Uta-e (歌絵)

The Uta-e is an elaborately designed pictorial work consisting of several illustrations depicting tools, natural phenomenon, plants and animals among other things that appear in Japanese poems, stories, and famous ceremonies, aimed at helping readers imagine and understand the backgrounds of these works.

The Uta-e is believed to have originated from the 'Ashide-e' decorating Japanese poem collections, which were meticulous pictures of landscapes relating to the poems, drawn with Indian ink. During the middle of the Edo period, as the publication of the uta-e gained momentum, an increasing number of people, including the common people, came to enjoy reading literary works like "Genji Monogatari (The Tale of Genji)" and "Ise Monogatari (The Tales of Ise)" and also enjoy light and refreshing works. The uta-e was also enjoyed as a kind of puzzle as well.

For instance, the uta-e depicting a torikabuto (a traditional hat worn when playing gagaku (ancient Japanese court dance and music)), a kaendaiko (a large drum decorated with flames), and Japanese maple leaves suggests the scene where the hero of "Genji Monogatari" performed an elegant dance "Seigaiha" (Blue Ocean Wave) donning a torikabuto under Japanese maple trees, which appears in the chapter of 'Koyo-no-ga' (An Autumn Excursion). The uta-e depicting branching bridges, and a river bank blooming with irises suggests the scene where the hero of "Ise Monogatari" is composing a poem at a place famous for its iris blossoms, which appears in the chapter of 'Higashi kudari no dan' (the Chapter of Going down to the Eastern Provinces).

In ukiyo-e, there is a category called "mitate-e" (a picture that appears to describe the mode of life in fashion, but actually describes Japanese classics and historical events), which was recognized as an advanced puzzle, covering famous historical events and stories. In "mitate-e," strong busho's (Japanese military commander) and ancient wise men were often replaced with bewitching beauties, and scenes from "Genji Monogatari' were replaced with scenes showing ordinary life during the Edo period. These mind games make it difficult to distinguish "mitate-e" from the usual fuzoku-ga (paintings depicting customs), and is a characteristic feature of the "mitate-e."