This edition is a reproduction of Eishi’s print Kuronushi from the series Rokkasen. Not only has the print been made in modern times, the block prints are not originals. Small details in the print, such as the facial expressions of the women, vary slightly from the original. Printing details of this piece also vary from original editions. The colors of all of the women’s robes are printed in different colors. The kimono the woman tending the brazier wears, for example, was originally printed in a very light orange, paired with a white obi. The woman next to her, who appears to be gesturing as she talks to the standing woman, was originally in a green kimono and an orange obi. The standing woman’s robes underneath her black uchikake overcoat was originally brown with a yellow obi. The bamboo leaves peaking through the railing in the far right of the print was printing in a much lighter color. Generally, the yellows in this print were originally a white color.
The quality of the paper of this print is also worth noting. It is much thicker than Edo period prints and does not have a noticeable grain, unlike those used for making ukiyo-e, which had a horizontal grain.
Three beauties enjoy the outdoor view of a restaurant. Beyond them, a single figure poles his boat along in the distance. To the right below an ‘s’ shaped flock of flying birds, the roof of a temple is visible. One woman kneels; preparing tea hat is heating on a brazier. The other kneeling woman converses with the standing beauty, who is the focus of the print. Her black (kuroi) uchikake overcoat indicates that she is being compared to the Heian period poet Ōtomo no Kuronushi, whose name also contains the character for ‘black.’ She holds a long smoking pipe.
Ōtomo no Kuronushi is a member of the Rokkasen, or the Six Immortal Poets. He and the five other members were designated as such in the prefaces of the classic waka poetry anthology the Kokin Wakushū (The Collection of Early and Modern Japanese Poetry, c. 905). Together, these six poems were revered as some of Japan’s best poets by later generations. Kuronushi only has three poems in the Kokin Wakushū: the poem in the right of this print is most likely a humorous imitation of one of his poems.
A common strategy of mitate, or humorous allusions in prints, regarding the Rokkasen is to make a series of six prints of beautiful women, each representing one of the poets. This print undoubtedly is part of such a series.
Kuronushi’s reputation was later sullied by one of the Nana Komachi, or seven stories of episodic events in the life of Ono no Komachi. Ono no Komachi is only female member of the Rokkasen. In the noh and later kabuki play of Sōshi Arai Komachi (Komachi Washing the Book), Kuronushi and Komachi compete in a poetry contest. Kuronushi, knowing that he is the inferior poet, eavesdrops on Komachi as she composes her piece and then writes it into a manuscript of the classic anthology the Man’yōshū (Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves, dated 759). At the contest the next day, Kuronushi accuses Komachi of plagiarism, and then produces his copy of the Man’yōshū as proof. After some moments of extreme distress, Komachi examines the volume and notices that ink in which her poem is written is darker than that of the other poems in the book, and the lines of writing are uneven. Upon receiving permission from the emperor, she bathes the book in water, and the forged poem is washed away. Kuronushi is so embarrassed by his treachery that he prepares to commit suicide. Komachi gracefully intercedes on his behalf and the Emperor, admiring her purity, duly pardons Kuronushi. In later kabuki plays loosely based on this story, characters name Kuronushi are rouges and villains who attempt to cause harm to women vaguely associated with Ono no Komachi. - Leah Justin-Jinich, 2014