The character Tamakazura dressed in Edo period fashions holds a fan, inscribed with a poem, in her mouth and carries a black lacquer box for catching insects (hotarukago). She is catching fireflies. In the upper-left corner, His Highness of War, Genji’s brother Hotaru Hyōbukyō no Miya (“Prince Hotaru”) gazes at a river, most likely found in Genji’s garden near the west wing where Tamakazura was housed.
This series contains a modern, Edo-period beauty as compared to a specific lover of Genji found in the Genji Monogatari (Tale of Genji). An iconic poem associated with their romance is written next to her figure.
This print is a parody of the 25th chapter of the Genji Monogatari (The Tale of Genji), known as Hotaru (“The Fireflies”).
Mark & Seal Notes:
The red symbol next to the title cartouche is a Genji-mon, a set of fifty-four rectilinear crests, each representing one of the fifty-four chapters of the Genji Monogatari (The Tale of Genji). Each work in this series is printed with different Genji-mon based on which chapter it references. In this case, the symbol refers to Chapter 36: “The Oak Tree” (Kashiwagi). This chapter is actually eleven chapters later than “Fireflies” (Hotaru), of which this print concerns. That being said, Genji-mon found in Edo period prints were not necessarily accurately matched with the chapters of the story, or the contents of the print.
It appears that some writing above the head of Tamakazura was trimmed off this print; this most likely stated her name.
The system of formal censorship for woodblock prints, marking prints with a single kiwame seal, was functional from 1790 to 1805.
Poem Line 1 (upper-right corner): Koe hasede
Poem Line 2 (middle leftward, left of figure): mi wo nomi kogasu
Poem Line 3 (middle leftward, above Artist’s Signature along left edge): hotaru koso
Poem Line 4 (might rightward, along right edge): iu yori masaru
Poem Line 5: (middle rightward, left of Poem Line 4): omohi naruramu
English translation of Poem: Rather, the firefly, who burns with an inner flame and utters no cry, is the one whose devotion passes all that words can say.
- Leah Justin-Jinich