Overrobe (Uchikake) with Bamboo

Overrobe (Uchikake) with Bamboo
New Wedding Favors
Image by peterjr1961
Overrobe (Uchikake) with Bamboo by Gion Nankai
Japan; Edo period (1615–1868); first half of the 18th century

This rare uchikake is the work of Gion Nankai, a well-known poet and artist of the early Nanga movement. Bamboo, vividly painted here in light and dark ink and enhanced with a mist of gold powder, was a favored theme of Nanga artists, who were largely based in the Kyoto area and often had backgrounds in Confucian studies and Chinese literati theory.

Karakane Kôryû (1675–1738), a merchant and literary scholar from Izumi Sano (in present-day Osaka), commissioned this bamboo overrobe for one of his concubines; it was thereafter treasured as a family heirloom. In 1824, on the occasion of the marriage of one of Kôryû’s great-granddaughters, the literati poet Rai San’yô (1780–1832) wrote a laudatory kanshi (a poem written entirely in Chinese characters) about the unsigned garment, thus securing its pedigree.

Long sleeves of twilled silk from Wu,
as white as snow.
Upon them painted bamboo thrusts
as if alive.

Madam [Shimo]mura, from the north hall
of the Karakane family,
In her wedding trousseau, precious
without compare.
Carefully wrapped up at the bottom of a
chest, no one dared wear it.
Her grandmother’s thing, handed down
by her mother.

Who could have painted such beautiful
bamboo?
The record states: by Gion known
as Yoichi.
Ah, Nankai, was it he or not?
For the one in the ladies’ chamber, he
painted the skirt of the robe.

At that time, old man Karakane was
a dilettante.
On famous gardens, he composed
splendid poems.
Once he persuaded the master
[Nankai] to stay at his mansion.
The whole household rejoiced, waited
upon him, and surrounded him
like a human screen.

At times, with wine at his side, he
dipped into the ink.
Droplets make Xiang rain from the
movements of his hand.
[The brush,] like rising hare and
swooping falcon, without care
for where it might land.
Clothes and socks of the same fabric,
the brush abruptly flew.
The fair ones stretched out silk in
substitution of the silk canvas.
Facing straight at the skirts, here thin
here plump, contesting.

Sir, do you not know that formerly
Yang Shen was exiled to Dian
[Yunnan] and Shu [Sichuan]?
On the pretty girl’s robe always
remains the scent of wine
and ink.
Men say, "Enough to wear down a
man’s spirit."
But, what the famous did was
unfathomable.

The lady still knows how to respect
old excellence.
What her family instructions urged
was unlike present fashions.
Nowadays, the eyes of rich young men
in silk trousers are callow.
She is willing to believe that ink traces
are superior to fine silk garments.

I make a song to sing of this affair.
What coils in the bosom is ten-
thousand-foot bamboo.

—Rai San’yô
(transl. Sadako Ohki)

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