New Year’s Charm Vendor Tanzaku

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元旦のあしたけさう文うるミて
人ミなの 春のこ々ろや さそうふらん
かざしのうめも 匂ふ明けぼの
蓮月七十八才
Upon seeing a good luck charm vendor* on  New Year’s Day morning

Surely all are
Enticed by the
Heart of spring—
As we smell plum blossoms on display,
And watch a brilliant sunrise.

Rengetsu, age 78.

* In Edo Japan, colorfully dressed wandering vendors in Kyoto went around the city selling keso-bumi, goodluck charms, hanging from plum blossom branches from January 1 to the 15th. Keso-bumi literally means “love letter” and in the New Year season, the folded letters are sold primarily  to young maidens who keep them as charms in their mirrors and in their cabinets. Such keso-bumi  are believed to bring young ladies beauty, fine clothing, and good fortune in finding a mate. “Plum blossoms on display” refers to the flowers on the branches the vendors carry and the blossoms that adorn the maiden’s hair.

Painting by Rengetsu of a vendor in a traditional costume selling keso-bumi during the New Year.
Painting by Rengetsu of a vendor in a traditional costume selling keso-bumi during the New Year.

This tanzaku is signed and sealed on the back by Tomioka Tessai, indicating that it was part of his personal collection or had some special meaning for him. (Rengetsu was Tessai’s mentor when he was a young man.)

Date: Meiji, 1868
Media: Ink on paper
Size: 14-1/4″ x 2-3/8″
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