Tale of the Tongue-cut Sparrow


Tale of the Tongue-cut Sparrow
Print   (Part of the set: Akashi-ban Surimono)

Kikukawa Eizan


Print is Public Domain; Photography is:   Creative Commons License


This surimono shows an old man smiling at two sparrows in kimono, a scene from the old Japanese story "The Tale of the Tongue-cut Sparrow". In the story, an old man tries to nurse an injured sparrow back to health at his home. His wife, however, is annoyed that the man is giving food to the sparrow and cuts out its tongue and sends it back to the mountains when she finds that it has eaten all of the starch. The man goes looking for the little sparrow, and, guided by its friends, eventually finds it (no doubt it is the sparrow-woman sat dressed in the luxurious kimono in this print). He is allowed to choose from two baskets, one big and one small, as a gift for his kindness towards the sparrow. He chooses the smaller basket, thinking it might be lighter. He goes home and opens it to find it full of treasure. His greedy wife sees this and travels back up the mountain to get the bigger basket. She is given the basket but warned not to open it until she is back home. Being greedy, she opens it on the way back, only to find it is full of poisonous snakes and other dangerous animals. Startled, she tumbles down the mountain to her death.

The story in this particular print represents "Benevolence", one of the qualities from the Mukashi-banashi, Chi Jin Yû (昔噺智仁勇, "Old Tales of Wisdom, Benevolence, and Valor") series of three surimono prints by Kikukawa Eizan. The other two prints in the series are "Wisdom: the Monkey's Liver", by Hokusai, and "Valor: Momotarô", by Shuntei.

The sparrow's beautifully patterned and coloured kimono is a highlight of the print, as is the carefully designed karazuri blind embossing on parts of the kimono.

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