Two figures, the larger male, the smaller female, appear isolated on a ground surrounded by peach blossoms and branches. Approximating the visual appearance of a scroll mounted in regular fashion, the “mounting” and painting are actually the work of the same artist, painting on the same silk, achieving a classical unity of time and space.
According to legend, in a palace on Mount Hinaru in the Land of Koshi (now the Hino Shrine on Mount Hino, Echizen province), twin male and female deities were born holding a certain type of fruit. Planted in the courtyard, three years later, on the third day of the third month, it had grown into a tree bearing hundreds of blossoms and fruits. The tree, its blossoms and fruit, were called momo (“hundreds,” now meaning “peach”). In honor of the tree and its fruit, the young male deity was called “Momo-hina-gi” (gi =ki =tree) and the female “Momo-hina-mi” (mi =fruit). Hina (hi-na, “one to seven”) meant that they were not yet adults (hi-to, “one to ten”).
On reaching adulthood, Momohinagi became the fourth generation male deity Ubichini, and accepted his sister as his most beloved wife Subichi. Until the third generation marriage had been polygamous, based on night visitation. Ubichini and Subichi initiated the institution of matrimony, and thus the beginnings of the Hina Doll Festival, celebrated each year on the third day of the third month. Peaches are a time-honored emblem of longevity, fecundity, and apotropaic efficacy in dispelling evil spirits, and thus relate to an earlier custom of floating straw hina dolls between the Takano and Amor Rivers to pray for the safety of children.
There are two artists who used the name Tangai during this period, and it is difficult to determine which was the author of our painting. The style of the present painting is very close to that of Maruyama Okyo (1733-95), who is also known to have painted such scenes (fig. 1). Proportions of the figures are roughly the same, and it is mainly the difference in textile patterns and the more elaborate designs of the Okyo that differentiate the two works. Takai Tangai, named Uroko and called Shujun, was a Shijo school follower of Okyo working in Kyoto during the Bunka era (1804-18), while Watanabe Tangai was a follower of Okyo in Kyoto as well; the Heian Jinbutsu shi records his name for the years 1838, 1852, and 1867, indicating a slightly later period of activity than that of Takai Tagai. Given the unusual rendition of the “mounting” of the work, it seem that the later artist is more likely to have created this charming image.
Fig. 1. Okyo: “Hina Dolls,” after Okyo, Osaka Municipal Museum, 2003, cat. 28.