A simple but mysterious subject: a young woman, very richly dressed, wearing a tall gold eboshi hat which ought to belong to a man, and carrying a pair of pails, painted with waves, on a yoke across her back. She is Shiokumi, a “salt-scooper” who carries seawater for the purpose of making salt. But why is she so elaborately dressed? Acccording to Sakura Dolls of Japan (Abston & Uchioke, 1963), she represents the daughter of a legendary lord of an inland region, who carried the salt in wartime.

Another story is the one about the 9th-century sisters, two shiokumi, who had been loved by the poet-politician Arihara Yukihara during his exile in Suma but were left with only his cloak, his hat, and a poem when he returned to the capital. This romantic story is the subject of the 14th-century Noh play Matsukaze (Pine Wind) which can be read online. In the next century this became a Kabuki play, and the dance of the shiokumi was a popular set-piece, which might be performed on its own. See John Fiorillo’s commentary on a print represented below.

This sweet young lady evokes a child, not an actor in a role.
A small 20th-c. woodblock illustration strongly resembling the doll at right; does it represent a doll, a girl, or an actor…?

A silk furoshiki depicting the Noh play Matzukaze.
A silk furoshiki depicting the Noh play Matzukaze.
A hagoita (made using oshi-e or "padded painting") showing the salt-scooper.
A hagoita (made using oshi-e or “padded painting” showing the salt-scooper.
Two salt-scooper dolls. The pottery doll suggests a kabuki or dance performance of matsukaze; the woman's robe is decorated with pine-tree motifs. The bamboo doll would not seem to represent a story at all--just a common worker--were it not for the golden cap, which reminds us of the heroines.
Two dolls representing this story. The pottery doll, who is missing her buckets, suggests a Kabuki or dance performance of Matsukaze. The bamboo doll is simpler, but wears the gold cap recalling the story.
18th-century woodblock of a performance of the role by a woman.
In this 18th-century woodblock by Shunzan, it is a woman playing the role of Matsukaze, an amateur actress, an oiran (Yoshiwara courtesan) named Asa. The performance is a collaboration between kabuki actors and courtesans for the Niwaka Festival.(Image with permission of John Fiorillo.)