Sugimura Jihei 杉村治兵衛 (fl. c. 1681-1703)
Lovers behind a Screen

Japan, Edo period (1615-1868), c. 1684
Woodblock print; ink on paper
Gift of James A. Michener, 1991

In this non-explicit “cover sheet,” a wakashū carrying a small shoulder drum (tsuzumi) crouches behind a two-panel folding screen alongside his female companion. In the empty space of the folding screen appears an inscription:

The things that I thought before I met you
are as nothing.
It is parting that starts the beginning of love.
(Au made no omoi wa koto no kazu narade /
wakare [zo] koi no hajime narikeru)

Due to its location around the crouching figures, the inscription seems at first glance to express the thoughts of one of them, but its reference to “parting” might alternately explain the presence of the third figure spying on them from behind the folding screen. Might this voyeur be the wakashū’s former lover who, only after noticing the budding romance between him and another woman, finally realizes her deep-seated feelings towards him? Such poignant sentiments are far from unusual in the genre of shunga, which so often harkens back to classical love stories such as The Tale of Genji (Genji Monogatari) by Murasaki Shikibu (c. 973- c. 1014).

View info on museum database (enabled through support by the Robert F. Lange Foundation)