Okumura Masanobu 奥村政信 (1686-1764)
The Wooden Flute and the Potted Tree
(Shakuhachi Hachi-no-ki 尺八鉢の木)

Japan, Edo period (1615-1868), c. 1710
Woodblock print; ink on paper
Gift of James A. Michener, 1991

This print is a parody of The Potted Trees (Hachi-no-ki), a Nō play by Zeami Motokiyo (c. 1363 - c. 1443). In Zeami’s original story, a mysterious stranger knocks on the door of an impoverished samurai’s home one cold winter night, and in order to make his unexpected guest comfortable, the samurai reluctantly sacrifices the last of his beloved bonsai trees to kindle a fire. To the samurai’s delight, the guest reveals himself to be a wealthy official who lavishly repays the samurai for his generosity and selflessness.

In Masanobu’s modernization of the tale, the guest’s identity has been changed to that of a wakashū, for whose attentions the host goes to extraordinary lengths. The host’s home is decorated with items that, though damaged in one way or another, reveal his highly refined tastes: a coat of Hachijō silk, a hanging scroll by the Hishikawa School, and even a lacquer inrō pouch attributed to Yoshida Kenkō (1283?-1350?), one of the forefathers of classical Japanese aesthetics. As the handsome wakashū sits quietly observing him, the host prepares kindling for the fire by chopping up his bamboo flute (shakuhachi), an act loaded with obvious sexual implications.

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