From the top of the composition the kingfisher appears to dive into the blooms of blue and white hydrangeas below. The bird will find no water at the base of these flowers, yet the poem lends a clue to the kingfisher’s confusion. Written between flowers the haiku reads, “Hydrangeas/ They do not bloom in water/ Yet, seem to hold it.” Blooming during tsuyu, or the rainy season in Japan, hydrangeas are associated with water. Hiroshige renders the blooms without an outline, echoing the sentiment expressed in the haiku. This work is considered a true masterwork of Hiroshige’s kacho-e, or “bird-and-flower pictures.” As he combines word and image, the work becomes a lyrical evocation of flora, fauna, and seasonal beauty. Like many of Hiroshige’s kacho-e, this design was printed in multiple impressions by different publishers.
Other impressions of this print can be found in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and Honolulu Museum of Art. Poem translation from Hokusai and Hiroshige: Great Japanese Prints from the James A. Michener Collection.