Select Five Elements

(Mitate go gyō, 見たて五行)

Publisher: Sano-ya Kihei



In this series of triptychs, Prince Genji is seen with beautiful women is various stings.  The series is listed as number 139 in Kuniyoshi by Basil William Robinson (Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1961).  The individual sheets of these triptychs are each about 14 by 10 inches (36 by 25 centimeters), a size known as ōban. 


Kuniyoshi - Select Five Elements (Mitate go gyō),wood, Prince Genji entertains two bijin disguised as Nuns in the rain

Title: Wood (ki)

Description: Prince Genji entertains two beauties disguised as Nuns under a tree in the rain

Publisher: Sano-ya Kihei


NOTE: Chapter 49 is titled Yadorigi, which literally means “mistletoe”, but may also mean “sheltering”.  Mistletoe is a woody plant, but the image is one of sheltering from the rain under a tree.

Title: Fire (hi), The Fishing Fire (Kagaribi)

Description: Prince Genji and three beauties under a blossoming cherry trees on a river bank at night looking at fish in a tub, with cormorant fishermen in their boats with torches (to attract the fish) in the background. This refers to Chapter 27 (Kagaribi) of Genji monogatari.

Publisher: Sano-ya Kihei

I am grateful to Robert Pryor for this alternate state of the above design.

Title: Earth (tsuchi, )

Description: Genji at window

Publisher: Sano-ya Kihei

 Sheet from another state of the above triptych

Title: Metal (kane)

Description: Prince Genji, sitting on a veranda by a peony garden with female attendants

Publisher: Sano-ya Kihei

Another state of the above design

Title: Water (sui, ): A Drifting Boat (ukifune)

Description: Genji and two beauties watching ducks from a boat drifting on a snowy river

Publisher: Sano-ya Kihei


NOTE: This triptych is an allusion to chapter 51 (Ukifune) in which the lovers prince Niou and Ukifune (浮船) elope by boat in the middle of winter.


“Robinson” indicates listing in Kuniyoshi by Basil William Robinson, 1961, Victoria and Albert Museum, London.