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Hunting for fireflies

Melinda Takeuchi, Professor in the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures and the Department of Art History at Stanford University, discusses the coded meanings behind a woodblock print in the Asian Art Museum's collection. Created by Asian Art Museum.

Video transcript

in an agricultural society like Japan the seasons are crucially important to survival and so the motif of seasons and the pleasures of each season great attention is paid to this in this case it is Firefly season or summer time Malinda takuji this couple is probably a pair of townspeople they are not wearing his elaborate clothes as you find in the Yoshiwara she is unmarried because the sleeves on her robe are long I love her little subtle kimono with the young fern shoots if you look closely you'll see that it's a gauzy kimono his robe has a pattern on it called kuat soon oggi this means joint curved circles pakora was also slang for the brothel area to Nagi means joined so kuda Watsu Nagi can either mean joined curved circles or it can mean joined in the pleasure quarter so that's just the kind of little in joke that would have been known to anybody at the period looking at the print the artist Suzuki Hara Nobu was an innovator in the use of color in prints hard and over under the patronage of these sophisticated wealthy and demanding samurai came up with luxury additions in which the number of blocks was theoretically unlimited as the number of blocks used steadily increased with reports of some prints using more than 100 different blocks the government deemed the process excessive limiting the number to seven so every aspect of these visual arts was regulated and subjected to scrutiny lest it transgress against the social system that demanded that people deport themselves with frugality and propriety you