Cartoon for Boys’ Day Banner

This tattered cartoon for a Boys’ Day banner, in excess of twenty feet long, has to be presented in three separate photographs.

The artist’s challenge is to tell a well known story so that it is instantly recognizable in an extremely narrow space.

Several hints identify this cartoon immediately as the story of Urashima Taro. Most important are the box in Urashima’s hand – this was given to him by the sea princess he saved. In his hand is a fishing pole, since he is a fisherman, and at his feet are two turtles.

Urashima’s luxurious clothing is inappropriate for a fisherman, but not for a fisherman who has rescued a princess. The bearded man at the head of the cartoon is the sea king, who has rewarded Urashima with high ranking clothing and other gifts commensurate with the value of Urashimas’ good deed.

The sea king’s crown looks very similar to the crown worn by the king of the Kingdom of Ryukyu (current day Okinawa), which was geographically close to China, and interacted more regularly with China than did mainland Japan. He holds a peach, which in China was a symbol of immortality. Immortality was one of the gifts granted to Urashima for rescuing the sea princess. In imperial China, long nails such as the sea king’s were evidence of wealth and power, since members of the elite did no physical labor, having servants, and did not need efficient hands.

In the above photograph, the names or abbreviations of color names can be seen written in katakana, so the colorist can follow the artist’s instructions. (Double click for a better view.)  This variation on the paint-by-number technique can sometimes be seen even in textiles dating back to the seventeenth century. On silk, the color name was written in aobana (blueflower). A fugitive dye, the aobana markings would disappear during the rinsing process. Since this is a paper cartoon, and not the final product, the color names are written in ink.

The face that appears on Urashima’s sleeve might be graffiti, or perhaps it was the germ of an idea that the artist abandoned. It was not meant to be part of the design of the sleeve, and would not be copied onto the final cloth banner.

The highly stylized sun near the top of the cartoon, as well as its vibrant red color, indicate that this cartoon probably dates to the end of the 19th century or beginning of the 20th.