Suzuki Rinshō 鈴木隣松, Itchō gafu 一蝶画譜, 1770

青楼其二(Brothel, no. 2). Volume 1

Artist: Suzuki Rinshō 鈴木隣松 (-1803) after Hanabusa Itchō 英一蝶 (1652-1724)

Title: Itchō gafu 一蝶画譜 (Itchō Painting Album)

Alternative Title: Hanabusa Itchō gafu 英一蝶画譜 (Hanabusa Itchō Painting Album)

Date: First month, 1770

Description: 3 volumes

Medium: Woodblock printed; ink on paper; some color in volume 1; paper covers

Dimensions8.2cm x 27.0 cm (volume 1 and 2); 8.0 cm x 25.0 cm (volume 3)

Publisher: [Nishimura Sōshichi]

Collector’s Seal: ?sai, ?斎on volume 3

Provenance: Margaret “Peg” Palmer

Gift of Mr. Arthur Tress

Object Number: Volume 1 and 2, Box 16 Item 7;

Volume 3, Box 8 Item 18

This book features a wide range of themes from Hanabusa Itchō’s (1613–1685) painting oeuvre what is in effect a printed painting album. Many of the paintings are based on Sino-Japanese subjects which were often made by the artists in the Kano studio. These images demonstrate Itchō’s ability to convert traditional subjects into expressive, humorous, and relevant images, many featuring his observations from urban life.

The first image shown here depicts a man visiting the pleasure district. The man, his servant, and the sex workers are dressed in Tang-dynasty costumes. Meanwhile, the window lattices are in the style of Edo-period pleasure districts. Itchō himself was reportedly a visitor to the Yoshiwara, the pleasure district in Edo.

The second image included here is called the Asazuma Boat, after one of Itchō’s most famous paintings. This picture shows a woman waiting to meet her guest on a boat near Asazuma after the fall of the Heike. Suzuki Rinshō seems to have tried to represent the large variation of brushstrokes often featured in Itchō’s paintings. In the preface, Rinshō described these images as giga, playful paintings.

朝妻ぶね (Asazuma Boat), Volume 3

Hanabusa Itchō is known for his use of humor to illustrate the urban experience of commoners in the city of Edo. At a young age, he apprenticed in the studio of Kano Yasunobu in Edo, doing so by order of his local daimyo. He wrote haikai poems and was active in the circle of Matsuo Bashō (1644-1694). In 1698 he was banished to the island of Miyake by the shōgun for eleven years and made his living by selling paintings there. He adopted the name Hanabusa Itchō and continued his artistic practice after he returned to Edo. After Itchō’s death, his student Hanabusa Ippō (1691-1760) published painting albums in the style of Itcho (see Ippō, Ehon zuhen (1752, Tress Collection Box 39, Item 11) and Eihitsu hyakuga (1758). Suzuki Rinshō, a samurai who relinquished his position and studied painting, publishing this and other albums featuring Itchō’s paintings after Ippō’s death.

Other copies of this book are in the British MuseumHarvard Art MuseumsMetropolitan Museum of ArtMuseum of Fine Arts, Boston, and New York Public Library


Selected Reading

Hillier, Jack. 1987. The art of the Japanese book. London: Wilson for Sotheby’s Publications. 216-221

Wattles, Miriam. The Life and Afterlives of Hanabusa Itchō, Artist-Rebel of Edo. Leiden: Brill, 2013.

Posted by Tim Zhang

Takadachi 高館, 1625

Artist: unknown

Title: Takadachi 高館

Date: 1625

Medium: Monochrome moveable type and woodblock printing; ink and color on paper

Publisher: unknown

Gift of: Arthur Tress Collection. Box 69, Item 13,

This impression of Takadachi belongs to an early genre of printed books known as tanrokubon. Featuring both printing and hand coloring, tanrokubon are important in the history of the book in Japan as a bridge between hand-painted manuscripts and later fully printed books. The most prominent colors for these books were tan, the bright red-orange featured in this volume, and roku, a deep green, hence the name tanrokubon, or red-green books. The largest market for these books was in the Kan’ei era (1624-1644), but it eventually faded as demand changed.

Takadachi tells the story of the last days of the famous twelfth-century samurai Minamoto no Yoshitsune (1159-1189), adapting it for a seventeenth-century audience. Hunted down by the forces of his half-brother Minamoto no Yoritomo (1147-1199), Minamoto no Yoshitsune and his loyal followers make their last stand at Takadachi fortress in the north of Japan. Realizing their inevitable defeat, Yoshitsune and his forces prepare for battle and hold a last feast. When the enemy takes the castle and kills all of Yoshitsune’s retainers, Yoshitsune commits seppuku (ritual suicide) to avoid dishonorable capture. 

Many of these twelfth-century events were regarded as mirroring those of the 1615 Siege of Osaka, when the Toyotomi faction was defeated by the Tokugawa coalition. The authors of Takadachi used the tale of Yoshitsune to draw a parallel with the fate of the Toyotomi. This practice of translation and historical allusion was common throughout the Edo period, as it avoided possible prosecution by shogunal authorities interested in consolidating and controlling the historical narrative.

This book features script produced using movable type instead of woodblocks. Movable type was known in Japan since the late sixteenth century, and movable-type books on political, historical, and literary themes were produced in the first half of the seventeenth century. Movable type, however, came to be used less, due to a variety of reasons, and after the 1640s it was rarely employed. Movable type was reintroduced into the publishing industry during the modernization of the Meiji period (1868-1912).


Selected Reading:

Araki, James T. The Ballad-Drama of Medieval Japan. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1964.

Asahara Yoshiko, and Kitahara Yasuo, eds. Mai no hon. Shin Nihon koten bungaku taikei 59. Tokyo: Iwanami shoten, 1994.

Chance, Linda H. and Julie Nelson Davis. ​​“The Handwritten and the Printed: Issues of Format and Medium in Japanese Premodern Books.” Journal for Manuscripts Studies, 1:1 (2016), 90-115.

Yoshida, Kogorō. Tanrokubon: Rare Books of Seventeenth Century Japan. Translated by Mark A. Harbison. Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1984.

Posted by Judith Weston

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

Toji-awase Oden no kanabumi 綴合於伝仮名書 ca.1879

Broadside showing acts in kabuki play

Broadside showing acts in kabuki play

Artist: Unknown

Title: Toji-awase Oden no kanabumi (The Binding of Oden’s Letters)

Date: ca. 1879

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

This broadsheet refers to the kabuki play The Binding of Oden’s Letters (Toji-awase Oden no Kanabumi), written by Kawatake Mokuami. The play debuted at the Shintomi-za theater in 1879, and this broadsheet was likely made as a summary to the play. It includes 16 individual panels read from right to left, top to bottom. The first panel in the uppermost right corner identifies the play and its theater, and the 14 before the red square at the bottom left each represent a key scene in the narrative. The red cartouches on the right side of each panel describe the scene and location; above and outside the frame of each panel, within the yellow segment, is a list of roles and associated actors. Dialogue from the scenes is included within panel, and the actor’s costumes display their distinctive crests (mon). This broadsheet may have been made as a guide distributed at the theater or as memorabilia to take home from a performance.

The kabuki play was based on sensational stories about a woman named Takahashi Oden (ca.1848-1879). Oden gained media attention when she was arrested in 1876 under suspicion of cutting the throat of merchant Gotō Kichizō at an inn before fleeing the scene. Oden’s trial spanned nearly 3 years before she was convicted under the Meiji-era justice system. On January 31, 1879, she became one of the last persons in Japan to be officially executed by beheading. The kabuki play based on her story debuted in the Shintomi-za theatre in May of that year.

Comparatively little can be verified about the real Takahashi Oden. Her literary appearances, on the other hand, in gossip serials that appeared in newspapers within days of her death as well as the books and plays that followed, provide a wealth of shifting details about her life. Due to the immediate and sensationalist coverage of her crime, Oden was termed a “poison woman,” by mass media after her alleged poisoning of her sick husband was added to the list of criminal accusations including gross immorality, thievery, and murder. The term “poison woman” or dokufu gained traction in Meiji Japan through publications featuring female criminals (see Marran).

Reporter Kanagaki Robun (1829-1894) wrote The Tale of Demon Takahashi Oden (Takahashi Oden yasha monogatari) in 1879; this has become perhaps the best-studied version of Takahashi Oden. It first appeared in the newspaper Kanayomi as a serial called the The story of poison woman Oden (Dofuku oden no hanashi). The serial began two days after Oden was beheaded and its immediacy likely lent to its popularity. It was later expanded into book form. Robun’s work predates the Kabuki play version of Oden by 3 months.

The script for the kabuki play, Toji-awase Oden no kanabumi, that is the reference for this broadsheet remains extant, available digitally in the database maintained by the National Institute of Japanese Literature. The play was organized with six acts, and the panels in the broadsheet line correspond to that work as follows:

Panel 1: Play title and theater
Panel 2: Opening act
Panels 3 and 4: Second act
Panels 5 and 6: Third act
Panels 7 and 8: Interlude performance featuring material unrelated to Oden
Panel 9: Fourth act
Panel 10: Intermediate act
Panel 11: Fifth act
Panels 12, 13, 14, 15: Sixth act

The play has yet to be translated or analyzed in detail but a great deal of attention appears to be given to detailing Takahashi Oden’s life before and during her husband’s illness. In the broadsheet, some panels depict her being harassed by unsavory fellows alongside what appears to be her husband in worsening condition. In a panel midway, Oden is depicted as distressed aboard a boat, hounded by a ghost-like figure—this is likely her husband after his death. The panels following the intermission scenes may depict Oden cohabiting with another man as well as her involvement in his enterprises. The final panels illustrates the climax of the play. In the 12th panel, Oden is seen luring and killing a man on the second floor of an inn, in the 13th panel she is captured by officials on a bridge, in the 14th panel she is standing trial, and in the 15th panel she is sentenced. A study group at the University of Pennsylvania is currently working on a full transcription of the broadsheet.

Other collections: as yet no other copies have been found

Selected Readings:
Christine L. Marran, Poison Woman: Figuring Female Transgression in Modern Japanese Culture (University of Minnesota Press, 2007).

Ohashi Yoshiteru, Dokufu densetsu Takahashi Oden to Eriito Gunitachi (Kyoei Shoten, 2013).

Matthew C. Strecher, “Who’s Afraid of Takahashi O-Den? ‘Poison Woman’ Stories and Literary Journalism in Early Meiji Japan.” Japanese Language and Literature, vol. 38, no. 1, 2004, pp. 25–55.

Posted by Caitlin Adkins, April 6, 2022

Torii Kiyomitsu 鳥居清満, Maihime nidai hachinoki 娜二代鉢木, 1774

photo of books covers
Maihime nidai hachinoki, fascicle 1 cover (left) and bound fascicles 3-5 (right).

Artist: Torii Kiyomitsu I (Japanese, 1735-1785)

Title: Maihime nidai hachinoki (Second Generation Hachinoki)

Date: n.d. [1774]

Publisher: Urokogataya Magobei

Descripton: woodblock printed book, black ink; paper covers; pouch binding; 18.3 cm tall; 13 cm wide; includes fascicle 1 + bound fascicles 3–5 (each fascicle is 10 pages + cover)

Category: pictorial fiction, aohon (blue blook)

Location: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Arthur Tress Collection, Box 29, Item 17.

Gift of Arthur Tress

Maihime nidai hachinoki (Second Generation Hachinoki) is a derivation of Hachi no ki (The Potted Trees), a 14th c. story also adapted for Noh and Kabuki theater. Kiyomitsu’s rendering of the story follows the supernatural travails of the adult children of samurai Tsuneyo.

To spare expense, kusa-zoshi (smaller pictorial books) were printed in black ink only, and often later hand-colored by the owner of the book. Serial stories were sold in separate installments or in volumes of 2-3 fascicles. The lower cost of production enabled a wider audience to buy books, rather than borrow.[1]

Publisher Urokogataya’s mark of triangles (pulled from his seal) appears on the title strip of bound fascicles 3-5, as well as on the first page of each fascicle. Fascicles 1, 4, and 5 have cover plate illustrations that are more crudely drawn copies of interior illustrations. The physical characteristics of the book, publication date, as well as sophisticated content, place it in the later aohon (blue book) category of kusa-zoshi, [2] though the recycled paper cover has faded from blue to tan.

Throughout the book are pictorial references to the original story, such as Tsuneyo’s armor; a framed painting of the traveling monk; a scene of the siblings at home with the three potted trees in the foreground; and kimono decorated with plum, cherry, and pine blossoms.[3]

Artist Torii Kiyomitsu I was the third leader of the Torii School for painting and printing, based in Edo. While the school remained rooted in theatrical publications, Kiyomitsu expanded the Torii style with multiple color woodblock printing and with a lighter, graceful style in his own work. Though he is best known for his actor and beauty prints,[4] he and other leading print artists also illustrated these early comic books related to the stage.[5]

Other copies can be found in the National Diet Library Digital Collections, and Harvard Yenching Library.

Selected reading:
Kimbrough, R. Keller. “Illustrating the Classics: The Otogizōshi Lazy Tarō in Edo Pictorial Fiction.” Japanese Language and Literature, vol. 42, no. 1, 2008.

Robert J. Baran, “Hachi-No-Ki, A Perspective,” ABS Bonsai Journal, Vol. 26, Summer 1992.

Lane, Richard Douglas. Images From the Floating World: The Japanese Print. New York: Dorset, 1982.

Kern, Adam L. “Kabuki Plays on Page—and Comicbook Pictures on Stage—in Edo-Period Japan.” Publishing the Stage, edited by Keller Kimbrough & Satoko Shimazaki.

[1] Kimbrough, R. Keller. “Illustrating the Classics: The Otogizōshi Lazy Tarō in Edo Pictorial Fiction.” Japanese Language and Literature, vol. 42, no. 1, 2008, pp. 257–304. JSTOR,

[2] Ibid., 257.

[3] Baran, Robert J. “Hachi-No-Ki, A Perspective,” ABS Bonsai Journal, Vol. 26, Summer 1992, pp. 3-4, 23. The potted trees are Ume (Plum), Sakura (Cherry), and Matsu (Pine).

[4] Lane, Richard Douglas. Images From the Floating World: The Japanese Print. New York: Dorset, 1982, p. 89.

[5] Kern, Adam L. “Kabuki Plays on Page—and Comicbook Pictures on Stage—in Edo-Period Japan.” Publishing the Stage, edited by Keller Kimbrough & Satoko Shimazaki. Center of Asian Studies, 2011, pp. 168, 172.

Posted by Catherine Gontarek
October 8, 2019


Tosa School, Bunshō ぶんせう, 17th century

Salt making

Salt making
Artist: Tosa School, style of

Title: Bunshō ぶんせう (Bunsho)

Date: 17th century

Medium: Manuscript: ink, color, and gold on paper

Size: 23.8 x 17.6 cm

Gift of Arthur Tress, Arthur Tress Collection of Japanese Illustrated Books
Tosa School 1, Kislak Center for Special Collections

When is a book an event? For a period in early nineteenth-century Japan, the New Year was a time for fresh installments of the phenomenal Nise Murasaki Inaka Genji. Even earlier the ritual reading of lavish hand-copied productions of an auspicious tale had marked this most important holiday. Colorfully illustrated, they told of the miraculous rise in fortunes of a common salt maker named Bunda.

The Tress Collection contains a single volume of Bunshō sōshi, or “The Story of Bunshō,” bearing the simple title Bunshō. (Bunda upgrades his name to Bunshō in accordance with the abundant wealth he earns after coming in to his own making salt that keeps people young and healthful.) Thirty openings beautifully render the life of this honest, pious, and hard-working man (second illustration) and, perhaps more importantly, his daughters. For it was the daughters of merchant families who read–or had read to them–this tale on the second day of the lunar new year in the hopes of happy and prosperous futures.

Imagine the scene: among your tasks as the old year ends is to order a copy of the story with elegant calligraphy for the text and familiar but grand versions of the expected illustrations. The workshop that produces the books, hoping to maximize profits and avoid the crush of orders before the holiday, puts together an assembly line with artisans responsible for paintings, for text, for covers. All must be fit together, attractively and with no waste. The Tress manuscript demonstrates this reality while also relating how prayers to the Kashima Shrine in Hitachi province (shown in the third illustration) resulted in the birth to Bunshō’s wife of two girls. They were of such perfection that their hands in marriage were sought by a courtier from the capital and even the sovereign. First, however, as the pictures show us, the daughters steadfastly resisted the suits of a local governor, the Kashima priests’ sons, and local lords.

Many copies of Bunshō sōshi survive (in excess of eighty), but their artists are anonymous, just like the author of the story itself. Short or mid-length narratives in this vein are sometimes known as Muromachi monogatari, tales from the high medieval era, or otogi zōshi, “companion tales,” a name that derives from a collection published in the early eighteenth century, Otogi bunko. More than four hundred such tales, dating from the early fourteenth to the early seventeenth century, have come down to us, but Bunshō sōshi was first in the Otogi bunko selection. The format is often referred to as Nara ehon, “Nara picture books,” a misnomer because they were not produced in the city of Nara. Typically it indicates a medium-sized booklet, bound with thread and sporting indigo covers (although some are in scroll format). The covers have delicate floral motifs in gold, the dark and light combination imitating the decoration for the highest class of Buddhist scriptures.

The Tress text holds few surprises, differing from a popular recension by minor variations. The pictures, five interspersed among pages of flowing brushwork, are delightful but usual. Only the painting of Bunda making salt is not always found in manuscripts. It is hard to date or place the Tress copy relative to other versions, some of which elaborate different aspects of the story. The reverse sides of some pages have their secrets, however. On the back of the fourth illustration, we can see a basic ink sketch of the daughters who are finely finished on the front in polychrome. The front and back covers are lined with reused paper, fragments of what appear to be correspondence. More oddly, the first page of our book is a superfluous copy of a page in the middle of the story—the extra page corresponds to the left side of the eleventh opening, although it uses different character variants, and has almost twice as much text on it as the corresponding main page. Someone has brushed a large “X” through this “first” page, so originally it too was no doubt pasted down, its blank back forming the inside of the front cover. We cannot be sure how many pages or volumes are missing from our copy. The front cover has a cartouche with the title written in nonstandard characters, as well as “first volume.” It is possible that there were two more; certainly there was a second volume.

Among other surprises about these hand-painted and brush-written tales, many were copied from printed editions. We often assume that the advent of print culture to Japan in the late sixteenth century meant the end of the manuscript, but such is not the case. Printed books imitated the free and personalized style of manuscript, while some manuscripts used well-done printed editions as models.

Selected Readings

Araki, James T., trans. “Bunshō Sōshi: The Tale of Bunshō, the Saltmaker.” Monumenta Nipponica vol. 38, no. 3 (Autumn, 1983): 221-49.

Keene, Donald. “Muromachi Fiction: Otogi-zōshi.” In Seeds in the Heart: Japanese Literature form Earliest Times to the Late Sixteenth Century, 1092-1128. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1993.

Marra, Michele. “Economic Success and Aristocratic Legitimation: ‘The Story of Bunshō’.” In Representations of Power, 140-43. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1993.

Ruch, Barbara. “Medieval Jongleurs and the Making of Japan’s National Literature.” In Japan in the Muromachi Age, edited by John W. Hall and Takeshi Toyoda, 279-309. Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: University of California Press, 1977.

Shirane, Haruo. “Muromachi Tales (Otogi-zōshi).” In Traditional Japanese Literature: An Anthology, Beginnings to 1600, 1097-1100. New York: Columbia University Press, 2007.

Written by Linda H. Chance
Posted April 6, 2022

Tosa School, Tsuru no sōshi 鶴のさうし, 17th century

Artist: Tosa School

Title: Tsuru no sōshi 鶴のさうし (The Tale of the Crane)

Date: 17th century

Medium: Manuscript, ink, color, and gold on paper

You will not be surprised to learn that a crane features prominently in The Tale of the Crane, but here’s the part you probably didn’t expect: the crane marries a human man.

This odd couple will seem a little less odd if you are familiar with Japanese lore, where narratives of interspecies romance abound. Such stories—known as irui kon’in-tan, or tales of marriage between kinds—appear in Japan’s earliest recorded myths from the eighth century, multiplied and diversified over the years. No generalization can encompass the vast body of irui kon’in-tan that exist today, but more often than not, they end unhappily. Many irui kon’in-tan can be read as a kind of dark funhouse mirror to Western fairy tales such as Beauty and the Beast or The Frog King: instead of an apparent animal becoming a desirable human spouse, an apparently desirable human spouse is revealed to be an animal, and almost inevitably the union dissolves.

The Tale of the Crane bucks this trend, ending with a rare happily ever after—or at least, this is the case for the copy of The Tale of the Crane in the Tress collection. Multiple manuscripts of The Tale of the Crane exist, and despite their shared title they differ significantly, although they can be divided into two lineages that are more or less consistent within themselves. The manuscript from the Tress collection belongs to the three-volume lineage, so named because the tale is divided into three volumes, the last of which concludes with the human protagonist and his crane-wife living in wedded bliss. By contrast, the shorter and simpler one-volume lineage follows the more typical pattern of revelation and separation.

Although the one-volume lineage has strong roots in folklore, it was produced within the upper echelons of society; the original manuscript was illustrated by the court painter Tosa Mitsunobu (1434-1525), the founder of the Tosa school of painting. The three-volume lineage developed somewhat later, with the first manuscripts dating to the early Edo period (1603-1868). Perhaps because of its more complex plot and cheerful ending, the three-volume version of The Tale of the Crane survives in numerous versions, as here in manuscript copy the Tress collection. Some are woodblock-printed books; others are the work of commoner artisans, with bold, simple illustrations; and yet others were created by skilled artists for moneyed audiences. This last is the case for the manuscript in the Tress collection, which was illustrated by an unnamed Tosa-school artist. The paintings are dynamic and detailed, sumptuously ornamented with gold flakes. Finely-made manuscripts of auspicious tales, like this one, became a standard item in the trousseaus of upper-class brides. The copy of The Tale of the Crane in the Tress collection is of unclear provenance, so we cannot make any definitive statement about its intended purpose—but use as a “bridal book” (yomeiribon) is certainly one possibility.

Written by Laura Nuffer
Posted April 6, 2022

Selected Readings:

Kimbrough, Keller, and Haruo Shirane, eds. Monsters, Animals, and Other Worlds: A Collection of Short Medieval Japanese Tales. New York: Columbia University Press, 2018.

McCormick, Melissa. Tosa Mitsunobu and the Small Scroll in Medieval Japan. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2009.

Nüffer, Laura. “Humans and Non-Humans: Animal Bridegrooms and Brides in Japanese Otogizōshi.” In A Cultural History of Fairy Tales in the Age of the Marvelous, edited by Suzanne Magnanini, 95–118. London: Bloomsbury Academic Press, 2021.

Totoya Hokkei 魚屋北渓, Sansai tsuki hyakushu 三才月百首, 1829

Artist: Totoya Hokkei (1780–1850)

Author: Asakusaan Itchibito (aka Asakusa no Ichibito; Sensoan Ichindo)

Title: Sansai tsuki hyakushu
“Three Aspects of the Moon: Collection of One Hundred Verses”

Date: 1826

Publisher: Shun’yūtei

Description: 1 volume with pouch binding; modern case

Medium: Woodblock printed ink and hand coloring on paper; paper cover

Format: hanshibon

Dimensions: 22.5 x 16.2 cm

Location: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Arthur Tress Collection. Box 1, Item 4.

Gift of Arthur Tress

Sansai tsuki hyakushu is a volume of kyōka poetry from a trilogy on the popular theme of setsugekka (snow, moon, flowers). Following the preface, three illustrations by Totoya Hokkei are spread across six pages, along with verse from the Asakusa poetry group. Both the poetry and commissioned illustration interpret the autumnal moon through the concepts of heaven, earth, and man. [1]

Hokkei was a painter and printer who illustrated almost one hundred kyōka collections and other books, and is well known for his single sheet surimono designs. He first studied under Kano Yosen’in and later with Katsushika Hokusai. [2]

Privately published surimono prints and books were created for exchange, sometimes in celebration of the New Year, and in this case perhaps Tsukimi or “moon viewing”—a holiday that honors autumn’s harvest moon. Collections of kyōka were often the result of a competitive writing event, as seen in this volume with three judge’s rankings at the beginning of each poem. Selected by Asakusaan, leader of the Asakusa Group, the top poems appear on the illustrated pages, with the rest printed on following pages in single vertical lines, ranked within each theme. [3]

The sly humor of kyōka often referenced classical themes and literature. Although we have not interpreted the verse (written in kana) the kanji text on the illustrated pages offers clues to the poets’ and Hokkei’s inspiration. Motifs common to all three compositions include the use of positive-negative space for duality, movement/migration indicating passage of time, the moon’s embodiment of reflection/illumination, and groupings of three.

The first illustration shows the heavenly moon in a night sky, partially obscured by silhouetted pine tree foliage, yet illuminating three pine branches in positive relief. The layering of the branches in shades of grey suggests wind and movement, and introduces the idea of time passing. The small area of visible sky is inked in a blue-to-grey ombré; a subtle shade of green appears in the pine needles. Overall, the palette is fairly muted in the style of benigirai-e, with large areas left unprinted or lightly tinted, allowing space for verse. However, the strength of color tints increases through the subsequent illustrations and signal different times of day.

The number of moons increases as well. In the second illustration, though we see only the moon’s reflection in a body of water, it is understood the actual moon is also present, just out of sight. Three chidori (plovers) swoop across the page, leading us to the moon on earth in the well of a wave. There are touches of pale pink in the mouths of the birds, as well as traces of yellow in their beaks and feathers. The waves are tinted with grey and tan.

Finally, the third illustration depicts three moons: we follow a pilgrimage under a moon that is barely visible, yet illuminates two round kasa hats, one glowing brightly atop a kago litter, the other, pale pink, worn by one of the travelers. Descending geese (a popular motif in Japanese painting and prints) are portrayed simultaneously in silhouette against the sky and as shadow over the landscape. Autumnal motifs are represented by the migration of the geese the travelers, and the full moons. The coloring culminates in stronger tints of all colors introduced on the previous pages.

[1] Hillier, J, and Langley Iddins. The Art of the Japanese Book. London: Sotheby’s Publications, 1987, p. 835.

[2] Marks, Andreas. Japanese Woodblock Prints : Artists, Publishers, and Masterworks, 1680-1900. Tokyo: Tuttle, 2010, p. 114.

[3] Kok, D. P. Visualizing the Classics: Reading Surimono and Kyoka Books as Social and Cultural History. Leiden University. Oct. 10, 2017, p. 69.

Other collections

The Gerhard Pulverer Collection
The British Museum
Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Institut national d’histoire de l’art (INHA)

Further reading

Hillier, Jack Ronald. The Art of the Japanese Book. London: Sotheby’s Publications, 1987.

Kok, D. P. Visualizing the Classics: Reading Surimono and Kyoka Books as Social and Cultural History. Leiden University. Oct. 10, 2017


Posted by Catherine Gontarek
November 20, 2019


Utagawa Kunisada 歌川国貞 Azuma Genji 吾妻源氏, [ca. 1830]

Utagawa Kunisada 歌川国貞 (1786-1865)

Hana Sanjin 鼻山人 (1790-1858), author

Azuma Genji 吾妻源氏

Volumes 1, 3 (of 3)
Edo period (1603-1868), [ca. 1830]
Woodblock printed book; ink, color, and metallics on paper

26.3 x 19.4 cm


Azuma Genji (Eastern Genji


Azuma Genji is a luxuriously produced three-volume set of erotica, illustrated by Utagawa Kunisada, with text by popular writer Hana Sanjin (1790-1858). Azuma Genji was published in the 1830s during the height of Inaka Genji popularity (see pp. …). The title and preface suggest a connection to The Tale of Genji. However, the main text is based on another popular novel, Shin Usuyuki monogatari (The New Tale of Usuyuki), about the doomed love affair of Princess Usuyuki, published in 1716 and adapted for the stage. Kunisada’s illustrations do not strictly follow Shin Usuyuki monogatari, instead occasionally alluding to it. Here, the reference to Genji in the title made use of period associations of the tale with elegance, refinement, and the erotic. This was often the case with Genji-titled erotica from the Edo period.


Over 130 erotica titles are attributed to Kunisada, including Enshoku shinasadame discussed previously. Azuma Genji is signed under Kunisada’s pseudonym, Bukiyō Matahei. This signature and a seal reading namazu, or “catfish,” are visible on the left corner of the screen in the background of the image here. Writer Hana Sanjin used the variant name Ōhana Sanjin. Artists and authors typically did not sign erotica in order to skirt the bans on this material. By using a pseudonym, Kunisada covertly claims authorship; it is likely that only a limited audience would have known him by this name. Erotic books like this one also did not include colophons, making it difficult to determine bibliographic information such as publishers, other contributors, date, and place of publication. The illustrations are enhanced with embossing to give texture and depth, as well as rich colors, gold, silver, and mica.

Eri Mizukane

Selected Readings:


Hayashi Yoshikazu. Edo enpon daijiten. Tokyo: Kawade shobō shinsha, 2011.


———. Utagawa Kunisada. Tokyo: Kawade shobō shinsha, 2011.

Higuchi Kazutaka. Kunisada no shunga. Tokyo: Heibonsha, 2018.

Utagawa Kunisada 歌川国貞, Nise Murasaki inaka Genji 偐紫田舎源氏, 1829-1842

Utagawa Kunisada 歌川国貞 (1786-1865)

Ryūtei Tanehiko 柳亭種彦 (1783-1842), author 

Nise Murasaki inaka Genji 偐紫田舎源氏

Volumes 1-38 

Publisher: Tsuruya Kiemon, Edo

Edo period (1603-1868), 1829-1842

Woodblock printed book; ink on paper

17.4 x 11.9 cm


Making an impression in the world of Edo-period illustrated fiction was critical to success. Publishers navigated the tastes of readers hungry for books, acquired necessary investment capital, and commissioned authors, artists, block carvers, and printers to sustain the production. Publisher Tsuruya Kiemon got it right with a work that was an unqualified hit by any metric: Nise Murasaki inaka Genji written by Ryūtei Tanehiko and illustrated by Utagawa Kunisada. 


This book plays on the cultural capital of Genji monogatari, or The Tale of Genji, a prose narrative dated to the early eleventh century believed to be written by the lady-in-waiting Murasaki Shikibu (d. ca. 1016). The tale is now regarded as a classic of Japanese literature. By the later Edo period readership of the Genji had waned due to the difficulty in reading its classical language. When the first installment of Nise Murasaki inaka Genji was published in 1829, no full version of The Tale of Genji had been printed for over a century. Tanehiko’s text played a critical part in the revival of The Tale of Genji and its subsequent appreciation. Tanehiko transforms the original story into a serial novel, transposing it forward in time to chronicle the exploits of the shining Mitsuuji (rather than Genji) in the Muromachi period (1336-1573). 


For the publisher, combining the savvy writer and popular illustrator was a jackpot. The first chapter, published tentatively as a standalone volume, may have reached 15,000 copies due to high demand. In the opening shown here, a note explains that the first printing was issued at the New Year of 1829, and that this impression is from the second month of 1830. Further installments appeared at the beginning of each year. Unfortunately, Tanehiko did not finish the story–the last volume was published in 1842, in the same year of the author’s death. 

Nicholas Purgett

Selected Readings:


Emmerich, Michael. “The Splendor of Hybridity: Image and Text in Ryūtei Tanehiko’s Inaka Genji.” In Envisioning the Tale of Genji: Media, Gender, and Cultural Production, edited by Haruo Shirane, 211–39. New York: Columbia University Press, 2008.


———. The Tale of Genji: Translation, Canonization, and World Literature. New York: Columbia University Press, 2015.


Markus, Andrew Lawrence. The Willow in Autumn: Ryūtei Tanehiko, 1783-1842. Cambridge: Council on East Asian Studies, Harvard University, 1992.