Katsushika Hokusai, Tametomo and the inhabitants of Onigashima Island, a hanging scroll painting


British Museum

British Museum

In 1811 the publisher Hirabayashi Shōgorō commissioned this painting from Hokusai to celebrate the completion of the best-selling serial novel Chinsetsu yumihari-zuki ('Strange Tales of the Bow Moon'), which was published in twenty-nine volumes between 1807 and 1811. The text was by a leading popular author, Takizawa Bakin (1767-1848) and the illustrations by Hokusai. Passages in Bakin's Edo sakusha burui state that he was paid an extra ten gold ryō for his work, and Hokusai was asked to do this painting. When the scroll was completed, Bakin inscribed a poem phrased in mock-military terminology appropriate to the subject to celebrate his friendship with the publisher (see below).

Minamoto no Tametomo was a real-life warrior renowned for his bowmanship. This scene, from Bakin's fictionalized account of his exploits, shows three inhabitants of the island of Onigashima all trying in vain to pull his bowstring, while the young hero nonchalantly steadies the bow with one hand. Hokusai's painting skilfully combines the suggestion of powerful energy - the straining muscles of the islanders and the strong wind that tosses the landscape - with exquisite attention to detail, as seen in the basket of fish. The rich pigments and generous scattering of cut gold-leaf reflect the publisher Hirabayashi's wealth, which had no doubt been substantially increased by the success of the newly-completed novel.

The inscription translates:

'A word gives great pleasure and friendship profits.
The distribution of forces at this time,
Observes the wishes of the Lord.
On the island in the Eastern Sea where Hachirō holds court,
Truly this years blessings are so profuse that
The could of the devil-ridden hear clear away
And the light of the bow-moon shines bright.'

The signature reads 'Katsushika Hokusai Taitō ga' ('painted by Katsushika Hokusai Taitō'). the seal reads 'Raishin'. The inscription signature reads 'Bunka kanoto hitsuji ryūtō joya Kyokutei Bakin dai' ('Inscribed by Kyokutei Bakin on the last night of the year in deep winter, Bunka 8 (1811)').

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  • Title: Katsushika Hokusai, Tametomo and the inhabitants of Onigashima Island, a hanging scroll painting
  • Date Created: 1811/1811
  • Physical Dimensions: Height: 54.90cm; Width: 82.10cm; Height: 156.50cm (mount); Width: 104.00cm (mount); Diameter: 3.20cm (Jiku)
  • External Link: British Museum collection online
  • Technique: painted
  • Subject: myth/legend; history
  • Registration number: 1881,1210,0.1747
  • Production place: Made in Japan
  • Producer: Painted by Katsushika Hokusai. Inscription by Bakin, Kyokutei. Inscription by Shogoro, Hirabayashi III
  • Period/culture: Bunka Era
  • Material: silk
  • Copyright: Photo: © Trustees of the British Museum
  • Acquisition: Purchased from Anderson, William. Previous owner/ex-collection Hirabayashi Shogoro III