Kuniaki II (active 1835 – 1888) Spring Colours: Lion Dancers at a Mansion, 1861.
This triptych shows a group, probably Prince Genji, outside a house watching the good luck dragons during Sakura—Cherry Blossom Season. The Japanese call the lion dance shishi-mai or shiahi-odori. Japan adapted the lion dance from China in ancient times, no one knows quite when, but it mimics the Chinese version in almost every respect. The lion itself, looks like a gigantic children’s toy made from plastic… the colour and the character and the exaggerated features.
It seems to be a human characteristic to make images that are smooth, highly coloured, exaggerated in character and larger than life… things to stand in for what we love and what we fear. My six year old daughter is gripped by a love for Shopkins toys… like the Japanese lion in the print above, they stand in for something else and they evoke an immediate response… in her case delight. Whilst the lion is a terrifying animal in the flesh, the decorative paper-mache one pictured above has lost his ability to shock and has become, judging by the audience in the print, like a Shopkins strawberry, a symbol of playful delight.
The Japanese have a history of anthropomorphising common objects and making playful ‘Household Gods’ of them. In Japan this type of spirit is called Tsukumogami, (lantern spirits, sandal spirits and so on are particularly popular) and various different spirits have different types of power. In the world of Japanese folklore the artefact spirits become alive to reality and fully aware of the world when they reach the age of one hundred. I have written before about the splendid, hopping, one-legged Umbrella Demon, Kasa-obake, who has a mirror in the Shopkins range as the character Taylor Raine… it is so pleasing when things come around, time after time.