Utagawa Hiroshige, 1797–1858
Bonito and Cherry Leaves
From the series Various Fish, 1832–33
Color woodblock print (nishiki-e)
Gift of Louis W. Hill, Jr. P.75.51.584
Cat. no. 246

The combination of a bonito with twigs of cherry suggests early summer, when cherry trees begin to fruit and the season’s first bonitos are caught. Both of the poems on this print refer to hatsu-gatsuo (first bonito), the first catch of the season. Traditionally, the Japanese place a high value on hatsu-mono (first foods), the earliest fruits, vegetables, or fish of a particular season. The “first bonito” was the most prized of all and commanded a high price. People anticipated this seasonal delicacy with much excitement, as described in the poems.

Look at the color of the first bonitos!
They are as blue as
morning glories.
No wonder they come along to market
before the sun rises.
–Toshinokado Haruki

The first bonito
caught on the beach
near the place called Under Snow
melts like snow in my mouth.
How tasty it is!
–Toshiiori Machikado