Such fancy rackets can still be seen these days — often over-sized and tricked out with gorgeous oshi-e (raised silk applique) on one side and auspicious hand-painted symbols on the other.
Fig 1 is an Osaka battledore print from 9/1824. (Artist: Shibakuni (act. 1821-26); Actor: Nakamura Sankô (aka Matsue III and Tomijûrô II, act. 1813-33); Role: Tôza’s wife Okuru; Play: Kamakura sandaiki; Theater: Kado.)
Some of the original buyers of this hagoita-e may have been tempted to cut along the black outline and paste Sankô to a display battledore. They would feel safe in the knowledge that the face of their idol would never be besmirched by impact with a shuttlecock, and the colorful ukiyo-e could replace the oshi-e which, in that period, would most probably have depicted a Kabuki image (or a beauty) anyway.
On the other hand, possibly because paper glued to wood and left lying around a Japanese house nearly two centuries ago tends not to have made it through to our time, there is little indication that many actually did this.
More likely, Sankô supporters were content to leave the sheet intact, deriving sufficient pleasure from its stylish evocation of New Year's. In any event, a goodly number of unadulterated hagoita-e have survived, mostly from a mini-boom period for such designs — in Edo as well as Osaka — datable to the first half of the 1820s.
Meiji Changes Everything
Sadly, the same survival record does not apply to Fig 2, an odd-format (26 x 16 cm) pair of deluxe Osaka prints by Sadahiro II (act. 1864-76), from a Kado Theater performance of 10/1873. Both portraits are of Ichikawa Udanji I (act. 1862-1916), in the classic quick-change roles of Osome and Hisamatsu from the double suicide drama Osome Hisamatsu ukina no yomiuri.
My scholar friends assure me these items, too, represent battledore prints, presumably one for each side of a modest-sized display model. (No other possibilities come to mind, though the narrow shape and curved bottom are a bit of a mystery.) As for their rarity? Well, apparently post-Restoration consumers felt a great deal freer about reaching for the scissors and paste, a cultural shift that has left Meiji print lovers today — forgive me, I can’t help it — up Collector’s Creek without a paddle.
This article originally appeared in Daruma, no. 61, Winter 2009. Copyrighted
© text and pictures reprinted with permission.
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