What is this painting about and how was it viewed?
This painting depicts annual festivities associated with the twelve months. It is in a handscroll format, which means it was held in the viewer’s hands and read like a book. Opening the scroll at the right, the reader would gradually unroll the scroll with their left hand revealing each scene like the sequences of a movie. When ready to move onto the next scene, the right hand would roll up the scroll at right as the left continued to roll out new images on the left, so the total length of open scroll remained comfortably between the right and left hands. There are twelve distinct scenes separated from each other by empty space and landscape elements such as trees or hills.
New Year’s in Japan
This slide represents the first scene in the scroll, the festivities at New Year. New Year’s in Japan is a family festival, one of the most important events of the year. It is a time to eat, drink, play, and pray for good things in the coming year. The New Year celebration involves visits to temples and shrines, special auspicious decorations, and eating special foods. The concept of renewal, based on Shinto beliefs developed around the cyclical nature of life, is fundamental to New Year’s in Japan.
What is going on here?
Children are playing a variety of games associated with the New Year. At far right, a woman and two girls play a Japanese version of “Cat’s Cradle” with a baby. Below them, two girls play ball. To the left of them, a small boy winds up to throw a top. Two girls play a game of shuttle cock with specially decorated paddles. Behind them, two boys play a ball game with special New Year’s bats. New Year’s decorations can be seen hanging from the eaves of the house. Behind the women in a recessed alcove, is a tray with a New Year’s offering of mochi, a sticky rice treat, and pine decorations. The plum blossoms tell us this is the first blush of spring, comparable to February in California. Japanese followed the Chinese lunar calendar until the modern era, so New Year’s celebrations generally occurred in February.
- New Year’s Activities Discussion. What games and activities are associated with New Year or other holidays in the US? What was important about the recent New Year celebration?
- Create your own handscroll calendar.
- Glue together sheets of paper end to end and attach each end to a tube or stick of bamboo.
- Draw or paint a scene for each of the twelve months starting with January on the far right and ending with December on the left. In each scene depict the major holidays (these can be of personal significance such as birthdays or national holidays) and seasonal references associated with each month. You may also include text in your handscroll.