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



Songs from the collection in question.

The cover of Uta no shiori   Songs from the collection in question.

Artist: Unknown

Title: 歌のしおり帝国流行歌集 (Collection of songs popular in the Empire)

Date: 1944

Medium: Mimeograph, ink on paper

Gift of Arthur Tress, Arthur Tress Collection. Box 45, Item 12


This collection of songs praising the Imperial Japanese Empire is from the Tule Lake Segregation Center, one of the main camps used by the War Relocation Authority (WRA) to house Japanese citizens classified as potential threats to the U.S. Government. After the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 in February 1942, allowing the U.S. Government to relocate and incarcerate Japanese American citizens and residents en masse. Of the camps designated to be used for internment, Lake Tule was reserved for internees who were deemed “disloyal” based on their response to the infamous loyalty questionnaire. According to Jane Dusselier, “internees at Tule Lake lived under the strictest security restrictions of all the camps because, in Fall 1943, the War Relocation Authority designated Tule Lake the segregation center for ‘troublemakers’.”[1] However, as Brian Hayashi notes, the loyalty questionnaire was confusingly worded, and many internees who ended up at Lake Tule simply did so to follow family members who had already been sent there.[2]

Given the camp’s strictness and special designation, the production and existence of this collection of songs seems all the more remarkable. The production of arts, crafts, and materials such as this booklet were widespread within the relocation camps, to the extent that Sam Hayakawa would cite them in 1981 as evidence that the camps were “trouble free and relatively happy.”[3] As Jane Dusselier notes, such a reading of the “forced leisure” in internment camps is problematic “because it suggests that internee artwork is evidence of humane treatment.”[4] The charged content of the material in this book, replete with patriotic and militaristic songs that were popular in the Japanese Empire at the time, suggests it served a political function in the context of the camp itself. This may show the complex dynamics of Tule Lake’s internees at the time. According to Heather Fryer, the shift in the camp’s population in 1943, and its new designation as a center for “disloyal” Japanese Americans produced political tensions between different internee groups: as she writes, “housing shortages, restrictive regulations, and the absence of jobs for new arrivals stoked resentments between the new segregants and the established, ‘loyal’ Tuleans,” from 1943 onward.[5]  Ongoing tensions between the camp administrators and newer arrivals spurred the creation of anti-administration extremist groups such as the Sokuji Kikoku Hoshi Dan and the Hokoku Seinen Dan in early 1944, which took a hard line against the U.S. Government and espoused an avowedly pro-Japanese Empire politics.[6] These actions, in turn, prompted the U.S. Congress to pass Public Law 405, which allowed Japanese Americans to renounce their citizenship and be repatriated to Japan. According to Fryer, “Anti-administration factionalists,” within the camp used the law as a pretext to force “unwilling Tuleans to renounce as a political stand.”[7]

Given the date of the booklet’s production, it is likely it was created in the midst of this political turmoil. At one point, tensions between pro and anti-administration internees reached such a height that one internee, Yaozo Hitomi, was fatally stabbed for working with camp administrators. Its existence may also attest to the camp administration’s relative lack of knowledge and comprehension of internal politics between different groups of internees. Most of the songs collected were major hits in Japan in the late 1930s with themes of love, family, and patriotism. The first song in the booklet, Aikoku shinkō kyoku (Patriotic March) for instance, was released at the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937 and sold over 1 million copies by 1938.[8] Yet despite the overwhelming presence of songs about patriotism and war, some of the songs collected, such as Otoko no junjō (A man’s pure feelings, 1937) are slow love ballads rather than patriotic marches. One song, the 1940 hit Dare ka kōkyo o omawazaru (1940), a song about longing for one’s hometown, was actually banned at one point on the Japanese mainland for fear it would cause factory workers in cities to lose morale.[9] This diversity of songs suggests multiple possible readings of the booklet; while it was clearly marked as a political text, it was made for entertainment and relieving boredom, as the introduction indicates. Furthermore, the difference in songs included and those that would have been deemed acceptable in the Japanese Empire collections suggests an ideological gap between the books’ creators, one produced through both physical and temporal distance. The book thus serves as a representation and testament to the complex political, ideological, and cultural landscapes produced through the upheaval and trauma of internment.


Further Reading:

Jane E. Dusselier. Artifacts of Loss: Crafting Survival in Japanese American Concentration Camps. Camden: Rutgers University Press, 2008.

Heather Fryer. “‘The Song of the Stitches’: Factionalism and Feminism at Tule Lake,” Signs Volume 35, Issue 3, 2010, pp. 673-698.

Brian Hayashi. Democratizing the Enemy: the Japanese American Internment. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004.

Masanori Tsujita 辻田真佐憲. Nihon no gunka: Kokumin teki ongaku no rekishi 日本の軍歌 国民的音楽の歴史 [Japanese Military Songs: A History of National Citizen Music]. Tokyo: Gentōsha, 2014.

Posted by Patrick Carland


[1] Jane E. Dusselier. Artifacts of Loss: Crafting Survival in Japanese American Concentration Camps. (Camden: Rutgers University Press, 2008) 33-4.

[2] Brian Hayashi. Democratizing the Enemy: the Japanese American Internment. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004): 156.

[3] Artifacts of Loss, 1.

[4] Ibid., 7,

[5] Heather Fryer. “‘The Song of the Stitches’: Factionalism and Feminism at Tule Lake,” in Signs Volume 35, Issue 3, 2010, pp. 673-698: 677.

[6] Ibid., 679.

[7] Ibid., 681-2.

[8] Kokuminka: Aikoku shinkō kyoku (Citizen’s Songs: The Patriotic March) Nihon no Gunka accessed May 1, 2020.

[9] Koga merodei kiki kurabe 12: Dare ka kōkyo wo omawazaru [Comparing old melodies: Dare ka kōkyo wo omawazaru] Tenisu to ran to dijikamera [Tennis, running, and digital camera] Blog post, March 3, 2010


Artist: Utagawa Hiroshige 歌川広重 (1797-1858), Utagawa Kunimasa II 歌川国政二代目 (1792-1857), Ryūtei Senka 笠亭仙果 (1804-1868)

Author: Ryûtei Tanehiko II 柳亭種彦 (1804-1868)

Title: Assorted wrappers (fukuro) from Inu no sôshi (The Storybook of dogs) 犬の双紙

 Date: 1848-1881

Medium: Woodblock ink and color print on paper

Publisher: Tsutaya Kichizō 蔦屋吉蔵(つたやきちぞう), Kōeidō 紅英堂(こうえいどう)

Location: Kislak Center for Special Collections – Arthur Tress Collection. Box 38, Item 11.

Gift of Arthur Tress


This lively array of fukuro from the Arthur Tress Collection once belonged to select fascicles from the widely popular serial novel, Inu no sôshi (The Storybook of dogs). Printed as 56 volumes over a thirty-three year period, Inu no sôshi is an exemplar of the gôkan (合歓), a cheaply-produced serial publication format that emerged at the beginning of the nineteenth century concomitant with a burgeoning book culture among the increasingly literate middle and lower classes. Responding to this new readership, publisher Tsutaya Kichizō orchestrated the reworking of Kyokutei Bakin’s Hakkenden inu no sōshi no uchi (The Tale of the Eight Dog Heroes), whose 106 volume epic represents one of the longest narratives within Japanese literature. Part historical epic, part elaborate mythology, and part didactic novel, it tells the unsung story of the fifteenth century Sochi clan and the eight warriors who endure trials and tribulations to eventually reclaim their territory in the Awa region. Rife with graphic battle scenes and colorful characterizations of heroes and monsters, the story is, however, framed by overarching themes of Confucian morality and scholasticism, thus eliding the draconian censorship of the period.

There are few extant fukuro in existence; conceived as ephemera, it is quite difficult to reinsert books into these protective wrappers. Nevertheless, those from the Tress Collection were exquisitely illustrated by several and often well-known artists as Hiroshige. While they encompass a wide range of imagery—which often alludes to both the title and the various exploits contained therein—the format and palette remains relatively consistent. At the top of each, the technique of bokashi (ぼかし) was used to achieve a delicate color gradation that not only generates chromatic and compositional depth but also distinguishes the individual volumes as part of the same series. Oftentimes textual elements are cleverly incorporated into the illustration itself, as in the fukuro below that depicts a dog peering out from under two yellow umbrellas, where the seal of the publisher is prominently displayed on the left umbrella and the title of the book curves around its counterpart. Notably, the fukuro markedly differ from the Kabuki-style illustrations found within the text, perhaps suggesting that the publisher deliberately employed distinct modes of representation to publicize and illustrate the books, respectively.

Selected Reading:

Jones, Susie, and Kenji Watanabe, eds. An Edo Anthology: Literature from Japan’s Mega-City, 1750-1850. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2013, pp247-278.

Reichert, James R. “From Yomihon to Gôkan: Repetition and Difference in Late Edo Book Culture.” The Journal of Asian Studies, 75, no.2 (May), 2017: 311-322.


Posted by Francesca A. Bolfo


Artist: Utagawa Hiroshige 歌川広重 (1797 – 1859)

Period: Edo (1615 – 1868)

Editor: Tenmei Rōjin

Publisher: Unknown

Date: 1855 (Ansei 2)

Medium: Full color, woodblock

Hiroshige grew up in a minor samurai family and  was bestowed with the artistic name Hiroshige after only a year apprenticing with the celebrated Utagawa Toyohiro. Hiroshige is famous for his noteworthy series of woodblock prints,The 53 Stations of the Tokaido, among others. In this famous set of sheet prints, Hiroshige illustrated the journey along the Tokaido road, the highway connecting Edo (modern Tokyo) to Kyoto, the imperial capital. Hiroshige’s work became very popular in later nineteenth-century Europe and beyond, and was a source of visual inspiration for the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists, including Toulouse-Lautrec and Van Gogh. Van Gogh, for example, copied Hiroshige’s two compositions from Hiroshige’s 100 Famous Views of Edo in oil paintings.

The illustrations capture people as professionals, and everyday people doing activities such as sake wine sellers delivering wine, children playing with kites, horses taking travelers across a waterway, and ladies catching fireflies. These are paired with poems selected by various poetry groups.

Other Copies

Other copies are found in collections at UC Berkeley, Williams College, and the Metropolitan Museum

Selected Reading

Andō, Hiroshige, and Gian Carlo Calza. Hiroshige: The Master of Nature. Skira, 2009.


Posted by Kemuel Benyehudah


Artist: Utagawa Kunisada 歌川国貞 (Japanese, 1786 – 1864)

Author: Unknown

TitleEnshoku shinasadame (艶色品定女)

Date: Unknown, ca.1850s

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

Publisher: No publisher identified

Gift of Arthur Tress. Box 34, Item 19.

Enshoku shinasadame (艶色品定女, translated as “Evaluating Erotic Encounters”) is a three-volume set of luxurious erotic prints employing rich materials — saturated colors, intricate embossing, heavy paper and metallic pigments. The textured white cover is decorated with spattered blue pigment and painted with upward-thrusting shoots of evergreen pine trees. Each volume starts with a table of contents inscribed on shell-shaped illustrations. The pictures that follow present to the viewer a luxurious and sensual representation of sexual fantasies. Arms and legs of the young protagonists are intertwined and tangled, male and female genitalia are enlarged, reminding readers of the intense sensations of sex. The rest of the volume is unadorned text on thinner plain paper. The stories are erotic vignettes with dialogues, allowing the readers additional opportunity to imagine their own fantasies as modeled on the previous pictures.

The title Enshoku shinasadame recalls the famous episode in The Tale of Genji where Prince Genji and his friends discuss the ideal traits for women. The title of the second volume is translated as “Viewing the moon at Sekiya,” a site near the temple where Lady Murasaki wrote the Tale of Genji. Throughout the books, we can see references to the Japanese classic appear again and again.

While the Gerhard Pulverer Collection claims that Enshoku shinasadame is attributed to Utagawa Kunisada, one of the most popular print designers in the late Edo period, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts attribute it to Kunisada’s pupil, Kunimori II. The writer personally believes that Enshoku shinasadame is conceivably designed by Utagawa Kunisada. It is less likely that Kunimori II, who was in his early 20s, would be competent enough to handle or be supported by publishers, for this complex and expensive project.

Utagawa Kunisada was one of the most popular, proliferate and commercially successful ukiyo-e designers in the late Edo period. He is particularly recognized for his prints of kabuki actors, beauties in fashion garments, and erotica. Kunisada produced great quantities of sophisticated prints over some fifty years; it is estimated that he produced over fifteen thousand designs, plus illustrations for around six hundred books. In sheer output, his body of work outnumbers that of his contemporary rivals.

Japanese erotic imagery was not new, but it prospered during the Edo period, and these were considered entertaining rather than obscene—often called “warai-e”  or “prints that make you laugh.” Regulations on sexual content were imposed by the Tokugawa shogunate from time to time, but the writers and designers used pseudonyms to avoid persecution. Japanese erotica prints range from low-quality booklets to exquisite works. They are rich with depictions of lifestyles of the time, references to traditional literature, and even unusual creatures from the imagination.


Other copies of this book series:

The Spencer Collection of NYPL (partial)

The Metropolitan Museum of Art (vol. 1-3)

The Boston Museum of Fine Arts (vol. 1-3)

The Gerhard Pulverer Collection (vol. 1-3)


Selected Readings:

  • Gerstle, Andrew, T. Clark, Aki Ishigami, and Akiko Yano. Shunga: sex and pleasure in Japanese art. British Museum Press, 2013.
  • Smith, Henry. “Overcoming the Modern History of Edo ‘Shunga’,” 1750-1850 (1996), pp. 17-20.
  • Carpenter, John T., Melissa McCormick, Monika Bincsik, Kyoko Kinoshita, and Sano Midori. The Tale of Genji: A Japanese Classic Illuminated. Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2019, pp. 310-311.
  • Keyes, Roger S. Ehon: The Artist and the Book in Japan. New York Public Library, 2006, pp. 226.


Posted by Yuqi Zhao

November 12th, 2019



Artist: Utagawa Kunisada (signed Kochoro Kunisada ga with double toshidama artist’s seal)

Title: [Ichikawa Sanshō kyōka]

Date: ca. 1829-30

Medium: color woodblock-printed illustrated book; folding album (orihon)

Measurements: 14 cm x 21.1 cm

Publisher: private publication

Arthur Tress Collection of Japanese Illustrated Books. Box 10, Item 5:

The dedication page to this delicate folding album announces the contents as a collection of kyōka poetry in honor of the famed kabuki actor, Danjūrō VII (1791-1859). Sebastian Izzard has dated the book to late 1829, produced when Danjūrō was performing at the Nakamuraza theater in Osaka, and suggests the work was sent to him by the poetry group who commissioned it.[1]

Heading off the text are three color prints designed by Kunisada, who also contributed poetry to the volume. The illustrations memorialize Danjūrō’s performance at Nakamuraza, in which he assumed seven roles in the play Date kurabe Okuni Kabuki. The most dramatic moment is depicted across two facing full pages, set against a black ground. Danjūrō is illustrated simultaneously as the heroic Arajishi Otokonosuke (on the right) and the evil Nikko Danjō (on the left). Next, spreading the subsequent opening, the polymorphic actor is rendered as three personages at once: the wrestler Kinugawa Tanizō on the right; the evil priest, Date no Dōtetsu; and finally Ashikaga Yorikane intently watching the action from behind his open fan on the left.[2]

The ensuing poems are printed on heavyweight paper embossed with peonies, and capped by a colophon listing the book’s editors. Many of the approximately 180 poems address and praise Danjūrō or make puns or references to his various roles or nicknames.[3] The soft front and back covers exhibit a motif of purple peony blooms (an emblem of Danjūrō VII) and bats (a symbol of good luck).

Utagawa Kunisada (1786-1865) was a prolific print designer in the realm of ukiyo-e. Enchanted by the dynamic kabuki scene in Edo from a young age, the artist began his career as an apprentice in the studio of Utagawa Toyokuni (1769-1825), a pioneer of actor prints. Kunisada quickly made a name for himself, becoming exceedingly popular for his portraits of actors and backstage views. Contributions to the genres of landscapes, beauties, and erotica also comprise the artist’s extensive output. He was often tapped to produce surimono, of which this entry is an impressive example, demonstrating the care and expense associated with private commissions. While extant copies of this particular book are rare, Danjūrō VII was a frequent subject for Kunisada throughout their parallel and symbiotic careers. 

Other copies:

Spencer Collection, The New York Public Library. “Zō Sanshōshi kyōka.” New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed September 22, 2019.

A copy of the book’s first illustration and text page survives as a sheet in the collection of The Museum of Applied Arts, Vienna.

Selected reading:

Izzard, Sebastian. Kunisada’s World. New York: Japan Society Inc., 1993. Illustrated in figures 52/1, 52/2, and 52a, 117-119.

Izzard, Sebastian. “A New Actor Painting by Utagawa Kunisada.” Impressions, no. 20 (1998): 78–81.


[1]Sebastian Izzard, Kunisada’s World (New York: Japan Society, 1993), 117-118. Izzard notes the poets included are masters from important poetry groups, including: Jingairō, Hōshitei, Umenoya, Fukunoya, Hōraitei Kamenari, Goryūtei Tokunari, and Bumbunsha Kanikomaru.

[2] Izzard, Kunisada’s World, 118. Izzard suggests Kunisada could have based his illustrations on Danjūrō’s performance of the same play in Edo earlier in 1829.

[3] Izzard, Kunisada’s World, 117.

Posted by Zoe Coyle, Fall semester, 2019.


Figure 1 Page 28
Figure 2 Page 26-27

Artist: Utagawa Kuniyoshi 歌川国芳 (1797-1861)

Author: Hanagasa Bunkyō 花笠文京 (1785-1860)

Title: Biographies of Extraordinary People of Japan, vol.2

Date: 1849

Medium: Monochrome woodblock print; ink on paper

Dimensions: 22.8 x 15.8 x 0.9 cm

Publisher: Yamazaki Seishichi 山崎清七 (Sanseidō 山静堂)

Arthur Tress Collection, Box 34, Item 24


The second volume of a two-volume set, Nihon kijinden in the Tress collection features pictures of extraordinary personalities in Japanese history designed by Utagawa Kuniyoshi and brief biographical entries written by Hanagasa Bunkyō. Kijin (eccentric or extraordinary people) connoted individuals that did not conform to conventions, and did so in a desirable and inspiring way.[1] Individuals representing a wide range of eras, classes, occupations, and personalities in Nihon kijinden were selected for their individual commitments to their values and extraordinary achievements.

The figures illustrated here seem preoccupied with their own business and are depicted against a plain background. Although shown in groups, each figure shows little awareness of others in the same composition. Nevertheless, they are not represented in a rigid manner or in isolated positions. Instead, not only do the figures seem energized but also the compositions incorporating texts and images display great variety and dynamism. In some compositions, the associations among individual figures are clear, for example, three ukiyo-e masters of the time, Kuniyoshi国芳, Kunisada 国貞, and Eisen英泉are illustrated on the final page (fig. 1), while in other groups figures seem unrelated to each other. For example, the Edo courtesan Ōshū 傾城奥州from the Yoshiwara is put into juxtaposition with Taira no Kiyomori 平清盛 (1118-1181), an ambitious and powerful samurai-politician from the late Heian period.

Facial features, costumes, and poses contribute to signifying the dispositions, occupations, and lives of the extraordinary individuals. Empress Kōmyō 光明皇后 (701-760) from the Nara period assisted her husband in dealing with national affairs is shown standing in a splendid kasaya (fig. 2). The garment suggests her contribution to the construction of Buddhist monasteries in Emperor Shōmu’s reign, while the two wooden basins on her side refer to a Buddhist legend that Empress Kōmyō, having made a vow to help bathe the ten thousand without discrimination, washed the back of Ashuku Buddha who appeared to her as a beggar.[2] In the same composition, an elderly figure sits on the floor with one knee up and the other down, holding a book in his hand–this is Bakin馬琴 (1767-1848), a celebrated novelist from the Edo period (fig. 2). Bakin was such a prolific and diligent writer that even after turning blind in very old age, he persisted in completing the last chapters of his epic novel The Chronicles of Eight Dog Heroes of Satomi with the assistance of his daughter-in-law.[3] The identities of these extraordinary personalities are further enhanced by some pictorial elements. For example, a sleepy cat snuggling up to a seated man immersed in an unrolled handscroll signals that this is Kuniyoshi himself, known for his appreciation of cats as well as his popular cat prints (fig. 1).

A leading ukiyo-e designer in the late Edo period, Utagawa Kuniyoshi was well known for his warrior prints and those depicting heroes in combat with monsters. These dramatic and imaginary scenes from Kuniyoshi’s brush thrilled Edo viewers and his prints had great commercial success even under restricted censorship. Kuniyoshi also designed remarkable prints and illustrated books of kabuki actors, beauties, landscapes, erotica, and humor throughout his career. Some of the extraordinary figures included in Nihon kijinden are also seen in his prints. In Nihon kijinden, Kuniyoshi portrayed himself as wearing a lavishly decorated kimono, and his colleague, Kunisada, in a comparatively simple garment.


Other Impressions

The Gerhard Pulverer Collection, Freer Gallery of Art, Washington D.C (Vol. 1-2)


Selected Reading

Clark, Timothy. Kuniyoshi from the Arthur R. Miller Collection, London: Royal Academy of Arts, 2009.

Ikumi Kaminishi. “Women Who Crossed the Cordon.” In Women, Gender and Art in Asia, c. 1500-1900. Edited by Melia Belli Bose, London and New York: Routledge, 2016.

Iwakiri Yuriko. “The Life and Career of Utagawa Kuniyoshi: An Artist of Unbridled Creativity,” In Kuniyoshi: Japanese Master of Imagined Worlds, Leiden: Hotei Publishing, 2013, pp. 9-24.

Iwakiri Yuriko, Nihon kijinden commentary:  (Accessed November 12, 2019)

Kameya, Patti. “When Eccentricity Is Virtue: Virtuous Deeds in Kinsei kijinden.” Early Modern Japan: An Interdisciplinary Journal, vol. 17 (2009): 7-21.

Zolbrod, Leon M. “Takizawa Bakin, 1767-1848: A Restoration that Failed.” Monumenta Nipponica, vol. 21, no.1/2 (1966): 1-46.



[1] See Kameya, 7-9.

[2] See Ikumi Kaminishi 2016, 321-342.

[3] See Zolbrod 1966, 42.


Posted by Aria Yirou Diao

Oct. 24, 2019




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

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

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

Date: 1800

Publisher: Tsuruya Kiemon

Medium: Woodblock printed book, ink on paper

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quintana Heathman Scherer
Posted April 6, 2022


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.

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



Shaka go-ichidaiki zue 釈迦御一代記図絵 (Illustrated Record of the Life of Śākyamuni), volume 2. Caption: “The Nativity of Prince Siddhārtha” (悉達太子御誕生の図).

Title: Shaka go-ichidaiki zue 釈迦御一代記図絵 (Illustrated Record of the Life of Śākyamuni), six volumes

Date: 1845, fourth month

Medium: woodblock print, ink on paper

Dimensions: 24.9×17.8cm

Compiler: Yamada Isai 山田意斎 (1788–1846)

Illustrator: Katsushika Hokusai 葛飾北斎(1760–1849)

Preface: Daikō Sōgen大綱宗彦 (1772–1860)


Kyōtō Echigoya Jihee京都 越後屋治兵衛

Edo Yamashiroya Sahee江戸 山城屋佐兵衛

Ōsaka Kawachiya Mohee大阪 河内屋茂兵衛

Arthur Tress Collection (Hokusai 50)

See digital images here

Shaka go-ichidaiki zue 釈迦御一代記図絵 (Illustrated Record of the Life of Śākyamuni), six volumes.

In 1845, Illustrated Record of the Life of Śākyamuni was compiled by Yamada Isai (1788–1846) and illustrated by eminent artist of painting and print, Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849). Executed near the end of both Isai and Hokusai’s lives, the book contains thirty-two monochrome illustrations of episodes from the Buddha’s life story in six volumes. The book begins in the Indian kingdom of Kapilavastu before the birth of the Buddha with an illustration of the court of the Buddha’s father, King Śuddhodana, and ends after the Buddha’s death, with an illustration of the distribution of the Buddha’s relics.

Shaka go-ichidaiki zue 釈迦御一代記図絵 (Illustrated Record of the Life of Śākyamuni), volume 6. Caption: “Guarding the relics of the Buddha, the rulers of the various lands return home” (佛舎利を衛りて百国の王帰国する図).

Across Asia, images of the Buddha’s life have shared common narrative structures and iconographical conventions for centuries. There is no single, authoritative textual source for the story of the Buddha’s life, and, historically, visual narratives have been structured around several well-known canonical episodes, spanning the Buddha’s birth as Prince Siddhārtha, through his renunciation of worldly attachments, ascetic practice, attainment of enlightenment, and final death. Although these narratives were eventually standardized into recognizable templates, comprising eight or twelve major episodes, they could also be altered creatively to specific contexts, either by adding new episodes, or by extending the narrative beyond the death of the Buddha.

Shaka go-ichidaiki zue 釈迦御一代記図絵 (Illustrated Record of the Life of Śākyamuni), volume 3. Caption: “The demon with eight faces and nine feet tests Prince Siddhārtha, and he receives the four-line verse” (八面九足の霊鬼悉達太子を試して四句の偈を授る図).
Shaka go-ichidaiki zue 釈迦御一代記図絵 (Illustrated Record of the Life of Śākyamuni), volume 1. Caption: “The envious heart of Lady Gotamī transforms her into a great snake” (憍曇彌夫人の妬心大蛇となる図).

The relationship between Illustrated Record of the Life of Śākyamuni and the canonical episodes of the life of the Buddha is akin to that between historical fiction and history. Hokusai’s illustrations, in particular, give precedence to creative additions over canonical staples. The book, for example, does not illustrate the Buddha’s death, and, instead, focuses narrative attention on the machinations of jealous relatives, otherworldly skirmishes, and scenes of hell. The double-page illustration here depicts the episode of dramatic intrigue that concludes volume 1. The right-hand illustration depicts the canonical episode of Buddha’s conception, as the Buddha’s mother, lady Māyā receives a dream of her pregnancy. In the left-hand illustration, however, Māyā’s sister, Gotamī—who is conventionally depicted as benevolent aunt to the Buddha—is recast as a jealous foil, who, consumed by envy, is transformed into a giant snake. This aspect of the narrative derives not from stories of the life of the Buddha, but rather from the story of Lady Xi 郗 (468–499), would-be empress of the Chinese Liang dynasty (502–577).[1]

Additional Impressions:

  • Tokyo National Research Institute for Cultural Properties [織田/2/14174 (2101005041–2101005046)]

  • Okaya Bunko, Nagoya University Library [913.56/Ko/岡谷文庫‐902 (10091278–10091283)]

  • Yoshida-South Library, Kyoto University
  • Tohoku University Library
  • Kyushu University Library
  • Rikkyo University Library
  • Kwansei Gakuin University Library
  • Bukkyo University Library
  • Kobe University Library for Social Sciences
  • General Library, University of Tokyo
  • Senshu University Library
  • Nara Prefectural Library & Information Center

Selected Reading:

Asano Shūgō 秀剛浅野, ed., Hokusai ketteiban 北斎決定版 (The Definitive Hokusai) (Tokyo: Heibonsha, 2010), 72.

Timothy Clark, ed., Hokusai: Beyond the Great Wave (New York: Thames & Hudson, in collaboration with the British Museum, 2017), 252, no. 158.

Posted by Bryce Heatherly

Spring 2021

[1] Across various recensions of her story, which have circulated for centuries in East and Central Asia since in vernacular tales, Buddhist proselytizing literature, and in the ritual text Merciful Penitence of the Ritual Area (慈悲道場懺法), Lady Xi is said to have transformed into a huge snake due to her extreme jealousy. See Rostislav Berezkin, “Narrative of Salvation: The Evolution of the Story of the Wife of Emperor Wu of Liang in the Baojuan Texts of the Sixteenth-Nineteenth Centuries,” Chinese Studies 37, no. 4 (2019).