The actor playing the role of Ashikaga
Yorikane (足利頼兼) is easily identifiable because his robe is often decorated either
with sparrows or bamboo and sparrows combined. The pairing of these two elements
is used on the crest (mon - 紋 or もん) of the Date clan. However, this motif does not
always guarantee the absolute identification of this figure because we have
seen a Kuniyoshi with a beautiful woman standing on a beach and wearing
clothing with the same design. Perhaps this is an obtuse allusion to Yorikane, but at this point proving it is beyond our scholarship.
Students of art history are familiar with
such iconographic short cuts: a man on a cross is usually Jesus (イエス); a man being
barbecued on a grill is St. Lawrence (セントローレンス); a man studiously reading with a docile
lion lying nearby is St. Jerome (サンジェローム); a woman standing by a wheel with blade like
spikes coming out of it is St. Catherine of Alexandria (セントカサリン.アレグザンドリア) and so on. Similar
cues can be found in both sacred and profane Asian art.
John W. Dower in The Elements of
Japanese Design (p. 99) states:
"Like the lion and peony...the sparrow is
commonly depicted with bamboo. The association is a natural one, since
flocks of sparrows commonly alight in the bamboo groves..."
Merrily Baird in Symbols of Japan
(pp. 118-119) notes that there are early poetic references to sparrows and
bamboo. "The bird is said to be obsessed with its honor, especially the
repaying of debts.... Nearly three dozen family crests are based on the