“Hon’ami Kōetsu 本阿弥光悦 (calligraphy), Tosa Mitsushige 土佐光重 (illustration), Sanjū rokkasen 三十六歌仙, c.1610”


Calligrapher: Hon’ami Kōetsu 本阿弥光悦 (1558-1637)

Original design: attributed to Tosa Mitsushige 土佐光重 (fl. 1390 – 1394)

TitleSanjū rokkasen (三十六歌仙)

Date: c.1610

Medium:  Black and white woodblock printed book; ink and color on paper

Dimension: H. 31.5cm x W. 22.8cm

Publisher: Gyokusendō, Kyoto

Gift of Arthur Tress. Box 76, Item 2.



The Sanjū rokkasen (“Thirty-Six Immortal Poets”) is a canonical list of prominent poets of the Asuka, Nara, and Heian Period compiled by Fujiwara no Kinto around the year 1010. These poets include famous names such as Kakinomoto no Hitomaro, Ono no Komachi, Ki no Tsurayuki, Ariwara no Narihira and so on. Kinto selected one exemplary poem from each of the poets and compiled the Sanjū rokkasen. Since then, this important collection has been often the source for Japanese literature and art.

The interest in creating imaginary portraits of the poets began in the late twelfth century. The thirty-six poets would be placed into two teams – the “left” team, consisting of the first eighteen poets, and the “right” team of the later eighteen poets. The portraits of the left team face the right, and the right teams face the left, as if they are looking at their opponents for a poetry competition (utaawase in Japanese). From the thirteenth century on, the format of this imaginary competition became the convention for the portrayal of Kinto’s “Thirty-Six Immortal Poets,” and it is also used in this example from the Tress Collection.

This variation on the Thirty-Six immortal poets was first published in 1610 as a commission by Suminokura Soan (1571-1632,) a wealthy merchant in Saga, a village close to Kyoto. Soan collaborated with Hon’ami Kōetsu, who contributed his fine calligraphy for the book. The original design of the illustration imitates paintings by Tosa Mitsushige from the fourteenth century. Each figure is depicted at different ages and with characteristic gestures that reflect their biographical information and anecdotes found in historical references.

The copy in the Tress Collection may be a private re-cut of the original print. Compared to other versions held in the British Museum, the Pulverer Collection, and the Harvard Collection, the Tress copy has some distinctive features that suggest it has been printed from a different set of blocks. Some notable evidence include that 1) the figures in the Tress copy overlap with the foreground decoration while the figures in the other collections are set further back in space; 2) the details in the Tress copy illustrations (e.g., patterns on the garments, hair and so on) differs slightly from that in the other collections; 3) there is a printed stamp of “玉泉堂藏刻 (literally means ‘Gyokusendō Storage Cut’)” on the last page of the Tress copy, which is not found in any other copies. The exact date of this copy is unknown, and the intention of this re-cut is yet to be assessed.


Below is a poem by Kakinomoto no Hitomaro (662-710) (page 1.)

Honobono to

Akashi no ura no

Asagiri ni


Fune o shi zo mou


Faintly with the dawn

That glimmers on Akashi Bay

In the morning mist

A boat goes hidden by the isle –

And my thoughts go after it4


Other copies of this book series:

Freer Gallery of Art, Washington DC

Harvard University, Arthur M. Sackler Museum

New York Public Library, New York City

The Gerhard Pulverer Collection

The British Museum


Selected Readings:


Posted by Yuqi Zhao

February 19th, 2020


Poem on right, as translated by the University of Virginia:Lady Ise

Even for a time
Short as a piece of the reeds
In Naniwa’s marsh,

We must never meet again:
Is this what you are asking me?


Artist: Kitao Masayoshi (Japanese, 1764–1824) (later adopted the name Kuwagata Keisai)

TitleTenarai hyakunin isshu

Date: Unknown, originally published ca. 1815

Medium: Woodblock print, 22.3 cm x 14.5 cm

Gift of Arthur Tress, Box 10, Item 16

Tenarai hyakunin isshu is based upon the classical poetry compilation Hyakunin isshu, or One hundred people, one poem (each), selected by Fujiwara no Teika in the twelfth century. This original compilation comprises of one hundred courtly poems spanning from the seventh century to Teika’s time, written in the style of the Japanese tanka, or waka, an early poetic form meaning “Japanese poetry” as opposed to Japanese poetry written in the Chinese language. In this way Hyakunin isshu represents the impulse to forge a distinctively Japanese poetic identity, separating courtly poems from their occasions to combine them into the singular aestheticized project we know today. From its conception in pre-modern Japan, Hyakunin isshu has since transformed from a material artifact into a historicized text that is reinterpreted and decontextualized time and again, much in the same manner of classical Western texts such as The Iliad and The Odyssey. Since the fifteenth century there are records of commentaries published alongside Hyakunin isshu, and, by Masayoshi’s time, Hyakunin Isshu had gained such accessibility and widespread appeal that it prompted almost every major ukiyo-e artist to try a hand at illustrating the poems, inspired the playing cards uta-garuta, and effectively blurred the line between “high” and “low” culture.

Kitao Masayoshi’s Tenarai hyakunin isshu stands out in two ways. First, tenarai translates to practicing writing with a brush, meaning that Masayoshi’s edition was likely meant to contain illustrations only, so that readers may take up the brush and add the poems themselves. Second, Masayoshi’s style is curiously simple: the spread of colors, marked by hard outlines, affirms its own stripped-down beauty. A pupil of Shigemasa, Masayoshi experimented with various styles throughout his lifetime, from a typical ukiyo-e style to an adaptation of the Chinese technique. As for Tenarai hyakunin isshu, Masayoshi chose a symbolic, representational style that stands directly in contrast to the highly realistic style of Western art at a time, evoking the heart of an abstract, classical time with a language of his own.

There are currently few known copies of Tenarai hykaunin Isshu. One is an unwritten version in the British Museum; another is a copy with handwritten poems up to the twenty-eighth page, formerly in the Odin collection. According to the NIJL catalogue, two additional copies are held in the Gifu Municipal Library; one of these is digitized and does not include writing. The other is listed as part of Nakano Mitsutoshi’s collection. Our copy is rare among known copies in that all the poems have been added in print. An elegant landscape illustration is furthermore found on the first page, unseen in the British Museum version, and the year of publication is unknown, making it a unique and much mysterious case.

Selected Readings

David Chibbett, The History of Japanese Printing and Book Illustration (New York: Kodansha International Ltd., 1977)

Earl Miner, An Introduction to Japanese Court Poetry (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1968).

Jack Hillier, The Art of the Japanese Book (London: Philip Wilson Publishers Ltd., 1987).

Joshua S. Mostow, Pictures of the Heart: The Hyakunin Isshu in Word and Image (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i, 1996).

Posted by Kelly Liu, Fall semester, 2019


Artists: Mishima Yonosuke, Arai Shujiro

Title: Japanische Dichtungen, Weissaster: Ein romantisches Epos nebst anderen Gedichten

Date: 1894

Medium: Woodblock print on crepe paper

Publisher: Takejiro Hasegawa

Gift of Arthur Tress, Arthur Tress Collection Box 39 Item 6 (https://franklin.library.upenn.edu/catalog/FRANKLIN_9977502718403681)


After an introductory text from the translator Karl Florenz, this book includes a German language translation of Kōjo Shiragiku no Uta, a Japanese epic poem published in 1889 by the author Ochiai Naobumi. Naobumi’s epic tells the tale of the titular Weissaster (White Aster), a young girl from a remote village who sets off on a quest to find her father after he fails to return from a hunting expedition. Following the seventy-two-page epic poem, eight shorter poems are included. The entire book is lavishly illustrated with multi-color woodblock prints by Japanese artists. Mishima Yonosuke illustrated most of the book, including the tale of Weissaster, while Arai Shujiro provided illustrations for the poems. Perhaps the most curious feature of the book is its paper. The book is printed on crepe paper, a wrinkly and seemingly dainty variety that became especially popular in the Meiji Period. Crepe paper was formed by inserting paper into molds after printing and illustration was complete, both reducing size and, surprisingly, increasing durability of the book.

Japanische Dichtungen is the result of a collaborative effort between two countries, two continents, and two publishers: printing, illustration, and paper were provided by the publishing firm of Takejiro Hasegawa in Tokyo, while C.F. Amelang Verlag in Leipzig ostensibly provided financial capital as well as arranging translation by Florenz. While the illustrators Yonosuke and Shujiro remain enigmatic, Hasegawa and Florenz are well-known as antiquarians and publishers in the Meiji Period. Takejiro Hasegawa extensively published English, French, and German language translations of popular Japanese folk tales that satisfied Western desires for Japanese literature while providing students in the modernizing Japan with abundant material for learning western languages. The translator, Karl Florenz, was a pioneer of German-language Japanology for his publication and translation of Japanese literature, becoming the first professor of Japanology in Germany at The University of Hamburg.

Other copies of this book are at the German National Library (Deutsche Nationalbibliothek) and the Library of the University of Regensburg (Universitätsbibliothek Regensburg)

Selected Reading

Guth, Christine M. E. “Hasegawa’s Fairy Tales: Toying with Japan.” RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics, no. 53/54 (2008): 266-81.

Hayashida, Yukari. “Wrinkles in Time: Crepe-Paper Books in Watson Library | The Metropolitan Museum of Art.” Accessed March 21, 2020. https://www.metmuseum.org/blogs/in-circulation/2016/crepe-paper.


Sharf, Frederic A. “Selected Bibliography of the Publications of Takejiro Hasegawa.” Peabody Essex Museum Collections 130, no. 4 (Oct 01, 1994).


Posted by Nick Purgett

May 10th, 2020


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