Workers Dyeing Cloth
Illustration from the series "One Hundred Poems by One Hundred Poets as Explained by the Nurse"
Edo Period (1600-1868)
10 3/16 x 14 13/16 in. (25.9 x 37.7 cm)
(1760 - 1849)
Full Title:Illustration from the series "One Hundred Poems by One Hundred Poets as Explained by the Nurse"
Medium and Support:
Location: Not currently on view
This print illustrates the text of a poem by the Empress Jitô, who ruled Japan from 690 to 697. In translation, the poem reads
The spring has passed
And the summer come again;
For the silk-white robes,
So they say, are spread to dry
On the "Mount of Heaven's Perfume."
The "Mount of Heavenly Perfume" is the name of a hill southeast of the ancient capital of Nara. According to legend, the villagers of the region spread their winter clothing on the slopes of the mountain to dry. This print seems to show people bringing clothes to wash in the river and dry on poles in the background. What is actually shown, though, is the manufacture of linen cloth from flax fiber, a process that produces a very foul odor. In the original Japanese, the Empress has used the words ama
, which mean respectively both "heaven and flax" and "to smell good and to smell bad." The last line of the poem, then, can also read "On the Mount of Flax's Stench," a verbal pun that Hokusai translates into a visual one.