The Seven Komachi

(Nana Komachi, 七小町)

Publisher: Maru-ya Seijirô



This series of prints shows beautiful women likened to seven legends concerning Ono no Komachi, a beautiful ninth century poetess.  The seven legends are taken from the “Nanakomachinoh plays, which deal with apocryphal incidents from the poetess’s life (hence the title Nana Komachi).  The seven episodes are: Shimizu Komachi (or Kiyomizu Komachi), Amagoi Komachi (or Yamamoto Komachi), Soushi-arai Komachi, Kayoi Komachi, Ômu Komachi, Sekidera Komachi and Sotouba Komachi.  The series is not listed in Kuniyoshi by Basil William Robinson (Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1961).  The prints are each about 10 by 7 inches (25 by 18 centimeters), a size known as chûban. 



Komachi: Rain-prayer Komachi (Amagoi Komachi, 雨ごい小町)

Description: Standing woman in the rain holding an umbrella

Inset: The poetess Ono no Komachi, sheltered by an umbrella, having had her prayers for rain answered

Comments: Komachi ends a drought by offering the following poem as a prayer for rain, It is only reasonable since this is the Land of the Rising Sun for the sun to shine.  Nevertheless, it is also called ama-ga-shita. (both [heaven] and [rain] reads ame/ama).  Usually depicted is the petitioning Komachi by the shore of a pond in heavy rain–often with a servant holding an umbrella.


Komachi: Gravestone Komachi (Sotouba Komachi, 卒塔婆小町)

Description: Seated woman holding a rake

Inset: Reeds blowing in the wind Comment: A traveling monk reprimanded an old woman for resting her aged body disrespectfully on a stupa (spiritual monument representing Buddha’s body).  He found that the woman was a withered Komachi, who started to talk about the tragic love with Captain Fukakusa.  After her confession, his soul attained peace.  The poem read, “Were I in Heaven the stupa was an ill seat.  But here, in the world without, what harm is done.”


Komachi: Travelling Komachi (Kayoi Komachi)

Description: Woman standing under a tree with falling blossoms


Comment: Captain Fukakusa no Shoushou fell in love with Komachi.  She promised to spend a night with him if he slept 100 nights outside her door.  The captain braves the elements for 99 nights, marking each night by a notch on the carriage shaft bench, but expires on the 100th.  The poem reads, “One hundred times or more, I hear the fluttering of the snipes’ wings as I count the lonely hours till dawn when you have not come.”  Typically, the captain is portrayed traveling to visiting Komachi–often by oxcart on a snowy night.

Komachi: Book Washing Komachi (Soushi-arai Komachi, 草紙洗小町)

Description: Woman washing clothes

Comment: The night before a poetry contest at the Imperial Palace, Ootomo no Kuronushi overhears his rival, Ono no Komachi, recite her entry aloud to herself.  Hoping to disqualify her, he writes it into a copy of the Man’youshuu, and on the day of the competition accuses her of plagiarism.  However, Komachi washes (arai) the book (soushi), whereupon the fresh ink washed away and exposes Kuronushi’s scheme. 


NOTE: I am grateful to Robert Pryor for this image of a final drawing (hanshita-e).