Success and Renown All the Way

About this object

For artists such as Katei who worked in the Chinese-inspired mode, there was a large repertoire of set themes that possessed auspicious meaning. Many of these themes were based on similar sounding words in Chinese, or homonyms. Even though the Japanese language is unrelated to Chinese, Japan had adopted the Chinese writing system in the 6th century together with Chinese-style readings of the characters. As a result, even if pronounced somewhat differently from the Chinese, the homonyms were preserved in the Japanese language. For men and women who appreciated the artworks, these themes provided a shared language hidden from untrained eyes. This system presented students with a large amount of knowledge to acquire, and Katei contributed to a book published in 1886 explaining the themes to trainee painters.

In this particular theme, the phrase 'lone egret' sounds similar to 'all the way,' and the image of a bird battling the wind and driving rain to return to its nest in the willow tree symbolizes the struggles which a young man would go through in order to pass the examinations for the scholar-official class in China, the pinnacle of professional success. Even if this precise symbolism did not apply in Japan, the overall meaning of success was understood by educated viewers, imbuing an attractive painting with a deeper meaning.
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