Takashima Chiharu 高島千春 and Totoya Hokkei 魚屋北渓, Tokiwa no taki 得吉方廼滝, 1833

Artist: Takashima Chiharu 高島千春 and Totoya Hokkei 魚屋北渓

Title: Tokiwa no taki 得吉方廼滝

Date: 1833 (Tenpō 4)

Medium: Woodblock printed ōbon

Measurements: 17.4 x 25.2 cm

Publisher: not specified

Arthur Tress Collection of Japanese Illustrated Books. Box 17, Item 4:



Dated to 1833 in its preface, Tokiwa no taki (The Everlasting Waterfalls of Tokiwa) was a sequel to Mitsu no tomo-e  from the previous year. This kyōka poetry book contains New Year’s mitsumono (three-link verse) by the Yomo poetry group. Two artists each contributed one illustration to the volume; Chiharu designed a scene of “Springtime at the Waterfall Pavilion” and Hokkei furnished a bucolic view of “Autumn Leaves at Takinogawa.”

Hokkei’s composition is especially dynamic. A family journeys across a narrow bridge spanning a richly cerulean river rippled with silver. The man waves a puppet playfully to distract the young child carried on his mother’s back. On shore, two men admire foliage of a nearby tree. An ombré of gold bands the sky, capping the autumnal landscape and underscoring the care and expense of the book’s manufacture.

The seasonal imagery resonates with the accompanying poems, which also take on themes of flowers and autumn leaves. Four openings at the beginning of the book list the poetry submissions across blue and white rectangular forms, evocative of tanzaku (hanging poetry slips), which are further accented with cherry blossom and maple branches. The original light blue cover exhibits aqueous motifs including a dark blue wave.

Totoya Hokkei (1780—1850) was a student of Hokusai, and a prominent and prolific contributor to ukiyo-e in his own right. Born in Edo, Hokkei’s oeuvre encompasses a variety of works, including book illustration, brocade prints, erotica, and private commission surimono. In addition to their work for Tokiwa no taki, both Takashima Chiharu (1777-1859)  and Hokkei designed prints for Mitsu no tomo-e (the series’ first installment)utilizing a similar color palate and high quality of execution.

Other copies:

The Pulverer Collection, Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Washington, D.C.

The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston,The Harvard Art Museums and the Art Institute of Chicago, include Hokkei’s illustration as a single print.

Selected reading:

Jack Hillier, The Art of the Japanese Book, 2 vols. (London: Sotheby’s Publications, 1987), vol. 2, 836–7.

Suzuki Jun, commentary, Tokiwa no takihttp://pulverer.si.edu/node/434/title/1 (accessed November 12, 2019)



Submitted by Zoe Coyle, November 14, 2019

Torii Kiyomitsu 鳥居清満, Maihime nidai hachinoki 娜二代鉢木, 1774

photo of books covers
Maihime nidai hachinoki, fascicle 1 cover (left) and bound fascicles 3-5 (right).

Artist: Torii Kiyomitsu I (Japanese, 1735-1785)

Title: Maihime nidai hachinoki (Second Generation Hachinoki)

Date: n.d. [1774]

Publisher: Urokogataya Magobei

Descripton: woodblock printed book, black ink; paper covers; pouch binding; 18.3 cm tall; 13 cm wide; includes fascicle 1 + bound fascicles 3–5 (each fascicle is 10 pages + cover)

Category: pictorial fiction, aohon (blue blook)

Location: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Arthur Tress Collection, Box 29, Item 17.

Gift of Arthur Tress

Maihime nidai hachinoki (Second Generation Hachinoki) is a derivation of Hachi no ki (The Potted Trees), a 14th c. story also adapted for Noh and Kabuki theater. Kiyomitsu’s rendering of the story follows the supernatural travails of the adult children of samurai Tsuneyo.

To spare expense, kusa-zoshi (smaller pictorial books) were printed in black ink only, and often later hand-colored by the owner of the book. Serial stories were sold in separate installments or in volumes of 2-3 fascicles. The lower cost of production enabled a wider audience to buy books, rather than borrow.[1]

Publisher Urokogataya’s mark of triangles (pulled from his seal) appears on the title strip of bound fascicles 3-5, as well as on the first page of each fascicle. Fascicles 1, 4, and 5 have cover plate illustrations that are more crudely drawn copies of interior illustrations. The physical characteristics of the book, publication date, as well as sophisticated content, place it in the later aohon (blue book) category of kusa-zoshi, [2] though the recycled paper cover has faded from blue to tan.

Throughout the book are pictorial references to the original story, such as Tsuneyo’s armor; a framed painting of the traveling monk; a scene of the siblings at home with the three potted trees in the foreground; and kimono decorated with plum, cherry, and pine blossoms.[3]

Artist Torii Kiyomitsu I was the third leader of the Torii School for painting and printing, based in Edo. While the school remained rooted in theatrical publications, Kiyomitsu expanded the Torii style with multiple color woodblock printing and with a lighter, graceful style in his own work. Though he is best known for his actor and beauty prints,[4] he and other leading print artists also illustrated these early comic books related to the stage.[5]

Other copies can be found in the National Diet Library Digital Collections, and Harvard Yenching Library.

Selected reading:
Kimbrough, R. Keller. “Illustrating the Classics: The Otogizōshi Lazy Tarō in Edo Pictorial Fiction.” Japanese Language and Literature, vol. 42, no. 1, 2008.

Robert J. Baran, “Hachi-No-Ki, A Perspective,” ABS Bonsai Journal, Vol. 26, Summer 1992.

Lane, Richard Douglas. Images From the Floating World: The Japanese Print. New York: Dorset, 1982.

Kern, Adam L. “Kabuki Plays on Page—and Comicbook Pictures on Stage—in Edo-Period Japan.” Publishing the Stage, edited by Keller Kimbrough & Satoko Shimazaki.

[1] Kimbrough, R. Keller. “Illustrating the Classics: The Otogizōshi Lazy Tarō in Edo Pictorial Fiction.” Japanese Language and Literature, vol. 42, no. 1, 2008, pp. 257–304. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/30198062.

[2] Ibid., 257.

[3] Baran, Robert J. “Hachi-No-Ki, A Perspective,” ABS Bonsai Journal, Vol. 26, Summer 1992, pp. 3-4, 23. The potted trees are Ume (Plum), Sakura (Cherry), and Matsu (Pine).

[4] Lane, Richard Douglas. Images From the Floating World: The Japanese Print. New York: Dorset, 1982, p. 89.

[5] Kern, Adam L. “Kabuki Plays on Page—and Comicbook Pictures on Stage—in Edo-Period Japan.” Publishing the Stage, edited by Keller Kimbrough & Satoko Shimazaki. Center of Asian Studies, 2011, pp. 168, 172.

Posted by Catherine Gontarek
October 8, 2019


Totoya Hokkei 魚屋北渓, Sansai tsuki hyakushu 三才月百首, 1829

Artist: Totoya Hokkei (1780–1850)

Author: Asakusaan Itchibito (aka Asakusa no Ichibito; Sensoan Ichindo)

Title: Sansai tsuki hyakushu
“Three Aspects of the Moon: Collection of One Hundred Verses”

Date: 1826

Publisher: Shun’yūtei

Description: 1 volume with pouch binding; modern case

Medium: Woodblock printed ink and hand coloring on paper; paper cover

Format: hanshibon

Dimensions: 22.5 x 16.2 cm

Location: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Arthur Tress Collection. Box 1, Item 4.

Gift of Arthur Tress

Sansai tsuki hyakushu is a volume of kyōka poetry from a trilogy on the popular theme of setsugekka (snow, moon, flowers). Following the preface, three illustrations by Totoya Hokkei are spread across six pages, along with verse from the Asakusa poetry group. Both the poetry and commissioned illustration interpret the autumnal moon through the concepts of heaven, earth, and man. [1]

Hokkei was a painter and printer who illustrated almost one hundred kyōka collections and other books, and is well known for his single sheet surimono designs. He first studied under Kano Yosen’in and later with Katsushika Hokusai. [2]

Privately published surimono prints and books were created for exchange, sometimes in celebration of the New Year, and in this case perhaps Tsukimi or “moon viewing”—a holiday that honors autumn’s harvest moon. Collections of kyōka were often the result of a competitive writing event, as seen in this volume with three judge’s rankings at the beginning of each poem. Selected by Asakusaan, leader of the Asakusa Group, the top poems appear on the illustrated pages, with the rest printed on following pages in single vertical lines, ranked within each theme. [3]

The sly humor of kyōka often referenced classical themes and literature. Although we have not interpreted the verse (written in kana) the kanji text on the illustrated pages offers clues to the poets’ and Hokkei’s inspiration. Motifs common to all three compositions include the use of positive-negative space for duality, movement/migration indicating passage of time, the moon’s embodiment of reflection/illumination, and groupings of three.

The first illustration shows the heavenly moon in a night sky, partially obscured by silhouetted pine tree foliage, yet illuminating three pine branches in positive relief. The layering of the branches in shades of grey suggests wind and movement, and introduces the idea of time passing. The small area of visible sky is inked in a blue-to-grey ombré; a subtle shade of green appears in the pine needles. Overall, the palette is fairly muted in the style of benigirai-e, with large areas left unprinted or lightly tinted, allowing space for verse. However, the strength of color tints increases through the subsequent illustrations and signal different times of day.

The number of moons increases as well. In the second illustration, though we see only the moon’s reflection in a body of water, it is understood the actual moon is also present, just out of sight. Three chidori (plovers) swoop across the page, leading us to the moon on earth in the well of a wave. There are touches of pale pink in the mouths of the birds, as well as traces of yellow in their beaks and feathers. The waves are tinted with grey and tan.

Finally, the third illustration depicts three moons: we follow a pilgrimage under a moon that is barely visible, yet illuminates two round kasa hats, one glowing brightly atop a kago litter, the other, pale pink, worn by one of the travelers. Descending geese (a popular motif in Japanese painting and prints) are portrayed simultaneously in silhouette against the sky and as shadow over the landscape. Autumnal motifs are represented by the migration of the geese the travelers, and the full moons. The coloring culminates in stronger tints of all colors introduced on the previous pages.

[1] Hillier, J, and Langley Iddins. The Art of the Japanese Book. London: Sotheby’s Publications, 1987, p. 835.

[2] Marks, Andreas. Japanese Woodblock Prints : Artists, Publishers, and Masterworks, 1680-1900. Tokyo: Tuttle, 2010, p. 114.

[3] Kok, D. P. Visualizing the Classics: Reading Surimono and Kyoka Books as Social and Cultural History. Leiden University. Oct. 10, 2017, p. 69.

Other collections

The Gerhard Pulverer Collection
The British Museum
Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Institut national d’histoire de l’art (INHA)

Further reading

Hillier, Jack Ronald. The Art of the Japanese Book. London: Sotheby’s Publications, 1987.

Kok, D. P. Visualizing the Classics: Reading Surimono and Kyoka Books as Social and Cultural History. Leiden University. Oct. 10, 2017


Posted by Catherine Gontarek
November 20, 2019


Utagawa Hiroshige 歌川広重, Fujimi hyakuzu 無題 [富士見百図], 1859

Artist: Utagawa Hiroshige 歌川広重 (1797-1858)

Title: Fujimi hyakuzu 無題 [富士見百図]

Date of Publication: 1859 (Ansei 6).

Publisher: Nagoya: Eirakuya Tōshirō

Medium: Woodblock printed, ink and color on paper.

Dimensions: Hanshibon: 21.7 × 15.5 cm

Gift of Arthur Tress

Kislak Center for Special Collections – Arthur Tress Collection. Box 16, Item 10.

The Fujimi hyakuzu in the Tress collection is illustrated by Utagawa Hiroshige, showing twenty double page illustrations in color with Mt. Fuji seen from various locations, and two single page illustrations. There are two preface sheets and two additional illustrations. The publisher is identified in this copy as the Nagoya publisher, Eirakuya Tōshirō (copies at The Met and the Smithsonian do not include this information). Fujimi means places where Mt. Fuji may be seen, thus, the subject of the book is Mt. Fuji and the changing landscape around the mountain. Many of the images show a gradient in the water and the sky, demonstrating the skill of the publishers.

Hiroshige is best known for his first set of great landscape prints The Fifty-three Stations of the Tōkaidō Road (ca. 1832), that captured a time of day and season in a specific space on the Tōkaidō road. After his success with this project, Hiroshige continued to create series-based artworks, and the Fujimi hyakuzu is a representative of this continued exploration in his body of work. This is also important because the title Fugaku shinkei, Real Views of Mount Fuji, is given on the covers of this book. Hiroshige also mentions in his preface that Hokusai’s Fugaku hyakkei is great work but having been created compositionally, it is not as representational but is more interpretive, and the mountain was secondary in the work. Hiroshige explains that his images, by contrast, are based on sketches of the actual representational views. The intention is to show views to individuals who do not have access to these spaces.

Hiroshige presents the images in a diptych-like fashion, spanning both pages; it suggests that he made a conscious choice to divide the landscape this way. This could be for artistic discretion, or a publisher’s choice given how the woodblock prints would work best for printing at the hanshibon size.

The gutter between the images separates them, and this separation of the images on each page gives each picture an identity. They thus could work as standalone artworks. Yet the images also serve as a single overall image connecting each page together when the book is open. The double page images bleed into each other, past their borders, thus completing the total landscape. This juxtaposition in the landscape works in two ways. First, the borders are conterminous, meaning there is a gestalt to the two single images completing the whole image. Second, the images function as if the viewer was looking through a window, or at images in a frame. This is why the diptych function is useful when describing the artwork in Fujimi hyakuzu (Toda, p. 300)

Other Copies of the Book: 

  • Pulverer Collection, Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Washington DC http://pulverer.si.edu/node/1046/title/1
  • Smithsonian Libraries https://library.si.edu/digital-library/book/fujimihyakuzu00ando
  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/78616

Additional Reading:

  • Toda, K. Descriptive catalogue of Japanese and Chinese illustrated books in the Ryerson Library of the Art Institute of Chicago. Mansfield Centre, CT: Martino.

Posted by Derek Rodenbeck

April 15th, 2020

Utagawa Hiroshige 歌川広重 Kyōka shiki jinbutsu 狂歌四季人物 ca. 1855

Artist: Utagawa Hiroshige 歌川広重 (1797 – 1859)

Period: Edo (1615 – 1868)

Editor: Tenmei Rōjin

Publisher: Unknown

Date: 1855 (Ansei 2)

Medium: Full color, woodblock

Illustrated by Utagawa Hiroshige, Kyōka shiki jinbutsu is an exercise in seasonality. Focusing on the coming of the New Year, Hiroshige pairs kyōka poetry and illustrations, capturing scenes from daily life: boisterous salesman shout and deliver sake, children play with kites, and traveling book lenders plod through the streets, their backs burdened by piles upon piles of books.

In addition to capturing these tableaux of the everyday, Hiroshige also depicts the specific seasonal activities of townspeople in response to the themes set by the poets. In an opening about the events for the New Year, the right side shows two men trading barbs in the back-and-forth comedy style of manzai, while across the page a woman writes her first calligraphy of the year (kakizome). Another scene presents the protective dances (daikagura) performed to Shintō gods near the turn of the New Year by traveling priests from Ise Shrine. In the opening shown here, the poets write verses on two summer themes—goldfish-selling and large fireworks displays—matched by Hiroshige with images that seem observed from life. 

Hiroshige grew up in a minor samurai family and was bestowed with the artistic name Hiroshige after only a year apprenticing with the celebrated Utagawa Toyohiro (1773-1828). He was one of the most prolific illustrators of the first half of the nineteenth century, sponsored by publishers with series on the stations of the Tōkaidō road, famous sites of the city of Edo, and other landscape themes. Hiroshige was highly appreciated by European and American collectors as well as artists Claude Monet (1840-1926), Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890), and James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1903), among others. 

Other Copies

Other copies are found in collections at UC Berkeley, Williams College, and the Metropolitan Museum

Selected Reading

Andō, Hiroshige, and Gian Carlo Calza. Hiroshige: The Master of Nature. Skira, 2009.


Posted by Kemuel Benyehudah

Utagawa Kunisada 歌川国貞, Enshoku shinasadame 艶色品定女, ca. 1850s

Artist: Utagawa Kunisada 歌川国貞 (Japanese, 1786 – 1864)

Author: Unknown

TitleEnshoku shinasadame (艶色品定女)

Date: Unknown, ca.1850s

Medium: Full color woodblock book print; ink and color on paper

Publisher: No publisher identified

Gift of Arthur Tress. Box 34, Item 19.


Enshoku shinasadame (艶色品定女, translated as “Evaluating Erotic Encounters”) is a three-volume set of luxurious erotic prints employing rich materials — saturated colors, intricate embossing, heavy paper and metallic pigments.

This three-volume book updates scenes from The Tale of Genji as erotica. The title, Enshoku shinasadame, refers to the episode where Prince Genji and his friends rank the ideal traits for women. Other references to the classic appear throughout. Each volume opens with images of shells inscribed with headings to serve as the table of contents. The shell motif is repeated on subsequent pages; each page includes a shell containing a small scene from The Tale of Genji, thus providing the literary allusion for the erotic scene. The shell motif also refers to the shell matching game called kaiawase, a memory game where players match halves of shells with scenes painted on their interiors. The illustrations comprise the first half of each volume and are followed by short erotic stories.


This is one of the most beautifully printed books in the Tress collection, featuring saturated colors, intricate embossing, and metallic pigments on thick paper. This book is attributed to Utagawa Kunisada, one of the most commercially successful ukiyo-e designers in the late Edo period. Kunisada produced great quantities of sophisticated prints over some fifty years; it is estimated that he generated over fifteen thousand designs, plus illustrations for around six hundred books. In sheer output, his body of work outnumbers that of his rivals. Erotica was produced by many ukiyo-e artists with production ranging from inexpensive booklets to exquisite works as seen here.


Other copies of this book series:

The Spencer Collection of NYPL (partial)

The Metropolitan Museum of Art (vol. 1-3)

The Boston Museum of Fine Arts (vol. 1-3)

The Gerhard Pulverer Collection (vol. 1-3)


Selected Readings:

  • Gerstle, Andrew, T. Clark, Aki Ishigami, and Akiko Yano. Shunga: sex and pleasure in Japanese art. British Museum Press, 2013.
  • Smith, Henry. “Overcoming the Modern History of Edo ‘Shunga’,” 1750-1850 (1996), pp. 17-20.
  • Carpenter, John T., Melissa McCormick, Monika Bincsik, Kyoko Kinoshita, and Sano Midori. The Tale of Genji: A Japanese Classic Illuminated. Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2019, pp. 310-311.
  • Keyes, Roger S. Ehon: The Artist and the Book in Japan. New York Public Library, 2006, pp. 226.
  • https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/78660
  • http://www.pulverer.si.edu/node/580/title/1


Posted by Yuqi Zhao

November 12th, 2019


Utagawa Kunisada 歌川国貞, [Kyōka surimonojō 狂歌摺物帖], ca. 1829-30

Artist: Utagawa Kunisada (signed Kochoro Kunisada ga with double toshidama artist’s seal)

Title: [Ichikawa Sanshō kyōka]

Date: ca. 1829-30

Medium: color woodblock-printed illustrated book; folding album (orihon)

Measurements: 14 cm x 21.1 cm

Publisher: private publication

Arthur Tress Collection of Japanese Illustrated Books. Box 10, Item 5: https://franklin.library.upenn.edu/catalog/FRANKLIN_9977502567803681

The dedication page to this delicate folding album announces the contents as a collection of kyōka poetry in honor of the famed kabuki actor, Danjūrō VII (1791-1859). Sebastian Izzard has dated the book to late 1829, produced when Danjūrō was performing at the Nakamuraza theater in Osaka, and suggests the work was sent to him by the poetry group who commissioned it.[1]

Heading off the text are three color prints designed by Kunisada, who also contributed poetry to the volume. The illustrations memorialize Danjūrō’s performance at Nakamuraza, in which he assumed seven roles in the play Date kurabe Okuni Kabuki. The most dramatic moment is depicted across two facing full pages, set against a black ground. Danjūrō is illustrated simultaneously as the heroic Arajishi Otokonosuke (on the right) and the evil Nikko Danjō (on the left). Next, spreading the subsequent opening, the polymorphic actor is rendered as three personages at once: the wrestler Kinugawa Tanizō on the right; the evil priest, Date no Dōtetsu; and finally Ashikaga Yorikane intently watching the action from behind his open fan on the left.[2]

The ensuing poems are printed on heavyweight paper embossed with peonies, and capped by a colophon listing the book’s editors. Many of the approximately 180 poems address and praise Danjūrō or make puns or references to his various roles or nicknames.[3] The soft front and back covers exhibit a motif of purple peony blooms (an emblem of Danjūrō VII) and bats (a symbol of good luck).

Utagawa Kunisada (1786-1865) was a prolific print designer in the realm of ukiyo-e. Enchanted by the dynamic kabuki scene in Edo from a young age, the artist began his career as an apprentice in the studio of Utagawa Toyokuni (1769-1825), a pioneer of actor prints. Kunisada quickly made a name for himself, becoming exceedingly popular for his portraits of actors and backstage views. Contributions to the genres of landscapes, beauties, and erotica also comprise the artist’s extensive output. He was often tapped to produce surimono, of which this entry is an impressive example, demonstrating the care and expense associated with private commissions. While extant copies of this particular book are rare, Danjūrō VII was a frequent subject for Kunisada throughout their parallel and symbiotic careers. 

Other copies:

Spencer Collection, The New York Public Library. “Zō Sanshōshi kyōka.” New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed September 22, 2019. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47e0-caab-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

A copy of the book’s first illustration and text page survives as a sheet in the collection of The Museum of Applied Arts, Vienna.


Selected reading:

Izzard, Sebastian. Kunisada’s World. New York: Japan Society Inc., 1993. Illustrated in figures 52/1, 52/2, and 52a, 117-119.

Izzard, Sebastian. “A New Actor Painting by Utagawa Kunisada.” Impressions, no. 20 (1998): 78–81. http://www.jstor.org/stable/42598042.


[1]Sebastian Izzard, Kunisada’s World (New York: Japan Society, 1993), 117-118. Izzard notes the poets included are masters from important poetry groups, including: Jingairō, Hōshitei, Umenoya, Fukunoya, Hōraitei Kamenari, Goryūtei Tokunari, and Bumbunsha Kanikomaru.

[2] Izzard, Kunisada’s World, 118. Izzard suggests Kunisada could have based his illustrations on Danjūrō’s performance of the same play in Edo earlier in 1829.

[3] Izzard, Kunisada’s World, 117.

Posted by Zoe Coyle, Fall semester, 2019.

Utagawa Kuniyoshi 歌川国芳, Nihon kijinden 日本奇人伝, 1849

Figure 1 Page 28
Figure 2 Page 26-27

Artist: Utagawa Kuniyoshi 歌川国芳 (1797-1861)

Author: Hanagasa Bunkyō 花笠文京 (1785-1860)

Title: Biographies of Extraordinary People of Japan, vol.2

Date: 1849

Medium: Monochrome woodblock print; ink on paper

Dimensions: 22.8 x 15.8 x 0.9 cm

Publisher: Yamazaki Seishichi 山崎清七 (Sanseidō 山静堂)

Arthur Tress Collection, Box 34, Item 24  



The second volume of a two-volume set, Nihon kijinden in the Tress collection features pictures of extraordinary personalities in Japanese history designed by Utagawa Kuniyoshi and brief biographical entries written by Hanagasa Bunkyō. Kijin (eccentric or extraordinary people) connoted individuals that did not conform to conventions, and did so in a desirable and inspiring way.[1] Individuals representing a wide range of eras, classes, occupations, and personalities in Nihon kijinden were selected for their individual commitments to their values and extraordinary achievements.

The figures illustrated here seem preoccupied with their own business and are depicted against a plain background. Although shown in groups, each figure shows little awareness of others in the same composition. Nevertheless, they are not represented in a rigid manner or in isolated positions. Instead, not only do the figures seem energized but also the compositions incorporating texts and images display great variety and dynamism. In some compositions, the associations among individual figures are clear, for example, three ukiyo-e masters of the time, Kuniyoshi国芳, Kunisada 国貞, and Eisen英泉are illustrated on the final page (fig. 1), while in other groups figures seem unrelated to each other. For example, the Edo courtesan Ōshū 傾城奥州from the Yoshiwara is put into juxtaposition with Taira no Kiyomori 平清盛 (1118-1181), an ambitious and powerful samurai-politician from the late Heian period.

Facial features, costumes, and poses contribute to signifying the dispositions, occupations, and lives of the extraordinary individuals. Empress Kōmyō 光明皇后 (701-760) from the Nara period assisted her husband in dealing with national affairs is shown standing in a splendid kasaya (fig. 2). The garment suggests her contribution to the construction of Buddhist monasteries in Emperor Shōmu’s reign, while the two wooden basins on her side refer to a Buddhist legend that Empress Kōmyō, having made a vow to help bathe the ten thousand without discrimination, washed the back of Ashuku Buddha who appeared to her as a beggar.[2] In the same composition, an elderly figure sits on the floor with one knee up and the other down, holding a book in his hand–this is Bakin馬琴 (1767-1848), a celebrated novelist from the Edo period (fig. 2). Bakin was such a prolific and diligent writer that even after turning blind in very old age, he persisted in completing the last chapters of his epic novel The Chronicles of Eight Dog Heroes of Satomi with the assistance of his daughter-in-law.[3] The identities of these extraordinary personalities are further enhanced by some pictorial elements. For example, a sleepy cat snuggling up to a seated man immersed in an unrolled handscroll signals that this is Kuniyoshi himself, known for his appreciation of cats as well as his popular cat prints (fig. 1).

A leading ukiyo-e designer in the late Edo period, Utagawa Kuniyoshi was well known for his warrior prints and those depicting heroes in combat with monsters. These dramatic and imaginary scenes from Kuniyoshi’s brush thrilled Edo viewers and his prints had great commercial success even under restricted censorship. Kuniyoshi also designed remarkable prints and illustrated books of kabuki actors, beauties, landscapes, erotica, and humor throughout his career. Some of the extraordinary figures included in Nihon kijinden are also seen in his prints. In Nihon kijinden, Kuniyoshi portrayed himself as wearing a lavishly decorated kimono, and his colleague, Kunisada, in a comparatively simple garment.


Other Impressions

The Gerhard Pulverer Collection, Freer Gallery of Art, Washington D.C (Vol. 1-2) https://pulverer.si.edu/node/545/title/2


Selected Reading

Clark, Timothy. Kuniyoshi from the Arthur R. Miller Collection, London: Royal Academy of Arts, 2009.

Ikumi Kaminishi. “Women Who Crossed the Cordon.” In Women, Gender and Art in Asia, c. 1500-1900. Edited by Melia Belli Bose, London and New York: Routledge, 2016.

Iwakiri Yuriko. “The Life and Career of Utagawa Kuniyoshi: An Artist of Unbridled Creativity,” In Kuniyoshi: Japanese Master of Imagined Worlds, Leiden: Hotei Publishing, 2013, pp. 9-24.

Iwakiri Yuriko, Nihon kijinden commentary: http://pulverer.si.edu/node/545/title/1  (Accessed November 12, 2019)

Kameya, Patti. “When Eccentricity Is Virtue: Virtuous Deeds in Kinsei kijinden.” Early Modern Japan: An Interdisciplinary Journal, vol. 17 (2009): 7-21.

Zolbrod, Leon M. “Takizawa Bakin, 1767-1848: A Restoration that Failed.” Monumenta Nipponica, vol. 21, no.1/2 (1966): 1-46.



[1] See Kameya, 7-9.

[2] See Ikumi Kaminishi 2016, 321-342.

[3] See Zolbrod 1966, 42.


Posted by Aria Yirou Diao

Oct. 24, 2019

Utagawa Kunisada, Yakusha kijinden 役者畸人伝 , 1833

Utagawa Kunisada, Yakusha kijinden, 1833  

Artist: Utagawa Kunisada 歌川国貞 (1786-1865)

Author: Utei Enba II 烏亭焉馬 (1743-1822)

Title: Yakusha Kijinden 役者畸人伝 

Date: 1833

Medium: Woodblock printed; ink on paper. 

Publisher: Edo: Yamaguchiya Tōbē 山口屋藤兵衛, Nishimuraya Yohachi 西村屋与八, Moriya Jihe 森屋治兵衛

Donor: Presented by Arthur Tress. Arthur Tress Collection, Box 10, Item 9. 


The Yakusha kijinden or ‘Biographies of Eccentric actors’ is a four volume biographic account of four kabuki actors: Ichikawa Ebizō V 五代目市川海老蔵 (1791–1859), Segawa Kikunojō V 五代目瀬川菊之丞 (1802–1832), Sawamura Tosshō I 初代沢村訥升 (1802–1853), and Nakamura Shikan II 二代目中村芝翫 (1798–1852). Compiled by Utei Enba II, the volumes narrate personal anecdotes and praise the lineages and accomplishments of these actors. Kunisada, well-known for his actor prints, shows the actors in this Yakusha-e in roles they were well-known for as well as in roles that would suit them. Each volume contains historical information accompanied by images printed using multiple blocks and atleast three different kinds of ink. 

This illustration shows the actor Nakamura Shikan II as Ishikawa Goemon, a Japanese outlaw hero, gesticulating towards the courtesan Gion no Oritsu, played by Iwai Hanshirō. Kunisada’s signature can be seen on the bottom right.  

Kunisada trained under Utagawa Tokuyuni (1769-1825), producing prints in “traditional” genres such as kabuki, shunga, and historical prints. This 4 volume set is said to be one of Kunisada’s finest. Utei Enba II was a well-known satirist and frequently hosted many theatrical and literary assemblies. 

Other copies:

Freer Gallery of Art, Washington DC

Hiroshima University

Kyoto Prefectural Library and Archives

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

National Diet Library, Tokyo

Nishio City Iwase Bunko, Aichi Prefecture

Osaka City University

Seikadō Bunko Art Museum, Tokyo

Tōhoku University, Sendai

Tokyo University of the Arts

University of Tokyo

Waseda University Theater Museum, Tokyo

Selected Readings:

Hillier, J.  The Art of the Japanese Book. Published for Sotheby’s Publications by Philip Wilson Publishers ; Distributed in the U.S. by Harper & Row London : New York,  1987, 582-3.

Izzard, Sebastian., J. Thomas Rimer, and John T Carpenter. Kunisada’s World. New York: Japan Society, in collaboration with Ukiyo-e Society of America, 1993. 

Tinios, Ellis., and Kunisada Utagawa. Mirror of the Stage: The Actor Prints of Kunisada. Leeds: University Gallery Leeds, 1996


Posted by Ayesha Sheth, October 4, 2019


Utagawa Sadahide 歌川貞秀, Yokohama kaikō kenmonshi 横濱開港見聞誌 1862-1865


Artist: Utagawa Sadahide  歌川貞秀(Japanese, 1807-1879?)

Date: 1862-1865

Medium: Black-white woodblock printed book; ink on paper

Description: 6 volumes; 24.5cm; fukurotoji (pouch binding)

Publisher: Unknown

Call Numbers: Arthur Tress Collection. Box 2, Item 19.
Arthur Tress Collection. Box 55, Item 15.
Arthur Tress Collection. Box 65, Item 10.

Gift of Arthur Tress.

This is an illustrated book consisting of 6 volumes, depicting the foreigners and their lifestyles in Yokohama, in its early years of the Yokohama Port opening.

In 1859, a year after an international trade treaty was signed between Japan and the United States, followed by other similar agreements with England, Netherland, France and Russia, a sleepy fishing village of Yokohama was selected to open its port for international trade and commerce. Japanese merchants from nearby regions flocked to the port to take advantage of this new business opportunity, exporting raw silk, tea, and copper. With foreigners from the United States and European countries pouring in, Yokohama became an international city overnight.

As the news of foreign lifestyles reached further inland, Japanese interest and curiosity towards foreigners grew. Seeing an opportunity in the people’s interest in the lives of the ‘others,’ business-minded publishers in Edo sent Ukiyo-e artists into Yokohama to make prints depicting the new and exciting lives of the foreigners. This type of journalistic prints that became popular beginning in 1860, eventually came to be known as “Yokohama-e” or “Yokohama Nishiki-e,” and it played an important role in informing Japanese as they prepared to take in the influences of the foreign culture.

Yokohama Kaikō Kenmonshi was published in 1862, during the peak of Yokohama-e’s popularity. There are only a few other examples of Yokohama-e published in book format, as the majority of it was done in color prints. In this book, the artist/author Sadahide illustrates not only foreign people and objects they brought in but captures scenes of lively interactions and behaviors of the foreigners. Although this book mostly consists of illustrations, there is a significant amount of journalistic writing by Sadahide. There is a depiction of the impromptu dance party amongst the foreigners, what children played with and how they behaved, and description of work performed by the servants and what they ate, to give a few examples. There is even a detailed account of a quarrel he encountered at a bar between the Japanese bartender and a foreign drunkard who demanded top-shelf liquor without having enough money for it. Sadahide, unlike many other Yokohama-e artists of the time, visited Yokohama often to observe and interact with people of various backgrounds to produce this work.


Each of the 6 volumes starts with a full page of the preface, which explains the topics covered in the specific volume. The preface is followed by 13-15 spreads of illustrations with brief descriptions, and each volume concludes with 10-12 pages of texts, describing what Sadahide has seen, overheard and encountered, along with his interpretations and opinions on the matter.

What is most notable and touching about this work is his appreciation and respect for people, no matter what countries they may be from. Sadahide captures all the uniqueness and differences he sees in foreigners and the things they do, but he also captures many similarities between himself (Japanese) and the foreigners throughout the text.

Yokohama Kaikō Kenmonshi became an instant bestseller, and there is no doubt that it had an impact in opening up Japanese minds toward foreign culture as they were getting ready to adopt western ideas in a transitional time. It will continue to be a valuable source not only for art historians or book historians, but also for scholars researching topics such as foreign influences on Japan, international trade and commerce, or history of slaves.

Utagawa Sadahide歌川貞秀, also known as Gountei Sadahide五雲亭貞秀, Hashimoto Gyokuransai橋本玉蘭斎, Gyokuransai Sadahide玉蘭斎貞秀 or Gyokuō玉扇, was born in 1807 (Bunka 4) in Fusa providence (modern-day Chiba) as Hashimoto Kenjiro橋本兼次郎. Sadahide studied under the master Utagawa Kunisada, and he is said to be the most successful pupil of Kunisada. Sadahide’s illustrations were first published in 1821 (Bunsei 4) when he was 14 years old, for a kokkeibon published by Takizawa Bakin’s apprentice.

Sadahide is most known for his Yokohama-e, and considered to be the pioneer of the genre, as the first known print published of Yokohama after its port opened was Sadahide’s Kanagawa Yokohama shin kaikō zu 神奈川横浜新開港図(Newly-opened Port of Yokohama, 1860).

Sadahide was also known for his panoramic landscape and cityscape paintings done in birds-eye-view. Sadahide traveled on foot for days to research the land before he went to work on his large-scale maps.

In 1866, Sadahide, along with 11 other Ukiyo-e artists exhibited their work at the Paris International Exposition and received Legion d’Honneur.

Sadahide continued to work until a few years before he died in 1878 or 1879, when he was 71 or 72 years old.

Other Impressions

The British Museum

Freer/Sackler – The Gerhard Pulverer Collection

Nagoya Hōsa Library

The Met Museum

Waseda University Library

Selected reading/bibliography

Kida Jun’ichirō. 紀田順一郎. “Yokohama Kaikō Jidai no Hitohibo.” 横浜開港時代の人々. Kanagawa Shinbun Sha, 2009.

Munakata Morihisa. 宗像盛久. “Yokohama Kaika Nishiki-e o Yomu.” 横浜開港錦絵を読む. Tōkyō-Dō Shuppan, 2000.

Takumi Hideo. 匠秀夫. “Yokohama Nishiki-e to Gountei Sadahide” 横浜錦絵と五雲亭貞秀. In Nihon no Kindai bijutsu to Bakumatsu. 日本の近代美術と幕末, p.95-184. Chūseki Sha, 1994.

Sugimoto Fumiko and Michael Burtscher. “Shifting Perspectives on the Shogunate’s Last Years: Gountei Sadahide’s Bird’s-Eye View Landscape Prints.” Monumenta Nipponica, vol. 72 no.1, 2017, p.1-30.


Posted by Eri Mizukane

March 25, 2020