Kōno Bairei 幸野楳嶺, Bairei kiku hyakushu 梅嶺菊百種 ca. 1891-96

Artist: Kōno Bairei 幸野楳嶺 (1841 – 1895)

Title: Bairei kiku hyakushu 梅嶺菊百種

Date: Vol. 1: 1891 (Meiji 24); Vol. 2: 1892 (Meiji 25); Vol.3: 1896 (Meiji 29)

Medium: Woodblock printed; ink and color on paper

Publisher: Ōkura Magobē 大倉孫兵衛 (1843 – 1921)

Donor: Presented by Arthur Tress. Arthur Tress Collection, Box 11, Item 2 (Volumes 1 and 3); Box 23, Item 9 (Volume 2). https://franklin.library.upenn.edu/catalog/FRANKLIN_9977502562303681  https://franklin.library.upenn.edu/catalog/FRANKLIN_9977502745103681

Bairei kiku hyakushu 梅嶺菊百種 “Bairei’s One Hundred Varieties of Chrysanthemum’ is a three volume set designed by the artist Kōno Bairei. The volumes contain delicately printed chrysanthemum flowers framed in different contexts — from wild chrysanthemums blown awry by the wind, to dainty ones in the company of birds and insects. Each print is inscribed with the artist’s seal.

Kōno Bairei began his training at the age of eight with Nakajima Raishō (1796-1871), a Maruyama school artist, and later with Shiokawa Bunrin (1808-1877) of the Shijō school. He was well-known in the Meiji period for his ukiyo-e prints and paid special attention to pictures of birds and flowers (kachō-e). His pictures displayed a keen engagement with western realism and thus had a market in the West as well. In addition to his artistic prowess, Bairei is also known for his role in developing art education. Along with others such as Kubota Beisen (1852-1906) and Mochizuki Gyokusen (1834-1913), he established the Kyoto Prefectural Painting School in 1878. In 1886, he co-founded the Kyoto Young Painters Study Group with Kubota Beisen, with whom he also began the Kyoto Art Association in 1895.

The images displayed here are from volumes 1 and 3. The image on the right, from volume 3, is bursting with movement, heightened by the petals made wild by the wind. On the left, from volume 1, is a beautiful print presenting the iconic Mt. Fuji as a backdrop to Bairei’s chrysanthemums.

Other copies: Pulverer Collection, Freer Gallery of Art, Washington DC; British Museum, London; Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Selected Readings:

 Hillier, Jack, The Art of the Japanese Book. London: Published for Sotheby’s Publications by Philip Wilson Publishers, New York, 1987, p.959-74.

Posted by Ayesha Sheth, Fall semester, 2019

Mori Tetsuzan 森徹山 et al., Kagetsujō 華月帖, 1836


Artist: Mori Tetsuzan 森徹山 (Japanese, 1775-1841) et al.
Author: Kagetsukanō Kirei
Date: 1836
Medium: Woodblock print, 27.7 cm x 15.8 cm
Publisher: Unknown
Gift of Arthur Tress, Box 17, Item 9

Kagetsujō, which literally translates to “Album of Flowers and Moon,” would be more correctly understood as “Kagetsu’s Album,” since Kagetsu (besides meaning flowers and moon) is also the name of the editor who compiled the volume. Kagetsujō comprises approximately fifteen illustrations created with sumi ink of various gradations, rendered into woodblock, which are composed by a number of artists and interspersed with occasional pages of text. Those illustrations, broadly speaking, fit under the genre of the shunga (“spring pictures”), or erotic art. According to the British Museum, Kireiken Toen, who went by the pen-name of Kagetsukano, was acquainted with many Japanese artists of the time and compiled the volume as a gift for a trip to Edo.

In certain early editions of Kagetsujō, a list of artist names appears at the end of the volume, revealing the true identities of those who signed their seals with pseudonyms. That list is not included in our edition. Many of the contributing artists follow the Shijō school, while other leaders of Kyoto schools are also represented. They include Kano Eigaku (Kanō school), Maruyama Ōshin (Maruyama/Shijō school), Mori Tetsuzan (Maruyama/Shijō school), and many more. Interestingly, this eclectic group converges in this volume in style, depicting erotic scenes in a slightly abstract, highly evocative style, a departure from the more detailed and colorful shunga illustrations by artists such as Hokusai. Printed with black sumi ink that fades in and out of focus, as well as an astute use of negative space to create form in the absence of color, the illustrations are rather emotionally charged. In fact, some of the illustrations are not explicitly or implicitly sexual, such as the image above.

It is understood that many of the artworks are based on previous shunga and scrolls. As scholar Jack Hillier points out, the print above, for instance, is reminiscent of seventeenth-century artwork by Moroshige. There are many other editions of this work around the world, such as in the British Museum, in the collection of Nakano Mitsutoshi, and in the Ebi Collection, Leeds (with a list of artists at the end of the volume).

Selected Readings

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

Nakano Mitsutoshi, “Kirei wakudeki,” in Edo kyōsha den (Tokyo, 2007), 439–493, 478–484.

Richard Lane, “Kagetsu-jō — A Shijō shunga album,” Ukiyo-e 65 (Spring 1976), 88–125.

Posted by Kelly Liu, Fall semester, 2019

Nakajima Tanjirō 中嶋丹次郎, Hīnagata Amanohashidate 雛形天の橋立


Artist: Nakajima Tanjirō 中嶋丹次郎

Title: Hīnagata Amanohashidate 雛形天の橋立 (Pattern Book: Amanohashidate)

Date: 1730

Medium: Woodblock print, black ink on paper.

Gift of Arthur Tress, Arthur Tress Collection Box 55 Item 9 (https://franklin.library.upenn.edu/catalog/FRANKLIN_9977502848103681)

Nakajima Tanjirō’s Hīnagata Amanohashidate is a book of kimono designs, ranging from simple black and white foliate patterns to elaborate imaginary landscapes replete with animals and dense vegetation. Accompanying the kimono designs are one to two lines of text. In some instances, it could describe the pattern and dictate to the clothier certain techniques or tools that could best render an elaborate design. In other instances, the text could be snippets of poetry whose themes were relayed in the designs. This opening shows a kimono design with auspicious plants associated with the four seasons.

Kimono pattern books, or hinagatabon, were working documents heavily used as cheap and quick references of the latest designs. Yet this was likely not their only appeal. The subtle play between poem and image was a source of entertainment for period viewers wishing to convey their sophistication. And certainly, there was something to be gained by perusing the newest styles for the year and staying current in the fast-moving world of fashion. Tastes changed quickly, and elaborate designs were often the subject of sumptuary regulations sporadically issued to rein in townspeople’s extravagant dress. 

This particular volume also presents several of the interesting problems contemporary bibliographers must address when working with Japanese books. The title Hīnagata Amanohashidate appears on the cover slip (daisen), is repeated in the preface of the book, and the character ama is included in the short-form title along the fore-edge (hashira). However, the colophon suggests the title is Hinagata yado no ume (Pattern Book: The Plum Trees of Our Home). Comparison to a digitized copy of Hīnagata Amanohashidate confirms its match to the Tress copy. What appears likely to have occured here is that a colophon page from another book was inserted to create a more desirable product for the secondary market.


Selected Reading

Hillier, Jack. The Art of the Japanese Book. Vol. 1. 2 vols. London: Sotheby’s, 1987.

Siffert, Betty Y. “‘Hinagata Bon’: The Art Institute of Chicago Collection of Kimono Pattern Books.” Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies 18, no. 1 (1992): 86–103.

Simmons, Pauline. “Artist Designers of the Tokugawa Period.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 14, no. 6 (1956): 133–48.


Posted by Nicholas Purgett

May 10th, 2020

Nakamura Tekisai 中村 惕斎 and Shimokōbe Shūsui 下河辺 拾水, Kashiragaki zōho kinmō zui 頭書増補訓蒙図彙 [1789]

Author: Nakamura Tekisai 中村 惕斎 (Japanese, 1629-1702)

Illustrator: Shimokōbe Shūsui 下河辺 拾水 (Japanese, ?- 1798)

Date: [1789]

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

Description: volume 4; 23 cm; fukurotoji (pouch binding)

Publisher: [Kyōto皇都(京都): Kyūkōdō 九皐堂]

Call Number: Arthur Tress Collection. Box 69, Item 14.

Gift of Arthur Tress

This item is from the revised and enlarged edition of the very first Japanese illustrated encyclopedia originally published in 1666 (Kanbun 6).  In this edition published in 1789, there are over 1500 entries grouped in 21 categories including astronomy, architecture, geography, occupations, insects, animals and plants, and each entry is written in both kanji and kana.  This particular item is volume 4 of the 21-volume set, and the subject of this volume is “people,” mostly categorized by their occupations.  What is curious about the entries is it mixes the other-worldly figures in with the humans.  It is also notable that foreigners are closely grouped with mythical figures such as the “long legs” and “giants.”


Nakamura Tekisai 中村 惕斎 (1629-1702) was a self-taught Neo-Confucian scholar who was sometimes described as a hermit, as he devoted himself to studying a wide range of subjects. As Tekisai writes in the preface of the original edition, he compiled the encyclopedia in hopes to educate and enlighten his own children. His other works include Hime kagami, a women’s didactic book written in Kana, which he also wrote for his young daughter.

Shimokōbe Shūsui 下河辺 拾水 (?-1798) is thought to be Nishikawa Sukenobu’s pupil, and he has illustrated various books in his career, including didactic books, kokkeibon, and illustrated guides.


Other impressions

Asian Art Collection, Brooklyn Museum

Japanese Rare Book Collection, National Diet Library, Tōkyō, Japan

Melikian Collection, Arizona State University Library

Waseda University Library

Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Harvard Art Museums


Selected reading/bibliography

Armstrong, R, C. (1974). Nakamura Tekisai, Light from the East: Studies in Japanese Confucianism (pp. 78-83).

Ishigami, Aki. (2017). 「訓蒙図彙」考序論―絵入百科事典データベース構築とともに. Proceedings of the Overseas Symposium in Otago: Japanese Studies Down Under: History, Politics, Literature and Art. (pp. 69-78). Kyoto, Japan: International Research Center for Japanese Studies.


Posted by Eri Mizukane

February 19, 2020

Niwa Tōkei 丹羽桃渓 Meika gafu 名家画譜, ca. 1814

Title: Meika gafu 名家画譜

Date: 1814 (Bunka 11)

Medium: Woodblock printed; ink and colour on paper.

Publisher: Nagoya : Eirakuya Tōshirō, 永楽屋東四郎.

Donor: Presented by Arthur Tress. Arthur Tress Collection, Box 1, Item 12. https://franklin.library.upenn.edu/catalog/FRANKLIN_9977502582303681

Meika gafu, “A Book of Paintings by Celebrated Artists,” can best be described as an encyclopaedia of the “who’s who’ in Japanese art. Interestingly, however, the volumes capture no Ukiyo-e or Rinpa masters. Jack Hillier remarks that “[T]he complete absence … denotes the compiler’s fixation on Chinese-inspired art, to the exclusion of anything remotely native or stemming from Japanese sources.” (741). The Meika gafu contains two volumes, titled Heaven and Man, corresponding to the Japanese One and Three. While this suggests the printing of Volume Two, or Earth, no copy of such a volume has been found. Each volume begins with a table of contents laying out the different kinds of themes and subjects included followed by the titles of the artists and their paintings, Many of these may have utilized as important source-material in the study of classical painting. The paintings are presented as grand double-spreads of well-known masters interspersed with those by lesser-known figures. The Meika gafu was extremely popular amongst the Japanese public and enjoyed many runs. However, this also meant that over time the production quality steadily declined.

Meika gafu was published by Tōhekido (Eirakuya Tōshirō), a publisher from Nagoya. He commissioned as compiler Mano Tōkei, who had a long association with the leading practitioners of the Kano, Nanga, and Shijō schools. In addition, Tōkei also represented the work of foundational figures such as Taika and Ōkyo.

The Tress Collection possesses both volumes of which one consists of a different kind of paper and is riddled with doodles, most certainly by a previous owner. The volumes also carry advertisements of other books by the publisher Tōhekido. The image displayed here is of that of Mori Sosen’s (1747-1821) “Monkey”, signed and sealed by him. Sosen was well-known for his paintings of the Japanese macaque and there are many examples extant today.


Other copies: Freer Gallery of Art, Washington DC; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; British Museum, London.

Selected Readings:                                                        

Forrer, Matthi, Eirakuya Tōshirō, Publisher at Nagoya: A Contribution to the History of Publishing in 19th century Japan, Vol. 1. Amsterdam, JC Gieben, 1985.

Hillier, Jack, The Art of the Japanese Book. London: Published for Sotheby’s Publications by Philip Wilson Publishers; New York, 1987, p. 741-75. 

Mitchell, Charles H., The Illustrated Books of the Nanga, Maruyama, Shijo and Other Related Schools of Japan: A Biobibliography, Dawson’s Book Shop, 1972, p. 407-09.

Posted by Ayesha Sheth, November 14, 2019


Ōnishi Chinnen 大西椿年, Sonan gafu楚南画譜, 1834

Artist: Ōnishi Chinnen 大西椿年

Date: 1834

Medium: fukurotoji (pouch binding), woodblock printed; ink and color on paper; paper covers

Publisher: Ōsakaya Genbei, Kobayashi Shinbei

Gift of Arthur Tress, Tress Box 8, Item 2, https://franklin.library.upenn.edu/catalog/FRANKLIN_9977502571303681

Other Known Copies: The Pulverer Collection in the Freer Gallery of Art, National Institute of Japanese Literature, The British Museum, The Art Institute of Chicago, Museum Volkenkunde (Leiden), and New York Public Library

This album is one of Ōnishi Chinnen’s best known works published under his artist name, Sonan. The Sonan gafu is a luxurious book showcasing the skillful hand of Chinnen, one of the most accomplished artists trained under the Shijō school, which was particularly lauded for its elegant portrayals of the natural world. In the Sonan gafu, Chinnen exhibits his artistic range in 25 double-page illustrations that feature everything from botanicals to bucolic boating parties. The variety of subjects covered in this album distinguish the work from Chinnen’s earlier book, Azuma no teburi, which presented illustrations that were centralized around a single theme of modern life in the Eastern capital of Edo.

The subjects of Sonan gafu dwell far from the metropole and their gentle pace of living is evoked immediately in the album’s opening image of a turtle. Subjects of the natural world are interspersed amongst scenes of folklore, making the reading experience of Sonan gafu one of serene pleasure and visual escape. In one scene, Chinnen depicts a handsomely dressed woman on the cusp of painting—her calligraphy brush teasingly grazes an unfurled scroll. The whiteness of the unpainted scroll is contrasted with the ornately patterned fabric of the woman’s costume. Chinnen’s manifold acts of painting in this image—both his and the promise of the woman’s—form layers of meaning and rendering intrinsic to the processes of block-printing that were used to make the image. The resulting interplay between the artist, the image, and the audience is what animates Chinnen’s delicate compositions into lively and engaging subjects.

Selected Reading:

Brown, Louise Norton. Block Printing & Book Illustration in Japan. London: Routledge, 1924, pp. 106.

Hillier, Jack. The Art of the Japanese Book. New York: Sotheby’s Publications, 1987, pp. 768-72.

Keyes, Roger S. Ehon: The Artist and the Book in Japan (The New York Public Library in association with the University of Washington Press, 2006).

Mitchell, C. H., with the assistance of Osamu Ueda. The Illustrated Books of the Nanga, Maruyama, Shijo and Other Related Schools of Japan. A Biobibliography (Los Angeles: Dawson’s Book Shop, 1972).

Toda, Kenji. Descriptive Catalogue of the Japanese and Chinese Illustrated Books in the Ryerson Library of the Art Institute of Chicago (Chicago: 1931; repr., Mansfield Centre, CT: Martino Publishing, 2004).


Posted by Ann Ho, Fall semester, 2019

Ōnishi Chinnen 大西椿年, Taihei uzō 太平有象 1829

Artist: Ōnishi Chinnen 大西椿年

Date: 1819

Medium: fukurotoji (pouch binding), woodblock printed; ink and color on paper; paper covers

Publisher: Osakaya Genbei, Kobayashi Shinbei

Gift of Arthur Tress, Tress Box 22, Item 13, https://franklin.library.upenn.edu/catalog/FRANKLIN_9977502751403681

Other Known Copies: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Pulverer Collection in the Freer Gallery of Art, National Institute of Japanese Literature, The British Museum

This e-hon, or picture book, by Ōnishi Chinnen (1791-1851) is bound in pale blue paper covers and decorated with large mica roundels stenciled in silver. Titled Azuma no teburi, this is Chinnen’s best known work, and it chronicles the daily frenzy of urban life in the capital: manual laborers ply their trade, women engage in domestic chores, and a toy-seller hawks his wares near playing children. The scenes are rendered with a graphic, highly gestural line that was distinctive of artists trained under masters of the Shijō school. Chinnen was pupil to both Tani Bunchō and Watanabe Nangaku, who repopularized naturalism in their use of birds and flowers as subjects. Chinnen’s lively strokes add a sense of movement and immediacy to his subjects, as if the scenes were drawn from close proximity. The viewer of Chinnen’s work thus becomes like a voyeur, and enjoys the pleasure of gazing unhurriedly at a scene that would quickly pass in the street. This quality illustrates what Jack Hillier calls the peculiar “limpidity” of Chinnen’s drawings. (Hillier 769)

Chinnen was born to a high-status family and worked as an official checker of government rice warehouses at Kuramae. The scenes of Azuma no teburi are topical to Chinnen’s civic occupation and daily work-route through the city. Each scene spans two pages and is framed by a thin black border. In one scene, the border frame is broken when two children play hanetsuki, a badminton-like sport, and their birdie bounces beyond the border. Here, Chinnen visually communicates the interplay between the boundaries of the game and the boundaries of the artist’s print block. By doing so, he engages the reader in a bit of wordplay in a text that has virtually no words. As such, Azuma no teburi broaches the question of its audience. What sort of 19th c. reading public is assumed by the sociological, civic, whimsical themes of Chinnen’s picture book?

Selected Reading:

Brown, Louise Norton, Block Printing & Book Illustration in Japan. London: Routledge, 1924, pp. 106.

Hillier, Jack. The Art of the Japanese Book. New York: Sotheby’s Publications, 1987, pp. 768-70.

Note: Book cover may have Sorimachi Shigeo’s handwriting

Posted by Ann Ho, Fall semester, 2019

Ōtsuki Gentaku 大槻玄沢, Kankai ibun 環海異聞, 1807

Artist: Ōtsuki Gentaku 大槻玄沢, Banzui, Shigetada.

Title:  Kankai Ibun 環海異聞

Date: ca. 1807

Medium: Handwritten manuscript with hand-painted illustrations; Chinese ink and watercolor paint.

Location: Kislak Center for Special Collections – Arthur Tress Collection. Box 8, Item 9. See link.

See digital images here

Gift of Arthur Tress

Ōtsuki Gentaku’s Kankai Ibun (1807), also referred to as Strange Tales of a Circumnavigation, tells the adventurous story of sixteen Japanese sailors who were shipwrecked on the coast of Russia in 1793. The four surviving sailors stayed in Russia for more than ten years as tutors in the Japanese language and returned to Japan in 1804. Together with Shimura Kōkyō, Gentaku compiled the text for the illustrated travel account based on oral evidence, reporting on the experiences of the Japanese men in the Western world[1]. Originally the manuscript consists of 15 (or occasionally 16) volumes and was produced throughout nineteenth-century Japan[2].

The edition offered here includes 5 double-page and 2 single-page hand-colored illustrations. The same number of illustrations exist in volume 9 and 10 of similar copies[3]. Both volumes depict scenes of the sailors’ stay in St. Petersburg. The existence of stains and water damage that can only be found on one-half of the manuscript, suggests that our edition has been recomposed. Based on visual comparison of the individual illustrations with other existing copies, it can be observed that every illustration has its own individual characteristics in terms of color and specific details. It seems therefore unlikely that the maker has made any use of printing techniques[4].

The manuscript includes among others, illustrations of the launch of a hot air balloon and the sailor’s visit to the giant Globe of Gottorf in the Ethnographical Museum at the Academy of Sciences on Vasiliev Island[5]. In addition, two portraits of Catherine the Great and Tsar Alexander I are included[6]. The colorful illustrations give us a glimpse into the Japanese representations of the East-West encounters, during a persistent period of isolation. More specific, at the end of the Edo period the Japanese perceived the Russians as violent ‘red barbarians’ and enemies[7], which explains the Japanese interest in this particular kind of manuscript that allowed them to learn more about their rivals.

As an influential scholar in the field of both medical as well as Dutch studies (rangaku), the Japanese physician Ōtsuki Gentaku (1757-1827), also known as Banzui or Shigetada, is mainly rewarded for his role in the expansion of Western knowledge in Japan. He is not only recognized for his influential writings on Western science, but also as the founding father of academy in Dutch studies, the Shirandō Academy, opened in 1786[8].

Another impression of this manuscript is in the SOAS Library in London. Other volumes of Gentaku’s Kankai Ibun originating from the beginning until the end of the nineteenth-century can be found in the USC Libraries East Asian Library (Los Angeles), the Alaska State Library & Historical Collections (Juneau), The Melikian Collection in the ASU library (Tempe, Arizona), the Doshisha University (Kyoto) and the Kyoto University Library.

Selected Readings

  • Ikuta Michiko, ‘Changing Japanese–Russian Images in the Edo Period’ in Japan and Russia: Three Centuries of Mutual Images, Yulia Mikhailova and M. William Steele (eds.) (Folkestone: Global Oriental, 2008), pp. 11–31.
  • Margarita Winkel, Discovering different dimensions. Explorations of culture and history in early modern Japan (Leiden: Leiden University, 2004).
  • Martin Ramming. “A description of the Gottorp globe in a Japanese manuscript book.” Imago Mundi, Vol. 9 (1952), pp. 103-105.
  • Terrence Jackson, ‘Ōtsuki Gentaku: Network Facilitator’ in Network of Knowledge: Western Science and the Tokugawa Information Revolution (University of Hawai’i Press, 2016), pp. 24-40.
  • Tsuneharu Gonnami. Images of Foreigners in Edo Period Maps and Prints. Diss. University of British Columbia, 1998.

Posted by Hilda Groen

October 28, 2019

[1] Launch of a hot-air balloon in St Petersburg and portraits of the Tsar and Tsarina of Russia, Alexander I and Elizabeth in SOAS Library, London. http://digital.soas.ac.uk/LOAA005806/00001, accessed on 23 October, 2019.

[2] Japanese castaway manuscripts volume, Kankai Ibun, Exotic Tales Around the Oceans Stock ID #157024, Asia Bookroom. https://www.asiabookroom.com/pages/books/157024/japanese-castaway-manuscript-volume/kankai-ibun-exotic-tales-around-the-oceans, accessed on 23 October, 2019.

[3] The same 5 double-page and 2 single-page hand-colored illustrations appear in volume 9 and 10 out of the 15 volumes in total of the kankai ibun (1807) that is now in the Alaska State Library (see https://vilda.alaska.edu/digital/collection/cdmg21/id/15404/) and the Rare Books Collection of Doshisha University (see https://doors.doshisha.ac.jp/duar/repository/ir/22419/?lang=1 and https://doors.doshisha.ac.jp/duar/repository/ir/22420/?lang=1).

[4] When you compare the different examples that can be found of the illustrations of Catherine the Great and Tsar Alexander I, it can be observed that every portrait has its own distinctive facial features and use of color. See for instance Kankai Ibun (1850) Christie’s Lot 123, 8 – 19 December 2014; Kankai Ibun (1807), Vol.10, Alaska State Library; Kankai Ibun (1807), Vol.10, Rare Books Collection of Doshisha University.

[5] Martin Ramming, ‘A description of the Gottorp globe in a Japanese manuscript book’, Imago Mundi, Vol. 9 (1952), pp. 103-105.

[6] Otsuki Gentaku (text by), Edo period (circa 1850), Lot 123, SALE 5932, Christie’s 8 – 19 December 2014, https://onlineonly.christies.com/s/japanese-art-english-court/otsuki-gentaku-text-by-edo-period-circa-1850-123/13754, accessed on 23 October, 2019.

[7] Ikuta Michiko, ‘Changing Japanese–Russian Images in the Edo Period’ in Japan and Russia: Three Centuries of Mutual Images, Yulia Mikhailova and M. William Steele (eds.) (Folkestone: Global Oriental, 2008), p. 25.

[8] Terrence Jackson, ‘Ōtsuki Gentaku: Network Facilitator’ in Network of Knowledge: Western Science and the Tokugawa Information Revolution (University of Hawai’i Press, 2016), pp. 24-40.

Sakai Hōitsu 酒井抱一, Ōson gafu 鶯邨画譜, 1817

Hoitsu deer

Hoitsu deer

Artist: Sakai Hōitsu 酒井抱一(1761–1828)

Title: Ōson gafu 鶯邨画譜 (Ōson Painting Album)

Alternative Title: Hōitsu jōnin gafu抱一上人画譜, Hōitsu jōnin Ōson gafu抱一上人鶯邨画譜

Date: Second month, 1817

Description: 1 volume

Medium: Woodblock printed; ink and color on paper; paper cover

Dimensions: 19 cm x 28 cm

Publisher: Izumiya Shōjirō 和泉屋庄次郎, Edo

Block Carver: Asakura Hachiemon 朝倉八右衛門

Gift of Mr. Arthur Tress

Object Number: Box 17, Item 3



In Ōson gafu, Sakai Hōitsu (1761–1828) demonstrates his understanding of Ogata Kōrin’s (1658-1716) oeuvre and positions himself as the artistic successor to Kōrin. The blue wave pattern on the cover immediately links this book to Kōrin’s famous wave patterns. Both the subjects and style of the illustrations in this book are done in the manner of Kōrin. The actual-size seals on every illustration and Hōitsu’s artist name, Ōson, in the title likewise claims Hōitsu’s right to use these images and to claim his place in Kōrin’s artistic legacy. In the first preface, scholar and poet Kamo Suetake (1754-1841) further praises Hōitsu as having surpassed the artistic achievement of Kōrin.

The image featured here is an excellent example of Hōitsu’s adoption of Kōrin’s tradition as it is rendered throughout this book. Here, Hōitsu portrays a deer standing with three red maple leaves on the ground. The torso and legs of the deer were printed by separate blocks to show the wet and fluent brush for which Kōrin was known and that Hōitsu seeks to imitate here. The maple leaves were printed as a gradient of colors. Similar images of deer also appear Kōrin gafu illustrated by Nakamura Hōchū, from 1802 (Tress Collection: Box 8, Item 11) and Kōrin hyakuzu by Hōitsu from 1816 (Tress Collection: Box 14, Item 13), which were published prior to this book. The superior printing quality brings the brushstrokes to life, which, echoing the first preface, elevates Hōitsu as a master of Kōrin’s tradition.

The artist Hōitsu was born to the Sakai family, a high-ranking samurai family that governed Himeji Castle in today’s Hyōgo Prefecture. His family was also known for its patronage of the arts, and their status allowed Hōitsu to access works by famous painters in various styles and to practice kyōka and haikai in his youth. In 1797, he became a Buddhist monk, and later he adopted the artist name Hōitsu from the Daoist text, theTao Te Ching. To demonstrate his admiration of Kōrin, who had also served the Sakai family, in 1815 Hōitsu held a ceremony and exhibition to commemorate the centennial of Kōrin’s death. One year later, he published the first edition of Kōrin hyakuzu (One Hundred Pictures of Kōrin), a monochrome catalogue showing works displayed in the centennial exhibition; this also includes the paintings which were owned by the Sakai family and Hōitsu’s close friends. Kōrin hyakuzu and Hōitsu’s own painting album, Ōson gafu, are the landmarks of his artistic career, and signal his embrace of the tradition of Kōrin. He utilized the printed painting album as a means to market himself to a broader audience.

Other copies of this book are in the British MuseumFreer Gallery of Art, and Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Museum of Fine Art in Boston.

Selected Reading

McKelway, Matthew P. 2012. Silver wind: the arts of Sakai Hōitsu (1761-1828). New York: Japan Society.

Hillier, Jack. 1987. The art of the Japanese book. London: Wilson for Sotheby’s Publications. 654-699

Posted by Tim Zhang, Fall semester, 2019

Shōkōsai Hanbē 松好斎半兵衛, Kensarae sumai zue 拳会角力図会, 1809

Artist: Shōkōsai Hanbē 松好斎半兵衛 (active 1795-1807)

Authors: Girō 義浪 and Gojaku 吾雀

Title: Kensarae sumai zue 拳会角力図会 (Pictures of Sumo Hand Competitions)

Publisher:  Kawachiya Tasuke 河内屋太助, Ōsaka

Date: 1809

Medium: Woodblock printed, ink on paper

Gift of Arthur Tress, Arthur Tress Collection, Box 29, Book 8

The hand gestures game called “janken” in Japan–and known as “rock-paper-scissors” abroad–is very well known today. It is often played by children and adults for fun as well as in competitions, perhaps over whose turn it is to do the dishes or to ride in the front passenger seat of the car. Hand gesture games were popular in the Edo period as well. But “rock-paper-scissors” is not as old as it seems–instead this variation evolved from others in the mid to later nineteenth century.

In this book published in 1809, we learn more about the popularity and the rules for “ken-asobi” (拳遊び) or  “hand-gesture play” for earlier forms. These were often enjoyed as drinking games. Some were even styled  after sumo wrestling competitions. In the opening pages of this book, Osaka artist Shōkōsai Hanbē shows participants and fans hurrying to the site of play, then packing into the hall to sit in small groups eating, drinking, and playing the hand gesture games.

Some hand-gesture games were styled as matches played around miniature wrestling rings, like the one shown in the illustration at the top of this post, in imitation of sumo wrestling competitions. These games were refereed by judges carrying fans, just like they did in sumo matches, and in the pages preceding this image, we learn more about the rules and the role of the referees. Some competitors became famous for their skill, as the list of names of players from Osaka, Kyoto, and Nagasaki at the end of the book demonstrates.

Two variations of hand gesture games are illustrated in another opening, with the pages preceding and following describing the terms used during the game. One variation used all five fingers, as seen on the right, in a game where each player selected a hand gesture for a number and then shouted a prediction for the total made by both players (see the essay by Linhart listed below).

On the left, we are shown the very popular variation with three distinct hand forms called mushi-ken (虫拳). This version featured three protagonists: the snake, the frog, and the slug. These animals were classed as mushi, a word often translated as “insects,” but this class of animals also included amphibians and reptiles in period taxonomies. This form of the game originated in China with the protagonists as the snake, frog, and poisonous centipede. The shift from centipede to slug in the Japanese version happened due to a misreading of the characters for centipede.

In the illustration here, the snake is performed by the index finger, the frog by the thumb, and the slug by the pinky finger. Each of these animals is afraid of being consumed by one of the others, so the snake wins over the frog, the frog over the slug, and the slug over the snake. Below the hand gestures, Hanbē has illustrated an item called a “kenkin” (拳錦) or a “competition brocade,” a cover that could be attached to the hand, presumably to hide the player’s hand movement while forming the gesture.

Games like these were played at home as well as in a variety of other locations. Images of the licensed brothel quarters often show clients and sex workers playing a game featuring a fox, a hunter, and the village headman. In that version, the wily fox outsmarts the village head, the village head bests the hunter, and the hunter trounces the fox.

This large format book features printing on fine paper. Mr. Tress recalls finding this book, volume one of two volumes, in 1970, on his second trip to Japan. For complete digitization of both volumes, see the example held in the Pulverer Collection (pulverer.si.edu).

Other copies:

Pulverer Collection:  http://pulverer.si.edu/node/934/title

Berlin State Library (Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin)

University of Kyoto Library along with another seven libraries in Japan

Selected Reading:

Kitagawa Hiroko, “Commentary,” Kensarae sumai zue, The World of the Japanese Illustrated Book (http://pulverer.si.edu/node/934/title/1)

Linhart, Sepp, “From Kendo to Jan-Ken: The Deterioration of a Game from Exoticism into Ordinariness,” The Culture of Japan as Seen through Its Leisure, SUNY Press (1998), 319–344.

Posted by Julie Nelson Davis, August 24, 2020