Okumura Masanobu 奥村政信 (1686-1764)
Portrait of a Domestic Servant (Koshō Fū 小性風)
From the series A Triptych of Wakashū
(Wakashū Sampukutsui わか衆三幅對)

Japan, Edo period (1615-1868), c. 1751
Woodblock print; ink and color on paper
Gift of James A. Michener, 1971

At first glance, the senryū (comical haiku poem) on the left half of this image — “For a dandelion / a little spit on the fingers / helps” (Yubi ni tsuwa / tsukete nari yoshi / tsuzumigusa) — is relatively cryptic. The first clue to unraveling its meaning is recognizing the wordplay: the drum that the wakashū depicted in the image plays is referred to as a tsuzumi, and by adding two more syllables to the end of the poem, Masanobu transforms the drum into a dandelion (tsuzumigusa).

In the codified parlance of nanshoku (male love), flowers such as dandelions and chrysanthemums were metaphors for a wakashū’s anus. In stark contrast to the rather prosaic, non-eroticized imagery that accompanies it, therefore, this inscription is very likely a sly reference to an activity far more intimate than drumming.

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