Women and East Asian Art

Surimono with Jurojin, Geisha, and Child

 

The woodblock print Surimono with Jurojin, Geisha, and Child by Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849)[1] depicts a child nagging at his mother, who is offering her breast to what appears to be an old man. In Japanese, the term “surimono” means “printed thing” and is a genre of woodblock printing that is often commissioned and not mass produced.[2] “Jurojin” is a Japanese mythological god of longevity and is often portrayed as an old bearded man.[3] According to the curators of an East Asian Art Exhibition at Dickinson College, the woodblock print is a satire on the Confucian values of filial piety.[4]

Next to a tree, the Jurojin sits with his body turned away from the Geisha who holds her naked breast his turned face. The two look towards each other as a small child pulls at his mother’s clothes. The irony is that the mother Geisha extends her milk to the Jurojin, the god of longevity, rather than her child, which would in reality be instrumental to longevity.[5] The old age of the Jurojin is rendered in the wrinkled on his face as well as his grey features and sagging skin. The Geisha’s youthfulness and beauty is accentuated in her neatly tied hair, smooth skin, and slender body. The piece could also be satire on the amount women were expected to serve their male counterparts. Hokusai could have been communicating that women were expected to provide to men so much that it hindered their ability to tend to more important matters.

[1] “Katsushika Hokusai,” Katsushika Hokusai – The Complete Works, accessed November 25, 2019, http://www.katsushikahokusai.org/)

[2] “Collecting Rare Books and Prints – Japanese Surimono,” International League of Antiquarian Booksellers, December 3, 2014, https://ilab.org/articles/collecting-rare-books-and-prints-japanese-surimono)

[3] “Jurōjin,” Encyclopædia Britannica (Encyclopædia Britannica, inc., February 3, 2015), https://www.britannica.com/topic/Jurojin)

[4] Samuel K Parker and David Strand, “DocPlayer,” DocPlayer (Dickinson College, 2008), “New Lives for Asian Images” February 8 – March 29, 2008. Dickinson College, https://docplayer.net/151670495-Samuel-k-parker-david-strand-the-trout-gallery-dickinson-college-carlisle-pennsylvania.html)

[5] Ibid., 42.

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