Kawamura Bunpō 河村文鳳, Kanga shinan nihen 漢画指南二編, 1811

View of West Lake

View of West Lake

Artist: Kawamura Bunpō (河村文鳳, 1779-1821)

Title: Kanga shinan nihen 漢画指南二編 (Instruction in Chinese Painting, Part Two)

Publishers: Yamatoya Kanbē 大和屋勘兵衛, Fushimiya Tōemon 伏見屋藤右衛門, Hishiya Magobē 菱屋孫兵衛

Block Carver: Inoue Jihē 井上治兵衛

Date: 1811

Medium: Woodblock printed, ink and color on paper

Gift of Arthur Tress, Arthur Tress Collection, Bunpō 3 (formerly Box 2, Book 3)

Like other painters of his generation, Kawamura Bunpō was not able travel to China due to period prohibitions but learned about Chinese painting and culture via printed books, paintings, poetry, literature, and other media.

Entitled Kanga shinan nihen (漢画指南) or Instruction in Chinese Painting, Part Two, this book was designed as the sequel to the Kanga shinan, a book featuring designs by Takebe Ayatari (建部綾足, also known as Kan’yōsai 寒葉斎1719–1774), published in 1778. As historian Ellis Tinios notes, Ayatari’s Kanga shinan “. . . was so highly regarded that the Kyoto publisher Hishiya Magobē (Gosharō 五車楼) reprinted it in 1811 using the original blocks. At the same time, he commissioned Kawamura Bunpō to produce a second part (nihen)” (Tinios). The colophon includes the name of block carver, Inoue Jihē, attesting to the publisher’s commission, too, of this highly appreciated artisan in the production of this exceptional book.

The three-volume title presents a variety of Chinese-style elements for aspiring painters, from studies of trees, grasses, and dwellings, to figures and landscape vignettes, all labeled in Chinese. The publisher called it ““a tool for the study of Chinese painting,” adding that “if you take this book as your manual for the study of Chinese painting, without a teacher, on your own, you will be able to master a marvelous style of Chinese painting” (translated by Tinios).

vol 1 trees

In the third volume, Bunpō ends the sequence of selected studies and indicates a new sequence with an opening showing a view through a window of a plum tree in moonlight on the right and a stele with an inscription reading “Views of West Lake” (西湖の図) on the left.


In the final twenty-one openings, Bunpō adapts views of the renowned West Lake in China, in scenes such as the one shown at the top of this post.

Long appreciated for its great beauty, the site of West Lake was a painting and poetry theme in China since the Song dynasty. The subject became well known in Japan, employed by Japanese painters since the Muromachi period. What is rather remarkable about Bunpō’s sequence is how closely the compositions match those included in a Chinese book, Nanxun shengdian 南巡盛典, the Great Canon of the Southern Tours compiled by Gao Jin and others, published in 1771. This Chinese book documenting Emperor Qianlong’s tours in the south was imported to Japan in 1774 (Ōba 1967). How Bunpō came to know this Chinese title remains an open question, but the connection demonstrates how much Japanese painters relied upon Chinese printed books for source material.

Other copies:
British Museum
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Pulverer Collection of Japanese Illustrated Books, Freer and Sackler Galleries
Portland Art Museum

Selected Reading:

Masaki Itakura, Egakareta miyako: Kaihō, Kōshū, Kyōto, Edo (Tokyo: Tokyo Daigaku Shuppankai, 2013).

Ōba Osamu, Edo jidai ni okeru tōsen mochiwatarisho no kenkyū (Kansai Daigaku shuppanbu, 1967).

Ellis Tinios, “Commentary,” Kanga shinan nihen, The World of the Japanese Illustrated Book, (https://pulverer.si.edu/node/372/title/1)

Ellis Tinios, Kawamura Bumpō: Artist of Two Worlds. Leeds, U.K.: Leeds University Gallery, 2004.

Written by Tim Zhang, edited and posted by Julie Nelson Davis, March 17, 2022

Tani Bunchō 谷文晁, Shazanrō gahon 写山楼画本, 1816

plum blossoms

Sparrow on branch
Artist: Tani Bunchō 谷文晁 (1763-1840)

Title: Shazanrō gahon 写山楼画本 (Picture-book of the mountain-reflecting pavilion)

Date: 1816

Publisher: Izumiya Shōjirō

Medium: Woodblock-printed book, ink and color on paper

Gift of Arthur Tress, Arthur Tress Collection Box 10, Item 19

Since the political philosophy of the Tokugawa ruling family in the Edo period was based on Chinese thought, members of the ruling class learned the classical language of China, and not infrequently enjoyed literary works in that language, including poetry and prose of the literati (wenren) class of Chinese scholar-bureaucrats. Both in China and in Japan, these scholars produced paintings as well, often but not always based on the classics of Chinese literature and evoking the dry austerity encouraged by the admonitions toward frugality and calm growing from Neo-Confucian thought. In Japan, Chinese literati painting was known mostly through woodblock prints reproducing Chinese works, and it was only natural that the Chinese books were copied, reprinted, and imitated in Japan. The style of these books and paintings came to be known as “Nanga” meaning “Southern Painting” or “Bunjinga” literally “Literati painting.” A number of books in the Tress collection are associated with this erudite painting genre.

Perhaps the most famous Japanese literati painter represented in the Tress collection is Tani Bunchō (1763-1841). He was the grandson of an economist and Neo-Confucian scholar, the son of a noted master of Chinese poetry, and the samurai retainer of the highest-ranking conservative advisor to the shogun, Matsudaira Sadanobu (1759-1829). Bunchō exhibited painterly talent as a child, and studied with the academic ink painter Katō Bunrei (1706-1782). After Bunrei died Bunchō worked with various masters of Japanese, Chinese, and even Western style painting. Bunchō was a prolific painter, copyist, and connoisseur who taught hundreds if not thousands of pupils; his books include collections of his sketches intended as manuals for others to study. This is best exemplified by Honchō gasan (Collected Paintings of Our Country), compiled from serially published small pamphlets reproducing Bunchō’s copies of paintings by Japanese painters of the past along with biographical notes. These pamphlets appear to have been given to his students annually as part of the celebration of the New Year to provide them with models to imitate.

plum blossoms

The most beautiful of Bunchō ‘s publications is Shazanrō gahon (Painting Book of the Mountain-reflecting Tower, 1816). This elegant volume reproduces original designs of flowers, birds, insects and such. Some openings imitate the painterly effects of monochrome brush and ink, while others include delicate color effects. The Tress copy is in pristine condition. The name derives from one of Bunchō ‘s pen names, Shazanrō, the tower () where the mountain (zan) is reflected or drawn (sha), derived from the fact that Mt. Fuji could be seen (and hence drawn) from the upper story of Bunchō’s studio in the Shitaya section of Edo (today Taitō-ku, Tokyo).

Other copies:
Pulverer Collection, Freer Gallery of Art

Written by Frank L. Chance
Posted April 7, 2022

Utagawa Toyokuni 歌川豊国, Yakusha meisho zue 戯子名所図会, 1800



Artist: Utagawa Toyokuni 歌川豊国 (1769-1825)

Author: Takizawa Bakin 滝沢馬琴 (1767-1848)

Title: Yakusha meisho zue 戯子名所図会 (Pictorial Album of Famous Places with Actors)

Date: 1800

Publisher: Tsuruya Kiemon

Medium: Woodblock printed book, ink on paper

Gift of Arthur Tress, Arthur Tress Collection, Box 29, Item 11 (Toyokuni 2)

Imagination and landscape go hand in hand. Though images of places are often more deeply equated with observable reality, these images remain representation, not reality. Created at a specific moment in time, as part of a specific culture, these pictures are deeply bound with the meaning of the place. Some landscapes though are not just imagined, but are the vehicles for imagination. Through Edo period print culture, pictures of place could take on new meaning. In the hands of clever publishers, authors, and illustrators, the popularity of new geographies and topographies led to genre-crossing creations.


Yakusha meisho zue (1800), was the product of some of the top members of the Edo print world—written by Takizawa Bakin (also known as Kyokutei Bakin), illustrated by Utagawa Toyokuni, and published by Tsuruya Kiemon. While the true subject of the work was a clever commentary on contemporary kabuki, it was wrapped in the format of a meisho zue, a format of guide that became popular in the eighteenth century. In doing so, it drew upon a lengthy and celebrated tradition of conceptualizing place, marrying this tradition with the theatrical world of Edo.

In Japan, ideas of place were initially linked to representation in poetry. Locations known as meisho (名所, initially called na ga aru tokoro, “places with a name”) were called out and celebrated in poetry from the eighth century on. The first meisho sites were linked to the emperor’s ritual visitation of the lands of his realm, a practice known as miyuki (御幸). The invocation of these place names in poetry became known as utamakura (歌枕), “poem pillows” epithets that allowed a poem to pivot around layered concepts [Kamens]. These words, used and re-used in poems, acquired connotations over time; by merely invoking the name of a meisho the poet was able to tap into a literary and historical matrix.

The meisho tradition continued into the earliest landscape paintings in Japan, a genre known as meisho-e (名所絵, “pictures of famous places”). First appearing in the tenth century, these paintings derived from poetic conventions, which likewise became linked to the representation of these topographical spaces.[1] Working together, word and image prompted the reader/viewer to produce the imagined landscape.

Over time, though, the definition of what constituted a “meisho” evolved as urban sites and locations along major highways rose in popularity—specifically in the shogun’s capital of Edo. Edo, which had previously been a small fishing village, rose to prominence when it became the shogun’s seat of power. While it lacked in the traditional meisho associated with classical poetry, it soon developed its own famed sites. The Yoshiwara pleasure quarters, popular shops, and travel checkpoints could all become meisho in this new scheme and were included in many printed guidebooks.

[1] No landscape paintings from this era survive to this day. Scholars have relied on descriptions of poetry composed in relation to these images to determine the earliest appearances of these paintings. The earliest extant landscape image is considered to be the Jingōji senzui byōbu, which dates to c. 1200.

Other copies:
Harvard Yenching Library
National Institute of Japanese Literature
Waseda University Library

Selected reading:
Chino Kaori, “The Emergence and Development of Famous Place Painting as a Genre.” Review of Japanese Culture and Society 15 (2003), 40.

Edward Kamens, Utamakura, Allusion, and Intertextuality in Traditional Japanese Poetry (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997).

Quintana Heathman Scherer
Posted April 6, 2022