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Bon Festival Moon from the series One Hundred Aspects of the Moon

Rising Moon Over Mount Nanping – Cao Cao from the series One Hundred Aspects of the Moon

Japanese Color Woodblock Print 

Bon Festival Moon

from the series One Hundred Aspects of the Moon

by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, 1887

Gion District from the series One Hundred Aspects of the Moon

IHL Cat. #1671

About This Print

Three joyful women and two men dance under a full moon to celebrate the Bon festival.

This collection's print is backed with paper, suggesting it is from a bound album of the entire series of one hundred prints, most likely created by the publisher Akiyama Buemon shortly after Yoshitoshi's death in May 1892.  

The Story Depicted in the Print as Told by John Stevenson

Source: Yoshitoshi's One Hundred Aspects of the Moon, John Stevenson, Hotei Publishing, Netherlands 2001.
46.   Bon Festival moon
        Bon no tsuki

Bon is the most important summertime festival in Japan, still celebrated today; it is held in the middle of the seventh lunar month when the moon is full. During the festival, the spirits of the dead are believed to visit their descendants in the world of the living. The Japanese apply the practice of different religions (Buddhist, Shinto, and now Christian) to different stages of human life. Death is the province of Buddhism, and Bon is a Buddhist festival.

Though devoted to the dead, the Bon festival is a happy one, celebrated with much feasting and dancing. Ancestors return to the world of the living drawn by the strength of familial ties and their family’s offerings; there is also a sense that this world is the finest world possible, which is why the dead always wish to come back. Food is placed on the family altar for the spirits who return to the netherworld entertained and well-fed. The festival is also known as the Lantern Festival, since lanterns are lit under the moonlight to guide the spirits on their way to and from the underworld.

In rural areas a dance called bon odori is performed. People of both sexes from a line or large circle and there is a great deal of handclapping and singing of songs. Young people are performing the dance in this design, rhythmically swaying from side to side. They wear light cotton summer yukata and dance with fans. The boys are the ones with their hair gathered into tight vertical queues and wearing robes with a simple geometric pattern. The composition of the design flows in a spiral up towards the moon. Yoshitoshi loved the vitality of traditional Japanese culture and fills this print with movement – the dancers are obviously having a good time.

The design is drawn in the Shijō manner, a simplified style of painting developed by the eighteenth-century artist, Matsumura Goshun, from the detailed naturalism of his teacher, Maruyama Ōkyo. It was named after Goshun’s studio, located on Kyoto’s Shijō, Fourth Avenue (though the studio was eight or nine blocks away from the Shijō river area illustrated earlier.) Many of the backgrounds of the Moon Series are drawn in the loose Shijō style. This contrasts with the more careful strokes which delineate the human figures in many of the designs (see, for example, the contrasting brushwork in the design of the Filial Son). Shijō brushwork emphasized fluency of line and was often almost impressionistic; it is appropriate for the informal subject here.

About the Series "One Hundred Aspects of the Moon"
For details about this series which consists of one hundred prints with the moon as a unifying motif, see the article on this site Yoshitoshi, One Hundred Aspects of the Moon.

Print Details

 IHL Catalog #1671
 Title/Description Bon Festival Moon [Bon no tuski  つき百姿]
 Series One Hundred Aspects of the Moon (Tsuki hyaku sugata 月百姿)
 John Stevens Reference No.*
 Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839-1892)
Yoshitoshi 芳年
Taiso 大蘇
 Date January 6, 1887  御届明治二十年一月六日 
 Edition Likely from a bound album.
 Publisher Akiyama Buemon (秋山武右エ門) [Marks: seal 26-132; pub. ref. 005]
エ 圓活 carving by Enkatsu
 Impression excellent
 Colors excellent
 Condition excellent - original backing; minor soiling upper mainly left margin
 Genre ukiyo-e
 Format oban
 H x W Paper 14 7/16 x 9 11/16 in. (36.7 x 24.6 cm)
 H x W Image
 12 15/16 x 8 13/16 in. (32.9 x 22.4 cm)
 Collections This Print Yale University Art Gallery 2011.143.1.46; The British Museum 1906,1220,0.1469; Tokyo Metropolitan Library 加4722-34 and 5233-60-34; The Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum of Waseda University 201-4461 and 201-2393; Ritsumeikan University Art Research Center AcNo. NDL-1306359; Spencer Collection, The New York Public Library Spencer Collection https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47e0-caca-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99; Art Gallery of New South Wales 258.2012.46; Edo-Tokyo Museum 99000956
 Reference Literature * Yoshitoshi’s One Hundred Aspects of the Moon, John Stevenson, Hotei Publishing, Netherlands 2001, pl. 46.