- 東海大学紀要. 文学部 (ISSN:05636760)
- no.65, pp.1-18,図10p, 1996-09
During the last years of his life, Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849), the most well known ukiyoe artist of the late Edo period, left us an original painting entitled Watermelon, now in the collection of the Imperial Household Agency. Over the years numerous researchers have assessed the unusual shape and composition of the watermelon in the painting as striking evidence of Hokusai's originality. However, I question whether this repeated assessment would have been made if Hokusai had not included his signature, which is clearly evident in the painting. Eastern paintings of vegetables and fruit are commonly known as "Vegetable drawings"(sosai-zu) and are considered as belonging to the broad category of fower-and-bird pictures. With a style far removed from that of traditional vegetable drawings, however, Hokusai's Watermelon evokes among viewers a feeling contrary to what they might have expected from such a painting. Eastern flower-and-bird paintings traditionally have something in them that allows a hidden meaning to be drawn out from animals or plants depicted. Similarly, we need to investigate whether or not the watermelon in Hokusai's painting-considering the unexpectedness of its style-is imbued with a hidden meaning. To corroborate my interpretation of Watermelon, I have made use of the painting entitled Tanabata by Sakai Hoitsu (1761-1828). Hoitsu's painting is not a portrayal of the modern-day Japanese celebration known as Tanabata, or Star Festival, but rather depicts Tanabata's predecessor, Kikkoden, a ceremony carried out by the imperial court beginning in the eighth century, which in turn had its origins in early China. Kikkoden combined astrology with the romance of the Milky Way-the love story of the Herdsman (in Japanese tradition, the star Altair in the constellation Aquila) and the Weaver (the star Vega in the constellation Lyra). Japanese paintings entitled Kikkoden are usually genre paintings portraying the full year's worth of ceremonies ; it was tacitly understood from early times that depictions of the Kikkoden or Tanabata festivals within these paintings would show a scene from the seventh lunar month, when these festivals were held. In Hoitsu's Tanabata, however, human figures, ordinarily found in genre paintings, are missing. Only string given in offering and a basin filled with water-two items symbolic of the climax of Kikkoden-are depicted. By extracting these two motifs from Kikkoden, Hoitsu turns them into symbols for the ceremony. When Hokusai's Watermelon is viewed once again, this time in light of this understanding of Hoitsu's work, the congruence between the two paintings is striking. Since watermelons were in early China and Japan an important item given as an offering during Kikkoden, the watermelon half and the long, thin rind in Hokusai's painting can be seen as corresponding exactly to Hoitsu's basin and string. Further, we can discover of a bit of the romanticism involved in how the Japanese, inheritors of the romance of the Milky Way story from China, have since the time of the Man'yoshu "borrowed" the heroes of that story in their own love poetry. Essentially, then, Hokusai's Watermelon is a genre painting in which Kikkoden is represented by a watermelon, and is a narrative painting of the romance of the Milky Way.