Draft for a Boys’ Day Banner
Hand painted

This draft for a Boys’ Day banner is so long it had to be divided into two photographs. Made of several layers and lengths of paper delicately glued together to appear seamless, it depicts legendary hero Susanoo no Mikoto preparing to slay Yamata no Orochi, the eight-headed dragon who has come to devour Kushi-inada-hime, the last of eight daughters, seven of whom were already devoured by the dragon. Susanoo no Mikoto defeats the dragon by offering it eight vessels of sake. When Yamata no Orochi falls asleep drunk, Susanoo no Mikoto kills it, and wins the daughter for his wife. (For the full story of Susanoo no Mikoto and Yamata no Orochi, as translated from the seventh century Kojiki, see the Wikipedia entry.)

The challenge of making effective banners lies in distilling the highlights of the story and cramming them into a very unnaturally sized canvas. The story of the eight-headed dragon really demands a panorama (see the triptych woodblock print by Chikanobu, below), yet the artist who drafted this banner has managed to bring the story to life in a very narrow frame. The viewer does not need to see all eight heads or all eight vessels of sake to recognize the story or to know what is about to happen. This draft scene would eventually be handpainted on a cotton banner, and displayed outside the family home in commemoration of Boys’ Day.

Even though this is a draft, the artist seems to have filled in every detail, going so far as to paint in individual hairs on Susanoo no Mikoto’s head, eyebrows and beard. He wears freeflowing clothes, a necklace and a bracelet, he is bearded and his hair is undressed, all clues that the artist is referring to the Japan of ancient times.

Note how pale Kushi-inada-hime is in comparison to her champion, emphasizing her delicacy and high status. Below, the Chikanobu triptych of the same legend.