Karako Children Playing Games
Item number: T-3222.1
Era: Edo period (1615-1868)
ca. 18th Century
Pair of six-panel folding screens: Ink, mineral colors, gofun and gold on paper with gold leaf.
Each: H 43.5" x W 101.4" (110.5 x 257.5 cm)
A remarkable Japanese pair of screens, depicting festive scenes of karako Chinese boys playing outdoors in a palace garden. The boys are playing a multitude of games, on the right screen: cock fighting, hobby-horse riding, emperor acting, dancing, playing music, pulling a flower wagon, playing blind man's bluff, and card playing. On the left screen: performing with a monkey, rowing on garden lake, fishing, playing music, dancing, reciting, serving food, pulling a lion wagon, playing acrobats, and lighting firecrackers. All actions are set against a sumptuously decorated garden palace structure with multitudes of fine details.
The idea of depicting many boys on a screen has a number of meanings. For one thing, the theme goes back to an older East Asian tradition of boys bringing good fortune: here, of course, many boys would bring that much more good luck. Furthermore, the boys are all clearly non-Japanese, in fact, they are clad in what was imagined to be Chinese clothing at the time, and are playing in a palace with distinctly non-Japanese architectural features, for example, the multi-colored checkerboard tiles. The setting is, in fact, an imagined China and the many children play in an exotic location where the intrinsically unreal situation can be explained by an appeal to exoticism.
Judging from extant examples, the painting topic of playing Chinese boys was a distinctly popular painting theme for the Kano school. The paintings were typically commissioned in one of three variations: 1) boys in companionship of beautiful Chinese women, combining two popular themes: Chinese boys and beautiful women; 2) as a parody of classical themes, such as the Four Scholarly Accomplishments; and 3) of boys playing various games. In the present
 Also called the Four Arts (四藝) or the Four Arts of the Chinese Scholar, this is a term used to describe four main accomplishments required of the Chinese scholar gentleman. They are: playing the qin (a musical instrument), playing qi (a board game), brushing calligraphy, and composing paintings.
 Examples of all three types can be seen in: Edo Tokyo Museum 江戸東京博物館, ed. 「狩野派の三百年」 Kano-ha no sanbyaku nen. Tokyo: Edo Tokyo Museum 江戸東京博物館, 1998, pp. 52-3, 58-59, and 64-5.