Shinobazu Pond
(Shinobazu no Ike 不忍池)
Shinobazu pond, located in today’s Ueno Park, stood in the Edo period at the foot of the enormous Kan’eiji Temple complex, parts of which can be seen on the background hills. Founded in 1625, Kan’eiji was the funerary temple and burial-place of six Tokugawa rulers. Shinobazu pond was a popular summer destination for the gorgeous masses of red and white lotus blossoms that covered its surface. People flocked here to enjoy the view and the food and to conduct discreet dalliances at the many small “lotus-viewing teahouses” (hasumi-chaya) clustered around its edge and on the small island with its shrine to the goddess Benten. The print shows an elegant couple on the verandah of the shrine watching two merchants and a young servant in a skiff collecting lotus leaves used to make the dish of rice steamed in fragrant lotus leaves (hasunoha-meshi), a popular item in the local restaurants. Women of dubious character known as hasuppa-onna, “lotus-leaf ladies” worked as waitresses in such establishments and the poems play on this simile. The pen-names used by the poets suggest that they were likely restaurant-owners in the area.

  Shinobazu Pond 
Island shrine to Benten in Shinobazu Pond (Edo meisho zue, 1837)
Shinobazu Pond and Kan'eiji Temple

1. 末広菴長清 Suehiro-an Nagakiyo [Nagakiyo of the Suehiro-an restaurant]


hayaoki no 
jimangokoro ni
hana mireba

itsushi ka okishi
hasu no shiratsuyu
So proud of myself
for getting out so early

to look at these blooms;
but the dew on the lotuses -
how early was it out?

2. 涼窓亭裏風 Ryōsōtei Urakaze [Wind from Below the Pavilion of Cool Windows restaurant]
Benten no
yō na musume no 
hasuha ka mo
hitome shinobu ka
oka yori zo miru
Do the girlish lotus leaves,
like the goddess Benten herself,
hide themselves
from people’s eyes
staring from the hills?
The word shinobu (“to hide from”) in the fourth line puns on the name of Shinobazu Pond, whose characters mean literally “Pond of No Concealment.” The word hasuha (alt. hasuppa) means both “lotus leaves” and “women of dubious virtue.”

3. 無能菴山猿 Munōan Yamazaru [Mountain Monkey of the Munō-an restaurant]

hijiriko no
naka fumi-komete
toru hasu no  
ike wa Ueno no

yama no ashimoto

Through the hills of Ueno
lies the way through the
muck into which
one must step to pluck
the pure lotus from the pond.
Hijiriko is the word used in the Lotus Sutra for the foul muck of the world from which grows the ethereal pure lotus, primary symbol of the Buddha. But this lofty allusion conceals a more mundane reference to the male visitors who come to pluck the women of easy virtue employed in the tea-houses around the pond.

4. 桜川亭近樹 Sakuragawa-tei Chikaki [Near the Sakuragawa-tei restaurant]
saki hasu no
hana wa kunshi to
homuru to mo
toku ni tatouru
kaze wa ito heri
The flowering lotus
may be praised as
“the prince of flowers,”
but the virtue of the simile
decreases with the winds of fashion.
A proverb says, “The lotus is the prince of flowers” (hasu wa hana no kunshi) ; its “virtue” is represented by its sweet smell, but once the wind dies down its scent cannot compete with the rank odor of the muck in which it grows.