Currently Documented Edition Signature and Seal Markings:
||+ Seal F
|Edition II: ||楽山篁子生
||+ Seal F
[For illustration of seals listed by seal code letter, see the Seals article.
For edition characteristics applicable to this series as a whole, see the Edition article.]
This woodblock print was produced from an original painting on silk dating from the late 1920s whose current location is unknown.
The identification of this design as number 4 is original to Rakusan who published the print as the 4th design in his series of one hundred woodblock prints called 楽山花鳥畫譜, Rakuzan Kachou Gafu
, lit. 'Rakusan's Flower and Bird Print Series'.
Edition I first printing details are known precisely because copies of the delivery documents for installment two have survived. The first printing run of about 200 copies was completed June 8, 1929, and the publication date was June 10, 1929 in installment two (of fifty). However, additional edition I printings of 4 may have continued until as late as 1933.
The copy illustrated here is typical of edition I.
Edition II printings of 4 can only be dated approximately to between 1936 and 1941.
No edition III printings of 4 are currently known.
Copies in Public Collections:
Edition I: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA, USA; (1952) 52.115 [not illustrated online].
Japanese Plum-apricot, often called 'Wild Plum', Prunus mume
is ubiquitous in Japan.
, lit. 'field plum', is the general name for any kind of wild plum, but usually refers to the white-flowering varieties of Prunus mume
(The red-flowering varieties are called 紅梅, kou-bai
, lit. 'crimson plum'.)
The old growth of plum trees is often embellished with lichen and fungi in these prints, and a few have evidence of small animal life, but Rakusan never mentions those in the captions.
In 4 and in a few other plum designs currently assigned to theme 123 (123-1, 123-3, 123-5, and 123), small, striped, mounded gray ovals are shown adhering to the tree bark.
They are over-wintering adults of a kind of small ladybird beetle (family Coccinellidae) whose larvae are major predators of scale-insects. The same or a similar species is shown on Japanese maple in 62. Their general name is 天道虫, 瓢虫, 紅娘, てんとう虫, てんとうむし, テントウムシ, tentoumushi. The particular species Rakusan illustrates is probably Chilocorus rubidus, 赤星天道虫, 赤星瓢虫, あかほしてんとうむし, アカホシテントウムシ, aka-hoshi tentoumushi, lit. 'red-spot ladybird-beetle'. Most of the time these small beetles are firmly attached to the bark of plum, peach, or other ornamental trees.
There are three beetles included in 4. In edition I the beetles are gray and difficult to see among the gray lichens, but in edition II they are colored a rich dark brown and stand out clearly.
In the upper right corner is what appears to be the diaphanous web of a tent caterpillar, a kind of moth larva, Malacosoma spp.
Japanese Bush Warbler (Japanese Nightingale), Cettia diphone, is a common native bird beloved for its sweet song.
It is frequently depicted in art, and it has many literary and poetic names.
Some of these names have historical origins in Chinese names for Black-naped Oriole, Oriolus chinensis.
The connection is that in China the archetypal sweet singing bird is the oriole, but that species is not found in Japan except as a rare vagrant.
In Japan the cultural role of the archetypal best singer is played instead by the bush warbler.
Therefore over many centuries the names for the two species have interpenetrated.
Names for bush warbler and oriole can have both literal ornithological meanings and also metaphorical ones.
(The extension is similar to English where a chanteuse can be referred to as a 'canary', 'warbler', or 'nightingale'.
In fact an alternate English name for the bush warbler is 'nightingale' because of its singing ability and not because of a biological relationship to the true nightingale which is an entirely different species.)
Here Rakusan used two different names for the bush warbler, and each has a connection with oriole names.
On the print itself, Rakusan wrote 鴬 uguisu.
Today, written in kana, うぐいす or ウグイス, uguisu, represents an ornithological specialization and refers only to the bush warbler.
Written in kanji, 鴬 (or 鶯), uguisu, remains a very common general name not only for this species, but also for several other sweet singing birds.
The original Chinese character underlying these kanji means 'oriole', but it is read in the Japanese manner as uguisu, 'bush warbler'.
The modern Japanese name for the Black-naped Oriole comes full circle in incorporating the re-generalized bush warbler name,
高麗鶯, こうらいうぐいす, コウライウグイス, kourai uguisu, lit. "Korean bush warbler'. Rakusan depicted the oriole in design number 18 in this series.
On the folio delivery envelope Rakusan instead wrote 黄鳥, kou-chou, lit. 'yellow bird', which is originally a Chinese oriole name used here for 'bush warbler'.
Obviously the color description is not appropriate.
In fact 鴬 (or 鶯), uguisu, also serves as a color term meaning 'greenish-brown' (from the actual color of the bush warbler).
Both the plum and the bush warbler are very common motifs in Rakusan artworks, and the pairing is one of the cultural symbols of winter.