Katsuma Ryūsui 勝間竜水, Umi no sachi 海幸, 1762

Artist: Katsuma Ryūsui 勝間竜水 (1711-1796)

Title: Umi no sachi 海幸

Date: 1762

Medium: Woodblock printed, ink and color on paper

Gift of Arthur Tress, Arthur Tress Collection of Japanese Illustrated Books, Ryūsui 1

Umi no sachi, or Treasures of the Sea, is an extraordinary two-volume book of poetry matched with lavish color-printed illustrations of fish. Produced in large format on an unusual theme, this project was probably the private production of a poetry circle, rather than a commercial publication.(1) At its core, the work is a compilation of haikai poems. Yet its unusual theme, exceptional printing, and fascinating, deftly executed pictures defy such easy classification.

The first volume opens with a preface by the esteemed Baba Songi (1703–1782), a leading practitioner of haikai poetry in the mid-eighteenth century. Next come three further introductory texts: one by the book’s editor and fellow poet Sekijukan Shūkoku and two by artist Katsuma Ryūsui. Shūkoku’s preface outlines the allusion present in Umi no sachi’s title: the ancient tale of two brothers, Umi no Sachi Hiko (Prince Luck of the Sea) and Yama no Sachi Hiko (Prince Luck of the Mountain), found in the early chronicle the Kojiki (A Record of Ancient Matters, 712).(2) It was typical in the period for such prefaces to provide highly elevated or literary references, such as this classical text, no matter how mundane the content. In this case, it provides the justification for the aquatic theme to follow.

In the main text of the book, each page opening reveals new variety of fish, splendidly printed in color and accompanied by poems for each type. With more than one hundred species represented, the book presents a veritable catalogue of the bounty of the sea, rivers, and lakes. These aquatic creatures range from established delicacies like sea bream, tuna, octopus, eel, and various kinds of shrimp to more exotic subjects like the whale—so vast it is represented by the inky darkness of a page printed in reverse—and the semi-mythical minogame—a hairy-backed turtle and symbol of longevity. Every illustrated fish is also identified by name, sometimes with several Chinese variations, as if to imitate the conventions of natural history texts.

One of the things that makes Umi no sachi so significant in the history of Japanese print culture is that its abundant color printing predates the development of full-color nishiki-e in sheet prints by three years. Every illustration uses at least two printed colors in addition to black; most illustrations display up to five or even six colors. And though profuse and elaborate, the color printing in this book is often quite subtle. A fish might be depicted in three shades of grey, rather than boldly saturated with contrasting colors. Furthermore, each fish, mollusk, or crustacean is approached with a degree of naturalism by artist Ryūsui. Their sometimes startling morphological verisimilitude signals the growing interest in the period in honzōgaku, or natural studies.

Highly appreciated in the period, Umi no sachi was reprinted multiple times by successive publishers. The Tress copy of Umi no sachi comes from the first printing, published by Kameya Tahei in the second month of 1762. These early printings rank among the very finest examples of early multiple color woodblock printing in Japan, enhanced with special techniques like applications of mica which make the fish seem to shimmer on the page.

(1) Their poems and sobriquets appear throughout the book, and though most of these poets are unknown today, it has been speculated that some of the contributors may have been high-ranking samurai See Kira Sueo, “Tashokuzuri ebaisho ni tsuite,” 16.
(2) Both the Kojiki and Nihon shoki contain versions of this story. For an English translation of the story based on the Kojiki, see Ō and Heldt, The Kojiki, 53-60.

Other collections:
Pulverer Collection, Freer Gallery of Art

Posted by Jeannie Kenmotsu, April 6, 2022

Katsushika Hokusai 葛飾北斎, Kyōka kunizukushi 狂歌国尽, ca. 1810

Artists: Katsushika Hokusai 葛飾北斎 (1760-1849), Katsushika Ōi (ca. 1800-ca.1870) and others

Editor: Hasendō Yoboke 巴扇堂暮気 (?-1820)

Title: Kyōka kunizukushi 狂歌国尽 ‘Mad Verse’ of Selected Provinces

Date: ca. 1810

Medium: Woodblock printed, ink on paper

Gift of Arthur Tress, Arthur Tress Collection of Japanese Illustrated Books, Hokusai 43

Katsushika Ōi (応為) was one of the rare women artists to forge a career in Edo-period Japan. Like other women artists at the time, she was able to do so due to her family connections; in her case, she could work as a professional illustrator and painter because she was one of Hokusai’s daughters. She was trained in her father’s studio, often assisting in preparing materials and learning to draw alongside his other students. This book includes her first printed illustration, a scene of sailboats in the mist, and is signed “from the brush of the woman Ei” (using her personal name, Ei) on the right opening. She was likely only about ten years old at the time this was published.

This book is an anthology of poetry, edited by Hasendō Yoboke, with an opening illustration by Hokusai followed by those by fifteen of his students; Ōi is included in this grouping as equal to all. The poems that appear in each double-page opening were submitted and ranked by a group of leading poets; the judges’ ratings appear as a list of numbers between the poet’s name and the poem itself.

The concept of the anthology seems to have been for each poet to write a poem related to one of the provinces (called kuni in the period). Here, the poet Utanoya Mahagi (歌廼屋真萩) writes about the province of Enshū (now Shizuoka) and its famous site, Hamamatsu, located along the coastline and with rising mountains beyond. Hamamatsu was one of the fifty-three stations of the Tōkaidō road linking Edo to Kyoto; its name referred to the pine trees (matsu) that grew in the sand by the bay (hama). Period imagery often shows the motif of pines grown in sand and with the sea beyond to mark this famous place.

The poem starts on the upper right and proceeds to the left, then breaks to begin again in the lower register, from right to left. It puns on Enshū (as a distance province) as well as on Hamamatsu’s piney shore:

夏草のしけるる / 遠州 / はま松は
ひろい / やう / ても / せまい / 道野 /邉

And can be translated as:

Hamamatsu, in the distant province of Enshū,
grows thick with summer grasses and
with its pines on the shore
seem so vast yet
the road and fields so narrow

In this period poetry always included references to the season, as here in the summer grasses. The poet also plays with contrasts in the wide open space of the sea and the narrowness of road and fields skirting the terrain between dunes and mountains.

Ōi married one of Hokusai’s other students, Minamizawa Tōmei, in about 1824, but by 1827 she separated from her husband and returned to live with Hokusai, working alongside her father until his death in 1849. She assisted him with his many commissions during this period, perhaps even contributing to some of his most famous paintings, prints and illustrated books. After her father’s death, she worked as an independent artist until about 1870, making paintings and designing two illustrated books under her own signature.

Other collections:
British Museum

Selected reading:

John T. Carpenter, “The Literary Network: Private Commissions for Hokusai and His Circle,” in Designed for Pleasure: The World of Edo Japan in Prints and Paintings, 1680-1860, ed. by Julia Meech and Jane Oliver (New York, 2008), 143-68.

Julie Nelson Davis, “Hokusai and Ōi: Art runs in the Family,” British Museum blog (2017): https://blog.britishmuseum.org/hokusai-and-oi-keeping-it-in-the-family/

Kobayashi Tadashi, “The Floating World in light and shadow — Ukiyo-e paintings by Hokusai’s daughter Ōi,” Hokusai and his Age: Ukiyo-e Painting, Printmaking and Book Illustration in Late Edo Japan, translated and adapted by Julie Nelson Davis, edited by John T. Carpenter (Leiden, 2005), 92-103.

Kubota Kazuhiro. Hokusai musume, Ōi Eijo shū (Tokyo, 2015).

Posted by Julie Nelson Davis, March 14, 2022

Katsukawa Shun’ei 勝川春英 , Utagawa Toyokuni 歌川豊国, Shibai kinmō zui 戯場訓蒙図彙, 1803

Katsukawa Shun’ei 勝川春(1762-1819), Utagawa Toyokuni 歌川豊国 (1769-1825)

Shikitei Sanba 式亭 三馬 (1776-1822), author

Shibai kinmō zui 戯場訓蒙図彙

Volumes 5-6 (of 8), 2 volumes bound as one

Edo period (1603-1868), 1803

Woodblock printed book; ink on paper

23.9 x 16.1 cm

A comprehensive guide to the backstage world of Edo theater, Shibai kinmō zui attests to the significant role kabuki played in the popular culture as both an independent art form and a stimulus for literary production. Such books about the theater (and especially kabuki)—which modern scholars have broadly labeled as gekisho—take a remarkable variety of forms, from seasonal playbills to annual actor critiques.


An illustrated encyclopedia of the theater, Shibai kinmō zui would have granted readers access to the backstage life of kabuki in book form, its pages replete with images and accounts of the hidden mechanisms through which plays were brought to life. Novel illustrations of stage effects, actors backstage studying their lines, and depictions of props are but a few examples. In the opening shown, Shun’ei and Toyokuni present a range of disembodied hair and beard styles. At the bottom center of the right page, they depict the towering hairstyle to accompany a fearsome hannya mask, used to represent a female demon. On the left page, the prim and proper styles of a variety of female characters are juxtaposed with the hairstyle of an old woman at the bottom right. 

Kikuchi Hisanori, best known by his pen name Shikitei Sanba, is regarded as one of the great writers of kokkeibon, a variant of comedic literature that emerged during the mid to late Edo period. Sanba employed a tongue-in-cheek parody of the conventional encyclopedia to detail everything about kabuki theater. As comprehensive as it is humorous, this novel marriage of form and content also utilized the cultural capital of two eminent artists in the realm of kabuki: Katsukawa Shun’ei and Utagawa Toyokuni. At once a parody, an encyclopedia, and a guidebook to the backstage world of kabuki, Shibai kinmō zui exemplifies how permeable the boundaries between different cultural forms and traditions were in early modern Japan. 


Francesca A. Bolfo

Selected Readings:

Akama, Ryō. Zusetsu Edo no engekisho: Kkabuki hen. Tokyo: Yagi Shoten, 2003.


Gondō, Yoshikazu, Takeshi Moriya, and Isoo Munemasa, eds. Kabuki, Nihon shomin bunka shiryō shūsei. Vol. 6. Tokyo: San’ichi Shobō, 1973.


Leutner, Robert. Shikitei Sanba and the Comic Tradition in Edo Fiction. Harvard-Yenchingld Institute Monograph Series 25. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1985.

Kawamura Bunpō 河村文鳳, Bunpō sansui gafu文鳳山水画譜 1824

Artist: Kawamura Bunpō 河村文鳳 (1779 – 1821)

Title: 文鳳山水画譜 (Bunpō’s album of landscape paintings)

Date: Bunsei 7 (1824)

Medium: Woodblock print; ink and color on paper; paper cover.

Gift of Arthur Tress, Arthur Tress Collection Box 55, Item 20 (https://franklin.library.upenn.edu/catalog/FRANKLIN_9977502846003681)

Kawamura Bunpō 河村文鳳 (1779-1821) was a Japanese landscape painter of the late Edo Period, born in Yamashiro Province, in modern day Kyoto Prefecture. He was best known for his illustrations of Chinese style landscapes (sansui), as can be seen in other published works such as Bunpō gafu (1807). He was a student of the artist Ganku 岸駒 (1756-1839) According to a postscript in the book by Bunpō’s student Kawamura Kihō (1778–1852) Bunpō sansui gafu was compiled at the request of Bunpō’s publisher Yoshidaya Shinbē.[1] The work, which consists of thirty pages of landscapes of Chinese settings, also includes quotidian scenes of daily work and life as well as poems by the poet Rai San’yō. Fellow artist Tanomura Chikuden once praised Bunpō’s fluid lines and ability to draw human figures, while his landscape paintings are known for their use of heavy brush strokes and thick contours.

Bunpō sansui gafu shows a variety of Chinese landscape paintings, and the renderings of his brush lines to provide contour and depth is striking. Human figures are generally marginal or de-emphasized in the composition; when they do it appear, it is usually figures at work, leading horses or ox, riding down rivers on boats, or simply walking in pairs or alone down winding paths or snowy landscapes. Both summer and winter are depicted in the series, and scenes of towns covered in snow exemplify Bunpō’s dramatic use of dark contours and color. These elements are particularly notable in the British Museum’s copy of the work, which preserves the striking color contrasts and sharp lines characteristic of the art.

Ellis Tinios links Bunpō’s interest in a variety of styles of art, particularly Chinese style painting, to the artistic and literary conventions of early nineteenth-century Kyoto, in which a variety of influences were available. According to him, Bunpō was himself perceived as an unusually eclectic artist, with an 1850 account stating that “took from all schools to develop his own unique style.”[2] He had a wide variety of associates, including the writer Ueda Akinari (1734-1809) and the Confucian scholar and poet Rai San’yō (1780-1831). Alongside his landscape, Bunpō was known for his artistic compositions that were didactic in intent (gafu) and for readers interested in painting and composition. While Bunpō is not as well known today as similar landscape artists of his period, his versatility in a wide variety of artistic genres and styles and ability to move between different conventions can still be seen in his work.

Other information on this copy: The book has information possibly identifying the previous owner that says “Mikawa Province, Hazu-gun, Nishio Han, Tokuda Jirō, Dental Specialist” (三河幡豆郡西尾藩 徳田次郎歯専).



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

Kobayashi Tadashi and Jun’ichi Ōkubo 小林忠 大久保純一. Ukiyo-e no kansh kihon chishiki 浮世     絵の鑑賞基礎知識[The fundamentals of appreciating Ukiyo-E] Tokyo: Shibundo, 1994.

Other Collections  

Pulverer Collection. Bunpō sansui gafu 文鳳山水画譜, Accession no. FSC-GR-780.284, https://pulverer.si.edu/node/421/title/1

Metropolitan Museum of Art. Bunpō sansui gafu 文鳳山水画譜, Accession no. 2013.662, https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/78583?searchField=All&sortBy=Relevance&ft=Kawamura+Bunp%c5%8d&offset=0&rpp=20&pos=1

British Museum of Art Bunpō sansui gafu 文鳳山水画譜, no. 1959,0509,0.6.2 https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/A_1959-0509-0-6-2

[1] Ellis Tinios. Bunpō sansui gafu 文鳳山水画譜, FSC-GR-780.284 https://pulverer.si.edu/node/421/title/1

[2] Ellis Tinios. Kawamura Bumpō: Artist of Two Worlds. (Leeds UK: University Gallery Leeds, 2004): 10.

Posted by Patrick Carland

Kawamura Bunpō 河村文鳳 , Kinpaen gafu 金波園画譜 1820

Artist: Kawamura Bunpō 河村文鳳 (1779 – 1821)

Title: Kinpaen gafu 金波園画譜; Picture Album by Kimpaen

Date: 1820

Medium: Woodblock printed; ink and color illustrations on paper; paper covers

Publisher: Hishiya Magobē 菱屋孫兵衛

Gift of: Arthur Tress Collection. Box 8, Item 5; Arthur Tress Collection Box 62, Item 14

These are fine first edition copies of Kawamura Bunpō’s Kinpaen gafu, or “Kinpaen’s album of paintings,” in the genre of Chinese painting known as kachōga, or bird-and-flower-paintings.  Although this style of bird-and-flower painting originated in China in the tenth-century, Bunpō’s style in particular stems from the Chinese Jiezhiyuan hua zhuan 芥子園畫傳, or the Manual of the Mustard Seed Garden, printed during the early years of the Qing Dynasty in the seventeenth-century. The painting manual became well known throughout Japan during the Edo period, with the earliest illustrated woodblock copy published in Kyoto in 1748.  The publisher of these two volumes in the Kress Collection, Hishiya Magobē (Gosharō), “advertised Bunpō’s Kinpaen gafu alongside his own fine edition of Jiezhiyuan hua zhuan” along with “other titles relating to Chinese art and culture.”

Bunpō imitates the Chinese method of omitting the outlines of leaves and stems known as Mogu 沒骨, or the “boneless technique,” which relies instead on forms produced by the colors themselves, as opposed to dark, heavy outlines used in drawing.  As scholar Ellis Tinios has noted, “there are also many instances in which delicate colors subtly blend one into the other,” and “the play of the artist’s brush is rendered as more tightly controlled.”  These details are all the more impressive given that these editions of Bunpō’s albums were woodblock printed books that succeed in beautifully reproducing a color application technique associated with elite forms of Chinese painting.

Kinpaen gafu is the only one of Bunpō’s many album books that was printed using a wide array of light colors.  In both Tress Collection volumes, varying shades of yellow, green, pink, and red appear in abundance and are applied to Japanese mulberry paper. However, the chief remarkable difference between the two volumes lies in their overall application of the pigments themselves as they appear in each print. While the volume on the left features a heavier application of color which results in darker illustrations, the colors of the volume on the right are much more muted. Their printed application appears more delicate, as though the printing was performed with less ink, resulting in lighter washes of color which give the impression of a more understated palette of pigments. While Bunpō’s album was meant to instruct the aspiring painter in rendering sights and scenes from the natural world, these books could have been used to instruct the printer’s apprentice in the art of the application of color when printing with a woodblock.

Bunpō’s preface to the work is written in Chinese characters. In it, Bunpō “states that it does not matter whether the artist is Chinese or Japanese.”  Instead, “what is important is that the artist’s work possesses depth of feeling, skill in handling the material, and the ability to depict the essence of things.”  The same could be said regarding these beautifully colored prints: what is most important is not the “higher” art of painting or the “lower” art of print, but rather, the effects they produce in the eyes of the viewer.

Posted by Judith Weston

November 20, 2019

Kawamura Kihō 河村琦鳳, Kihō gafu 琦鳳画譜, 1826-1827

Impression 8. 15, No. 19 (Figure 1)

Artist: Kawamura Kihō 河村琦鳳 (1778-1852)

Title Kihō’s Picture Album

Date: after 1826 (Bunsei 9)

Medium: Woodblock printed; ink and color on paper

Dimension: 25.9 x 17.8 x 1.1 cm

Publisher: Yoshida Shinbē 吉田新兵衛 (Bunchōdō 文徴堂)

Arthur Tress Collection, Box 8, Item 15

See digital images



Impression 8.7, No. 31

Artist: Kawamura Kihō 河村琦鳳 (1778-1852)

Title Kihō’s Picture Album

Date: 1827 (Bunsei 10)

Medium: Woodblock printed; ink and color on paper

Dimension: 25.9 x 17.8 x 1.1 cm

Publisher: Yoshida Shinbē 吉田新兵衛  (Bunchōdō 文徴堂)

Arthur Tress Collection, Box 8, Item 7



Impression 28.22, No. 12

Artist: Kawamura Kihō河村琦鳳 (1778-1852)

TitleKihō’s Picture Album

Date: after 1826 (Bunsei 9)

Medium: Woodblock printed; ink and color on paper

Dimension: 25.9 x 17.8 x 1.1 cm

Publisher: Yoshida Shinbē 吉田新兵衛 (Bunchōdō 文徴堂)

Arthur Tress Collection, Box 28, Item 22



Kihō gafu, a picture album by Kawamura Kihō, contains 30 double-page illustrations of flowers, animals, rural landscapes, and human figures in everyday life scenes. Human figures are shown enjoying bucolic tranquility and revealing a free spirit. Subjects are depicted with ink lines in a calligraphic manner and embellished with lucid pale colors, evoking a Chinese painting style. In some illustrations, the artist abandoned the color-filling technique but applied colors directly to define the shape of the subjects, offering a painterly effect. Kihō gafu also features many inventive compositions, in which the single sheets not only stand as independent scenes but also can be unified as compelling double-page illustrations. In one opening, for example, a bough ascends from the right bottom corner in a diagonal way and traverses the central division into the opposite sheet, in which a little bird is shown hanging itself down from a branch and pecking the red fruits (fig. 1). The bough, rendered with powerful brushwork, is printed so skillfully that it looks like an ink painting, and the little bird is depicted in a delicate manner, balancing the boldness of the bough as well as its visual weight.

Kyoto-based artist Kawamura Kihō was the adopted son of Kawamura Bunpō. Kihō followed in the style of his teacher, Bunpō, adopting his distinctive approach to Chinese literati painting. Many of Kihō’s illustrations thus echo Bunpō’s designs. Kihō gafu was published by Yoshida Shinbē from his shop, the Bunchōdō文徴堂, located in Kyoto. The three titles in the Tress collection include different dates in the prefaces, postscripts, and colophons, demonstrating that these titles were produced over several years.  For example, in book 8.7, the preface includes a date of Bunsei 7 (1824), the postscript is dated Bunsei 9 (1826), and the colophon to Bunsei 10 (1827); thus, the earliest date we can give to this printing is 1827. The publication dates of the other two impressions in the collection are unknown, as they do not have colophon dates, but they cannot precede Bunsei 9 (1826) given the date of the postscript included in both impressions. The three impressions of Kihō gafu also display different color and shade patterns, signifying an alteration of color woodblocks in the course of reprinting. In comparison with other two copies, the impression 8.7 seems to have a more romanticized and naturalized palette, including a green color with a warmer tone, the skin color with a lighter orange hue, and the addition of rose pink. Further research will need to be conducted to understand more about what the differences in color and hue might indicate between these three impressions.


Other Impressions

The Gerhard Pulverer Collection, Freer Gallery of Art, Washington D.C

Smithsonian Libraries, Washington D.C

The Metropolitan Museum, New York, NY

The New York Public Library, New York, NY

The British Museum, London


Selected Reading

Hiller, Jack. Introduction to Japanese Prints: 300 Years of Albums and Books. London: British Museum Publications Ltd., 1980.

Tinios, Ellis. “Kawamura Bumpō: The Artist and his Books.” Print Quarterly, vol. 11, no. 3 (1994): 256-91.



Posted by Aria Diao

Nov. 14, 2019

Kawanabe Kyōsai 河鍋暁斎 Kyōsai gadan 暁斎画談, 1887

Kawanabe Kyōsai 河鍋暁斎 (1831-1889)

Kyōsai gadan 暁斎画談

Volume 1, 2, 4 (of 4)

Publisher: Iwamoto Shun, Tokyo

Meiji period (1868-1912), 1887

Woodblock printed book; ink and color on paper

25.5 x 17.6 cm  

In Kyōsai gadan, painter Kawanabe Kyōsai presents the history of painting in two parts. The first part is a painting manual (gafu), representing the works of acclaimed masters, and part two is a biography of the artist himself. The gafu section features masterpieces by artists such as Sesshū and Ogata Kōrin (1658-1716) among many others, copied by Kyōsai himself. Each entry is followed by a brief description of the artist’s painting philosophy as well as his artistic genealogy. 


What makes this work different from other gafu of the time is the wide range of painting styles it covers. Kyōsai gadan features paintings of seventy-four masters across various schools of Chinese and Japanese painting. It was unheard of at the time for gafu to showcase highly regarded Kano or Tosa school painters’ work alongside ukiyo-e, the genre of art enjoyed by townspeople, or to include European anatomical drawings normally only studied by those in the medical field. Kyōsai believed that artists should learn from all styles of art to become truly skilled painters. 

Kyōsai’s inclusive view of artistic practice is also evident in the way his discussion on painting is presented. Instead of using classical Chinese characters for the text, as was the case with more traditional gafu, Kyōsai opted to use both kana syllabary and Chinese characters, often employing glossing (furigana) to make it easier for the general public to read. A large part of the text also includes English translations, showing that his target audience extended beyond Japanese painters. Kyōsai’s use of English comes as no surprise as he was known to have enjoyed friendships with English speakers. Kyōsai cultivated a particularly close relationship with the English architect Josiah Conder (1852-1920), who later became Kyōsai’s pupil, painting under the name Kyōei.


The latter two volumes of the set are a supplemental biography of Kyōsai written by Uryū Masayasu (1821-1893) and illustrated by Kyōsai. In this biography, anecdotes from Kyōsai’s childhood and the defining moments of his career were woven together to further highlight his philosophy and beliefs as an artist. 


Eri Mizukane

Selected Readings:

Jordan, Brenda G. “Kawanabe Kyōsai’s Theory and Pedagogy: The Preeminence of Shasei.” In Copying the Master and Stealing His Secrets: Talent and Training in Japanese Painting, edited by Victoria Weston and Brenda G. Jordan, 86–115. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2003.

Sadamura, Koto. “Meiji no gafu ‘Kyōsai gadan’ : Kinsei ehon bunka kara no renzoku to atarashii jidai ni okeru tenkai.” Ukiyo-e geijutsu 166 (2013): 20–37.

Digital facsimile for browsing (Colenda)

Kawanabe Kyōsai 河鍋暁斎, Kyōsai hyakki gadan 暁斎百鬼画談 1889

Artist: Kawanabe Kyōsai 河鍋暁斎 (1831-1889)

Title: Kyōsai hyakki gadan 暁斎百鬼画談 

Date of Publication: 1889, Publisher: Inokuchi Matsunosuke 井口松之助

Medium: Woodblock printed, gajōsō accordion-style, ink on paper.

Dimensions: 21.2 x 12.2 x 1.6 cm

Gift of: Tress, Arthur (donor) (Tress Collection copy)

Kislak Center for Special Collections – Arthur Tress Collection. Box 29, Item 16.

Kyōsai’s Hyakki gadan features many, or “one hundred,” ghosts (yōkai 妖怪) and monsters (bakemono 化け物). The yōkai are a class of supernatural monsters, spirits and demons in Japanese folklore. In addition to the folklore in Kyōsai’s Hyakki Gadan the history of the narrative is also an important element to Kyōsai’s work. This popular topic has many precedents, including the many illustrated books by Toriyama Sekien from the eightteenth century, with one of the earliest extant examples the painting by Tosa Mitsunobu from the 1500s.

The topic of these spectral figures was also part of the tradition of telling ghost stories, particularly enjoyed during the summer months. On some occasions, people would gather at dusk and tell ghost stories to each other, extinguishing a candle after each story would be completed. As each candle was blown out, it was thought that a yōkai would appear in the room. This is illustrated in Hyakki Gadan in the image where a man dressed in black is telling a scary tale to a group of people . Soon after the book shows a parade of yōkai and bakemono entering, shown moving across the page from the right to the left. At the end, the monsters run from the rising sun back to the underworld. For Kyōsai, the story is clearly about these monsters and the relationship they have with people. There is little to no background in the images. Thus, it pulls the reader into the “floating world.” This is a dream space, a place for stories, and a lack of background is disorienting yet places the reader into the appropriate space for the story to take place. This place is somewhere in the world of dreams, and the light at the end seems to wake the reader out of this world.

Other copies of the Book:

 Selected readings

  •  Jack Hillier, The Art of the Japanese Book, 2 vols. (London: Sotheby’s Publications by Philip Wilson Publishers, 1987), see esp. vol. 2, 938, 944.
  • Oikawa Shigeru, Commentary, Pulverer Collection: https://pulverer.si.edu/node/388/title/1
  • Hiroshige Utagawa 歌川広重, Fujimi Hyakuzu 無題 [富士見百図] (one hundred views of Mt. Fuji, 1859.
  • According to Oikawa Shigeru’s commentary, the red circle of the sun represents the fireball that emerges from a Buddhist dharana spell; see https://pulverer.si.edu/node/388/title/1 (accessed November 26, 2019).

Posted by Derek Rodenbeck

April 15th, 2020


Kawanabe Kyōsai 河鍋暁斎, Nōga zushiki 能画図式, 1867

Artist: 河鍋暁斎 Kawanabe Kyōsai (1831-1889)

Title: Nōga zushiki 能画図式

Date: 1867 (Keiō 3)

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

Publisher: Kobayashi Bunshichi

Gift of Arthur Tress. Box 16, Item 16.



“Nōga zushiki” is a diagram illustration book of the Japanese Noh drama. Noh is a major traditional form of Japanese dance-drama developed in the 14th century. During the Edo Period, Noh was popular among the aristocrat class and was supported by the emperor and feudal lords. Compared to the popular dance-drama kabuki, Noh theater was reserved only for a small group of upper-class elites. This explains why Noh books like this one are much rarer to find compared to Kabuki books.

This book starts with a depiction of the play “Okina,” commonly recognized as the “Noh play yet isn’t.” It is traditionally considered as a sacred Shinto ritual in which the actors perform divine figures who dance for peace, prosperity, and safety across the land. During the Edo period, it was commonly performed at the start of a full day’s program. The first page of illustration ingeniously introduces the actor facing the left side, offering the men-bako (the mask box that contains masks used for performance) to start the play as the readers turn the pages. The next three pages then portray the ritual dance performance by Okina (the white-masked old man), Senzai (the young man), and Sanba-sō (the black-masked old man,) following the music of hand drums and Japanese flute performed in the background.

After the auspicious opening follows famous Noh plays including Takasago 高砂 (p. 9 – 11) written by Zeiami, Utsubozaru 靱猿 (p. ___), and so on. From each play, Tōiku selected scenes that capture the show and included famous scripts from the play, annotated with the roles on the upper left corners of the texts. The detailed and expressive facial depiction together with the dynamic and dramatic movement again demonstrates Tōiku’s superb talent.

Kawanabe Tōiku, later changed the name to the better known Kyōsai, was one of the most proliferates artists during the transition from the end of Edo to the early years of the Meiji Period. Studied for two years Ukiyo-e style painting under Utagawa Kuniyoshi, later received his artistic training from the Kano School, Kyōsai worked on an expansive range of subjects: this includes earlier works on Buddhism paintings, bird-and-flower paintings, and so on. He later on transitioned to work on print and book publication in the popular sphere and produced a large number of sketches, comic pictures, and albums.

Other copies of this book series:

Mitsui Memorial Museum, Tokyo

Selected Readings:


Posted by Yuqi Zhao

March 25th, 2020

Kitao Masayoshi 北尾政美, Hyakunin isshu / 百人一首

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)

TitleHyakunin 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

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 Hyakunin isshu stands out in two ways. First, in other impressions, the title includes the word tenarai (手習), which translates to practicing writing with a brush. The impression in the British Museum contains 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 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 Masayoshi’s 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