The Birth of Ugayafukiaezu no Mikoto

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The Birth of Ugayafukiaezu no Mikoto

Paintings / Edo

By Kano Tan'yu (1602-74)

Edo period, 17th century

Light color on paper

101.2×31.8

1幅

As we follow the waves up the screen, our eyes alight on a baby lying by the shore. Further up, a man stands before a ramshackle hut. What on earth has happened here?

This painting is based on a myth. Toyotama Hime, daughter of the sea god, has gone into labor. A hut was prepared for the birth, but the thatching of the roof has not been finished in time. As a result, her husband, Hikohohodemi no Mikoto, gets a glimpse her original form, which is that of a yahirowani, a being said to resemble a giant crocodile or a giant shark. Realizing this, the princess returns to the sea and leaves her new-born behind. Her husband is left standing dumbstruck before the hut.

Large, swelling waves are painted at the bottom of this long, minimalist painting. It feels as if we are standing right there with feet soaked in the sea. The artist has made skillful use of the vertically-long format to convey the passage of time in the story as the viewer’s eyes move up along the water’s edge.

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