yet another state


Poet: Gon chûnagon Atsutada (権中納言 敦忠)

Description: Beauty gathering sea-shells


NOTE: A gon-chûnagon (権中納言) was an acting counselor of the second rank in the Imperial court of Japan.




Another state of the above print


Poet: Sarumaru Dayû (猿丸太夫)

Description: Beauty struggling against an autumn breeze






Among other differences, this state, lacks the Toshidama seal (under Kuniyoshi’s signature) and was probably printed after 1844.  In 1844, Kunisada, a competitor of Kuniyoshi, proclaimed himself the head of the Utagawa school, and adopted the name Toyokuni, which was the name of the previous leader of the school.  Kuniyoshi responded by severing his relationship with the school and stopped using the Toshidama seal, which was the schoolʼs heraldic device.




Poet: Ônakatomi no Yorimomo Ason (大中臣頼基朝臣)

Description: Woman mending a shoji while the child, who likely caused the damage, is watching


NOTE: Ason (朝臣) was a title of nobility.







Another state of the above design courtesy of Terry Accola


Poet: Sosei Hôshi (素性法師)

Description: Woman with a fan under the moon


NOTE: Hôshi is the title of a Buddhist priest or monk.


Another state with a green ground


Poet: Fujiwara no Takamitsu (藤原高光)

Description: Beauty looking out a window


NOTE: There is a thick black double line running through Kuniyoshi’s signature that is not on the other states.  All states of this print have a Toshidama seal with a frog under Kuniyoshi’s signature: