Poetry of Friendship: Surimono and the Cultural Salons of Japan



The type of surimono featured in this exhibition represent an important and neglected type of Japanese woodblock print. Known for their large size, often prodigious amount of text, and intricate relationship between word and images, the earliest surimono were created in the first decades of the eighteenth century, and the last in the mid-twentieth century. The many characters seen in surimono are mostly composed of haiku poetry. These short, concise poems, usually incorporate seasonal symbols and nature images, are part of a poetic tradition that has remained popular in Japan for centuries.

These prints are communal in nature; the poems were often created by groups of men and women, who included actors, geisha, artists, intellectuals, and entertainers, who gathered in cultural groups or salons in order to converse, drink wine, and compose poetry. They regularly met in order to mark certain occasions in the life of the groups, such as weddings, name changes, retirements, death anniversaries, and New Year celebrations. On the prints commissioned by the group for such occasions, poems were carefully placed in a proscribed order of importance and then matched with images that again carefully reflected the special occasion, the season, and the content of the accompanying poems.


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