Urashima Taro


Urashima Taro
Print   (Part of the set: Akashi-ban Surimono)

Yanagawa Shigenobu


Print is Public Domain; Photography is:   Creative Commons License


Japanese viewers will instantly recognize the topic of this image - it is the story of Urashima Tarō, a young fisherman who is transported by a sea turtle to a fantasy land under the ocean. In the tale, Tarō saves a turtle, and is taken to the underwater Dragon Palace on the back of another turtle a few days later. There he meets the princess of the kingdom, and he stays at the palace for a few days. He quickly becomes homesick, however, and asks to return to shore. The princess tries to dissuade him, but his mind is made up. She gives him a box that she tells him will keep him safe, but that he is never to open. When he returns to shore, his finds out that his parents are dead, no-one he knows is anywhere to be found, and everything has changed. Three hundred years have passed. Stunned, he absentmindedly opens the box, and instantly becomes an old man. Inside the box had been his old age...

Here we see Urashima Tarō reclining on a rock, looking down at a little turtle - perhaps the one he saved or the one who is there to take him to the undersea kingdom. The turtle appears to have been pushed out using kimedashi, a technique produced by pushing the back of the paper down into recessions carved into the block. The front side of the sheet is thus raised up slightly, and the print is actually turned into a (very shallow) bas relief object. There are limits as to how far this can be carried without tearing the paper, but even a shallow kimedashi can be very effective. This technique may have been used on the waves and part of the rock in this print as well. Nunome-zuri, a technique in which a piece of actual cloth is "printed" using a woodblock, can be seen in Tarō's clothes.

The print is from the Kotobuki Goban no Uchi (寿五番ノ内, "A Set of Five Examples of Longevity") series of surimono prints by Yanagawa Shigenobu.

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