The first part of the inscription was derived from the Biyan Lu, “Blue Cliff Record,” section 65, and suggests the power of the Buddha even in his silence. The last part is a proverb: “The dog of Jie (a bad emperor) barked at Shun (a good emperor)” in its zeal to serve his master, a suggestion that the demons have no choice but to act as they do.
A demon holds a toy, a wooden horse mounted on wheels, and a bag that is labeled korokoro, “rolling, rolling.” The title inscribed on the box, Kai Sumiyoshi, “The World of Sumiyoshi,” refers to the grand Shinto shrine in Osaka that is especially popular at New Year’s. Okada Beisanjin, the painter of this charming image, had been born in Osaka and made his living as a rice merchant in that city. Beisanjin had studied Chinese literature and history as a youth and turned to painting only fairly late in life. A good friend of Tanomura Chikudan (1777-1835) and Uragami Gyokudo (1745-1820), Beisanjin was one of the most influential of those who followed Chinese styles in painting, his house a focal point for Nanga artists. Most of Beisanjin’s landscapes are highly structured, with disciplined brushwork, while in the present portrayal of one of the Sumiyoshi souvenirs, an image that is possibly based on an Otsu-e Demon, the brushwork is lively and spontaneous, capturing something of the excitement, happiness, and noise of a shrine celebration.