The Yûgao Chapter
from The Tale of Genji
Genji yûgao no maki
Colour print from woodblocks,
with blind embossing (karazuri) and textile printing (nunomezuri).
Block-cutter: Yamamoto (Yamamoto Shinji).
Publisher: Akiyama Buemon. First edition 03/1886
Keyes 478-28. Stevenson 29
From the series One Hundred Aspects of the Moon (Tsuki hyakkei) published in 1885-92.
This diaphonous figure is the ghost of the most mysterious of Prince Genji's lovers in The Tale of Genji, the 11th-century classic by Murasaki Shikibu, who was depicted in another print in this series. In Chapter 4 of the novel, Genji is on the way to visit his old nurse when he is attracted by the white flowers of a gourd overrunning the garden of a dilapidated house. He asks a servant to fetch a bloom and it is returned on a fan inscribed with a poem referring to his 'evening face', the literal meaning of yûgao, the name of the flower (Lagenaria siceraria). He courts the mysterious author of the poem, and takes her to a nearby villa, where she is visited in the middle of the night by the jealous spirit of one of Genji's lovers; she breaks into a fever and within hours she is dead. Genji is overcome with grief and years later still longed for a further glimpse of the woman who faded as quickly as the white flowers in her garden.
The print shows her ghost floating through her garden on the night of a full moon: yûgao was also known as 'moonflower', thus linking the subject to the theme of the series. Her lips are blue, a convention for the depiction of ghosts and corpses. Blind embossing is used to give form to the white petals of the flowers.
The Friends of the Fitzwilliam Museum, 2004