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


photo of book interior
photo of books covers
Maihime nidai hachinoki, fascicle 1 cover (left) and bound fascicles 3-5 (right).
Scene referencing The Potted Trees, a classic Japanese tale.

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



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



Songs from the collection in question.

The cover of Uta no shiori   Songs from the collection in question.

Artist: Unknown

Title: 歌のしおり帝国流行歌集 (Collection of songs popular in the Empire)

Date: 1944

Medium: Mimeograph, ink on paper

Gift of Arthur Tress, Arthur Tress Collection. Box 45, Item 12


This collection of songs praising the Imperial Japanese Empire is from the Tule Lake Segregation Center, one of the main camps used by the War Relocation Authority (WRA) to house Japanese citizens classified as potential threats to the U.S. Government. After the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 in February 1942, allowing the U.S. Government to relocate and incarcerate Japanese American citizens and residents en masse. Of the camps designated to be used for internment, Lake Tule was reserved for internees who were deemed “disloyal” based on their response to the infamous loyalty questionnaire. According to Jane Dusselier, “internees at Tule Lake lived under the strictest security restrictions of all the camps because, in Fall 1943, the War Relocation Authority designated Tule Lake the segregation center for ‘troublemakers’.”[1] However, as Brian Hayashi notes, the loyalty questionnaire was confusingly worded, and many internees who ended up at Lake Tule simply did so to follow family members who had already been sent there.[2]

Given the camp’s strictness and special designation, the production and existence of this collection of songs seems all the more remarkable. The production of arts, crafts, and materials such as this booklet were widespread within the relocation camps, to the extent that Sam Hayakawa would cite them in 1981 as evidence that the camps were “trouble free and relatively happy.”[3] As Jane Dusselier notes, such a reading of the “forced leisure” in internment camps is problematic “because it suggests that internee artwork is evidence of humane treatment.”[4] The charged content of the material in this book, replete with patriotic and militaristic songs that were popular in the Japanese Empire at the time, suggests it served a political function in the context of the camp itself. This may show the complex dynamics of Tule Lake’s internees at the time. According to Heather Fryer, the shift in the camp’s population in 1943, and its new designation as a center for “disloyal” Japanese Americans produced political tensions between different internee groups: as she writes, “housing shortages, restrictive regulations, and the absence of jobs for new arrivals stoked resentments between the new segregants and the established, ‘loyal’ Tuleans,” from 1943 onward.[5]  Ongoing tensions between the camp administrators and newer arrivals spurred the creation of anti-administration extremist groups such as the Sokuji Kikoku Hoshi Dan and the Hokoku Seinen Dan in early 1944, which took a hard line against the U.S. Government and espoused an avowedly pro-Japanese Empire politics.[6] These actions, in turn, prompted the U.S. Congress to pass Public Law 405, which allowed Japanese Americans to renounce their citizenship and be repatriated to Japan. According to Fryer, “Anti-administration factionalists,” within the camp used the law as a pretext to force “unwilling Tuleans to renounce as a political stand.”[7]

Given the date of the booklet’s production, it is likely it was created in the midst of this political turmoil. At one point, tensions between pro and anti-administration internees reached such a height that one internee, Yaozo Hitomi, was fatally stabbed for working with camp administrators. Its existence may also attest to the camp administration’s relative lack of knowledge and comprehension of internal politics between different groups of internees. Most of the songs collected were major hits in Japan in the late 1930s with themes of love, family, and patriotism. The first song in the booklet, Aikoku shinkō kyoku (Patriotic March) for instance, was released at the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937 and sold over 1 million copies by 1938.[8] Yet despite the overwhelming presence of songs about patriotism and war, some of the songs collected, such as Otoko no junjō (A man’s pure feelings, 1937) are slow love ballads rather than patriotic marches. One song, the 1940 hit Dare ka kōkyo o omawazaru (1940), a song about longing for one’s hometown, was actually banned at one point on the Japanese mainland for fear it would cause factory workers in cities to lose morale.[9] This diversity of songs suggests multiple possible readings of the booklet; while it was clearly marked as a political text, it was made for entertainment and relieving boredom, as the introduction indicates. Furthermore, the difference in songs included and those that would have been deemed acceptable in the Japanese Empire collections suggests an ideological gap between the books’ creators, one produced through both physical and temporal distance. The book thus serves as a representation and testament to the complex political, ideological, and cultural landscapes produced through the upheaval and trauma of internment.


Further Reading:

Jane E. Dusselier. Artifacts of Loss: Crafting Survival in Japanese American Concentration Camps. Camden: Rutgers University Press, 2008.

Heather Fryer. “‘The Song of the Stitches’: Factionalism and Feminism at Tule Lake,” Signs Volume 35, Issue 3, 2010, pp. 673-698.

Brian Hayashi. Democratizing the Enemy: the Japanese American Internment. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004.

Masanori Tsujita 辻田真佐憲. Nihon no gunka: Kokumin teki ongaku no rekishi 日本の軍歌 国民的音楽の歴史 [Japanese Military Songs: A History of National Citizen Music]. Tokyo: Gentōsha, 2014.

Posted by Patrick Carland


[1] Jane E. Dusselier. Artifacts of Loss: Crafting Survival in Japanese American Concentration Camps. (Camden: Rutgers University Press, 2008) 33-4.

[2] Brian Hayashi. Democratizing the Enemy: the Japanese American Internment. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004): 156.

[3] Artifacts of Loss, 1.

[4] Ibid., 7,

[5] Heather Fryer. “‘The Song of the Stitches’: Factionalism and Feminism at Tule Lake,” in Signs Volume 35, Issue 3, 2010, pp. 673-698: 677.

[6] Ibid., 679.

[7] Ibid., 681-2.

[8] Kokuminka: Aikoku shinkō kyoku (Citizen’s Songs: The Patriotic March) Nihon no Gunka http://gunka.sakura.ne.jp/nihon/aikoku.htm accessed May 1, 2020.

[9] Koga merodei kiki kurabe 12: Dare ka kōkyo wo omawazaru [Comparing old melodies: Dare ka kōkyo wo omawazaru] Tenisu to ran to dijikamera [Tennis, running, and digital camera] Blog post, March 3, 2010 https://blog.goo.ne.jp/mr_asuka/e/681bfe28f1e849421cb7b0beb707c050


Artist: Utagawa Kunisada, Utagawa Toyokuni, Utagawa Kunitsuna, Utagawa Kuniteru, Utagawa Hiroshige

Author: Ryûtei Tanehiko II 柳亭種彦 (1804-1868)

Title: Assorted wrappers (fukuro) from Inu no sôshi (The Storybook of dogs) 犬の双紙

 Date: 1848-1881

Medium: Woodblock ink and color print on paper

Publisher: Tsutaya Kichizō 蔦屋吉蔵(つたやきちぞう), Kōeidō 紅英堂(こうえいどう)

Location: Kislak Center for Special Collections – Arthur Tress Collection. Box 38, Item 11.

Gift of Arthur Tress


This lively array of fukuro from the Arthur Tress Collection once belonged to select fascicles from the widely popular serial novel, Inu no sôshi (The Storybook of dogs). Printed as 56 volumes over a thirty-three year period, Inu no sôshi is an exemplar of the gôkan (合歓), a cheaply-produced serial publication format that emerged at the beginning of the nineteenth century concomitant with a burgeoning book culture among the increasingly literate middle and lower classes. Responding to this new readership, publisher Tsutaya Kichizō orchestrated the reworking of Kyokutei Bakin’s Hakkenden inu no sōshi no uchi (The Tale of the Eight Dog Heroes), whose 106 volume epic represents one of the longest narratives within Japanese literature. Part historical epic, part elaborate mythology, and part didactic novel, it tells the unsung story of the fifteenth century Sochi clan and the eight warriors who endure trials and tribulations to eventually reclaim their territory in the Awa region. Rife with graphic battle scenes and colorful characterizations of heroes and monsters, the story is, however, framed by overarching themes of Confucian morality and scholasticism, thus eliding the draconian censorship of the period.

There are few extant fukuro in existence; conceived as ephemera, it is quite difficult to reinsert books into these protective wrappers. Nevertheless, those from the Tress Collection were exquisitely illustrated by several and often well-known artists as Hiroshige. While they encompass a wide range of imagery—which often alludes to both the title and the various exploits contained therein—the format and palette remains relatively consistent. At the top of each, the technique of bokashi (ぼかし) was used to achieve a delicate color gradation that not only generates chromatic and compositional depth but also distinguishes the individual volumes as part of the same series. Oftentimes textual elements are cleverly incorporated into the illustration itself, as in the fukuro below that depicts a dog peering out from under two yellow umbrellas, where the seal of the publisher is prominently displayed on the left umbrella and the title of the book curves around its counterpart. Notably, the fukuro markedly differ from the Kabuki-style illustrations found within the text, perhaps suggesting that the publisher deliberately employed distinct modes of representation to publicize and illustrate the books, respectively.

Selected Reading:

Jones, Susie, and Kenji Watanabe, eds. An Edo Anthology: Literature from Japan’s Mega-City, 1750-1850. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2013, pp247-278.

Reichert, James R. “From Yomihon to Gôkan: Repetition and Difference in Late Edo Book Culture.” The Journal of Asian Studies, 75, no.2 (May), 2017: 311-322.


Posted by Francesca A. Bolfo


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


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

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. Hiroshige is famous for his noteworthy series of woodblock prints,The 53 Stations of the Tokaido, among others. In this famous set of sheet prints, Hiroshige illustrated the journey along the Tokaido road, the highway connecting Edo (modern Tokyo) to Kyoto, the imperial capital. Hiroshige’s work became very popular in later nineteenth-century Europe and beyond, and was a source of visual inspiration for the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists, including Toulouse-Lautrec and Van Gogh. Van Gogh, for example, copied Hiroshige’s two compositions from Hiroshige’s 100 Famous Views of Edo in oil paintings.

The illustrations capture people as professionals, and everyday people doing activities such as sake wine sellers delivering wine, children playing with kites, horses taking travelers across a waterway, and ladies catching fireflies. These are paired with poems selected by various poetry groups.

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


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 “Weighing the Gods of Love”) is a three-volume set of luxurious erotic prints employing rich materials — saturated colors, intricate embossing, heavy paper and metallic pigments. The textured white cover is decorated with spattered blue pigment and painted with upward-thrusting shoots of evergreen pine trees. Each volume starts with a table of contents inscribed on shell-shaped illustrations. The pictures that follow present to the viewer a luxurious and sensual representation of sexual fantasies. Arms and legs of the young protagonists are intertwined and tangled, male and female genitalia are enlarged, reminding readers of the intense sensation before and during the climax. The rest of the volume is unadorned text on thinner plain paper. The stories are erotic vignettes with dialogues, allowing the readers additional opportunity to imagine their own fantasies as modeled on the previous pictures.

The title Enshoku shinasadame recalls the famous episode in The Tale of Genji where Prince Genji and his friends discuss the ideal traits of women. The title of the second volume is translated as “Viewing the moon at Sekiya,” a site near the temple where Lady Murasaki wrote the Tale of Genji. Throughout the books, we can see references to the Japanese classic appear again and again.

While the Gerhard Pulverer Collection claims that Enshoku shinasadame is attributed to Utagawa Kunisada, one of the most popular print designers in the late Edo period, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts attribute it to Kunisada’s pupil, Kunimori II. The writer personally believes that Enshoku shinasadame is conceivably designed by Utagawa Kunisada. It is less likely that Kunimori II, who was in his early 20s, would be competent enough to handle or be supported by publishers, for this complex and expensive project.

Utagawa Kunisada was one of the most popular, proliferate and commercially successful ukiyo-e designers in the late Edo period. He is particularly recognized for his prints of kabuki actors, beauties in fashion garments, and erotica. Kunisada produced great quantities of sophisticated prints over some fifty years; it is estimated that he produced over fifteen thousand designs, plus illustrations for around six hundred books. In sheer output, his body of work outnumbers that of his contemporary rivals.

Japanese erotic imagery was not new, but it prospered during the Edo period, and these were considered entertaining rather than obscene—often called “warai-e”  or “prints that make you laugh.” Regulations on sexual content were imposed by the Tokugawa shogunate from time to time, but the writers and designers used pseudonyms to avoid persecution. Japanese erotica prints range from low-quality booklets to exquisite works. They are rich with depictions of lifestyles of the time, references to traditional literature, and even unusual creatures from the imagination.


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, 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



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.