signed Toyokuni ga with publisher's seal Waka (Wakasaya Yoichi of Jakurindo), ca. 1796
aiban tate-e 13 1/4 by 9 in., 33.5 by 22.9 cm
A beauty seated at a writing table prepares to write a wish upon a narrow slip of paper which will be used as an ornament to hang on a bamboo decoration for the Tanabata Festival. On the desk are her necessary implements: a small inkstone and ink stick, additional brushes, a water dropper in the shape of a teapot, and extra paper in an array of colors. On the floor there is a small pile of decorative paper with completed (or rejected) wishes already inscribed on the top sheets. She pauses, brush in hand, and turns to confer with a companion seated at her side who holds open a copy of a poetry anthology, Ehon Hyakunin shu (Picture Book of One Hundred Poets). Branches of bamboo with Tanabata Festival ornaments are illustrated above within the reserve defined by a stylized cloud.
The Tanabata Festival (or Star Festival), held on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month, is based on a legend associated with a celestial event- the meeting of the Vega star and the Altair star across the Milky Way, described in the legend of the married lovers, Orihime (the Weaving Princess, or the Vega star), and Hikoboshi (the Herdsman, or the Altair star). The pair were separated by Orihime's father, Tentei ('heavenly king') after they married because he was angry the Princess had stopped weaving her beautiful silks and Hikoboshi was neglecting his cows. He placed the Amanogawa River (a river of stars, ie. the Milky Way) between them and forbade the two to meet. He was eventually moved by his daughter's tears and relented, allowing them to reunite once a year on the seventh day of the seventh month.
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (www.mfa.org), accession no. RES.49.154