In this melancholy scene, the large sea of rough, billowing waves, the nobleman seated in the hut with only his books and koto as companions, and the dusky tones of ink and silver and gold suggest the solitude of a distant island. A windblown visitor dressed in a straw cape, who appears to have arrived in a small boat moored at the left, trudges along the shore to the hut. The green of the tatami mats and the white and pink of the blossoming cherry trees (indicating springtime) provide the only brightness in an otherwise somber composition reflecting the sense of isolation and the forlorn state of mind of the nobleman.
Exile to a remote area of Japan or to a small offshore island was a common form of punishment for political crimes throughout Japanese history. Two emperors are known to have been exiled to the island of Okinoshima: retired emperor Gotoba-in (reigned 1184–98) and Godaigo (reigned 1318–39). Accounts of both exiles were recorded in the Masukagami, a historical work that covers the years 1180–1333. The account of Gotoba-in’s exile is more likely to have been illustrated on an independent screen—although the scene depicted here could equally represent the events of Godaigo’s exile when, after a year on the island, he escaped in springtime in a fishing boat brought by a loyal supporter, Takaoki Chidane.