Parody of Daikoku

Suzuki Harunobu (鈴木春信), 1725 (?) – 1770

Format, Size: Chūban nishiki-e
Signature: Unsigned (無款)
Seal: Kinoto Tori (乙酉)

In this parodic calendar print, Harunobu poses a courtesan as Daikoku seated atop a bale of rice, holding a bag of treasure in one hand and a magic mallet in the other. Hidden in the mallet are calendrical marks, indicating the short months of the year 1765. The seal, 乙酉 (2nd year of the rooster), further corroborates the dating.

In 1754, a multi-year calendar reform was completed under Tokugawa Yoshimune, who selected a Nagasaki astronomer to set up an observatory in Edo. During this period, the official observatory would seal calendrical calculations each year and send them to the bakufu, which transferred them to the Tsuchimikado House. This family “virtually controlled the distribution of calendars throughout the country.” Only they were allowed to break the seals on the astronomical calculations, which they would then annotate with auspicious and inauspicious dates and return to the bakufu. The preliminary calendars would eventually make their way to 11 calendar wholesalers who had a government-enforced oligopoly. It is unclear whether early distribution of brief calendars like Harunobu’s with only long and short months was actually illegal. The year 1765 saw a sudden burst of egoyomi, with potentially over 100 designs being produced. About half as many designs were produced in 1766, then egoyomi production returned to a trickle. There are multiple theories put forth as to what caused this outpouring of pictorial calendars, but it is clear that two private groups of literati were at the center, led by ‘Kyosen’ and ‘Sakei’ (both pen names). The former funded many of Harunobu’s early nishiki-e, including egoyomi. (Waterhouse 2013)

The colors are excellently-preserved in this rare design. The only other known instance is a later impression belonging to the Tokyo National Museum; it is sealed “狂斎主”, and lacks calendrical marks.

This design was the left half of a pair, the other half being a parody of Ebisu as a young man. Two instances of that design exist, an earlier state with calendrical marks in the Tokyo National Museum and a later state without the marks in the Spaulding collection.