Utagawa Kunisada 歌川国貞, Totoya Hokkei 魚屋北渓, Natsu no Fuji 夏の富士, 1827

Utagawa Kunisada 歌川国貞 (1786-1865), and Totoya Hokkei 魚屋北渓 (1780-1850)

Santō Kyōzan 山東京山 (1769-1858), author

Natsu no Fuji 夏の富士

Volumes 1-2 

Publishers: Tsuruya Kiemon, Yamamoto Heikichi, Nishimuraya Yohachi, Izumiya Ichibē and Moriya Jihē, Edo

Edo period (1603-1868), 1827
Woodblock printed book; ink and color on pap​​er

22 x 15.8 cm


The title of this book, Natsu no Fuji, is a pun on the notion that actors’ faces without white makeup resemble the snowless peak in warm months. This metaphor was used for the first time in Katsukawa Shunshō’s book of a similar title published in 1780; there, Shunshō depicted kabuki actors offstage pursuing a variety of activities at home, going on boat rides, and strolling the streets of the city. Kunisada illustrated this new version of Natsu no Fuji in the late 1820s, almost fifty years later. 

This opening shows famous actors of Kunisada’s time enjoying the cool evening breeze on the Kamo River in Kyoto. Ichikawa Momotarō (Danzō VI, 1800-1871) is depicted standing in the water emptying his pipe, while Seki Sanjūrō II (1786-1839) leans to greet the female entertainer. Bandō Minosuke II (Mitsugorō IV, 1802-1863) and Sawamura Gennosuke II (Sōjūrō V, 1802-1853) are shown looking on from behind. The figure on the left with a sake cup is Nakamura Karoku I (1779-1859), a renowned Osaka actor specializing in female roles (onnagata). Since women were prohibited from performing in theater, their roles were played by men, and these actors can be easily identified by their purple headscarves covering the shaved portion of the adult male hairstyle.


Kabuki was one of the most popular forms of entertainment in the early modern period and its actors were akin to contemporary celebrities. Fans were ready to pay to read stories about their idols and get a glimpse into their private lives. In a commercially driven ukiyo-e world, publishers were eager to supply them with books like Natsu no Fuji. Kunisada was a fitting choice as a designer since he had a close relationship with many of the actors and, like Toyokuni before him, was also famed among his contemporaries for actor likenesses (nigao).


Maria Puzyreva

Selected Readings:

Izzard, Sebastian, J. Thomas Rimer, and John T. Carpenter. Kunisada’s World. New York: Japan Society of America, 1993.


Tinios, Ellis. “Greater than Utamaro: The Fame of Utagawa Kunisada.” Ukiyo-e geijutsu 171 (2016): 95–113.


———. Mirror of the Stage: The Actor Prints of Kunisada. Leeds: University Gallery Leeds, 1996.

Digital facsimile for browsing 

Utagawa Hiroshige 歌川広重 Kyōka shiki jinbutsu 狂歌四季人物 ca. 1855

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

Illustrated by Utagawa Hiroshige, Kyōka shiki jinbutsu is an exercise in seasonality. Focusing on the coming of the New Year, Hiroshige pairs kyōka poetry and illustrations, capturing scenes from daily life: boisterous salesman shout and deliver sake, children play with kites, and traveling book lenders plod through the streets, their backs burdened by piles upon piles of books.

In addition to capturing these tableaux of the everyday, Hiroshige also depicts the specific seasonal activities of townspeople in response to the themes set by the poets. In an opening about the events for the New Year, the right side shows two men trading barbs in the back-and-forth comedy style of manzai, while across the page a woman writes her first calligraphy of the year (kakizome). Another scene presents the protective dances (daikagura) performed to Shintō gods near the turn of the New Year by traveling priests from Ise Shrine. In the opening shown here, the poets write verses on two summer themes—goldfish-selling and large fireworks displays—matched by Hiroshige with images that seem observed from life. 

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 (1773-1828). He was one of the most prolific illustrators of the first half of the nineteenth century, sponsored by publishers with series on the stations of the Tōkaidō road, famous sites of the city of Edo, and other landscape themes. Hiroshige was highly appreciated by European and American collectors as well as artists Claude Monet (1840-1926), Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890), and James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1903), among others. 

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

Utagawa Kunisada 歌川国貞, Enshoku shinasadame 艶色品定女, ca. 1850s

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.

This three-volume book updates scenes from The Tale of Genji as erotica. The title, Enshoku shinasadame, refers to the episode where Prince Genji and his friends rank the ideal traits for women. Other references to the classic appear throughout. Each volume opens with images of shells inscribed with headings to serve as the table of contents. The shell motif is repeated on subsequent pages; each page includes a shell containing a small scene from The Tale of Genji, thus providing the literary allusion for the erotic scene. The shell motif also refers to the shell matching game called kaiawase, a memory game where players match halves of shells with scenes painted on their interiors. The illustrations comprise the first half of each volume and are followed by short erotic stories.


This is one of the most beautifully printed books in the Tress collection, featuring saturated colors, intricate embossing, and metallic pigments on thick paper. This book is attributed to Utagawa Kunisada, one of the most commercially successful ukiyo-e designers in the late Edo period. Kunisada produced great quantities of sophisticated prints over some fifty years; it is estimated that he generated over fifteen thousand designs, plus illustrations for around six hundred books. In sheer output, his body of work outnumbers that of his rivals. Erotica was produced by many ukiyo-e artists with production ranging from inexpensive booklets to exquisite works as seen here.


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.
  • https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/78660
  • http://www.pulverer.si.edu/node/580/title/1


Posted by Yuqi Zhao

November 12th, 2019


Utagawa Kunisada 歌川国貞, [Kyōka surimonojō 狂歌摺物帖], ca. 1829-30

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: https://franklin.library.upenn.edu/catalog/FRANKLIN_9977502567803681

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. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47e0-caab-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

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. http://www.jstor.org/stable/42598042.


[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.

Utagawa Kuniyoshi 歌川国芳, Nihon kijinden 日本奇人伝, 1849

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) https://pulverer.si.edu/node/545/title/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: http://pulverer.si.edu/node/545/title/1  (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

Utagawa Sadahide 歌川貞秀, Yokohama kaikō kenmonshi 横濱開港見聞誌 1862-1865


Artist: Utagawa Sadahide  歌川貞秀(Japanese, 1807-1879?)

Date: 1862-1865

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

Description: 6 volumes; 24.5cm; fukurotoji (pouch binding)

Publisher: Unknown

Call Numbers: Arthur Tress Collection. Box 2, Item 19.
Arthur Tress Collection. Box 55, Item 15.
Arthur Tress Collection. Box 65, Item 10.

Gift of Arthur Tress.

This is an illustrated book consisting of 6 volumes, depicting the foreigners and their lifestyles in Yokohama, in its early years of the Yokohama Port opening.

In 1859, a year after an international trade treaty was signed between Japan and the United States, followed by other similar agreements with England, Netherland, France and Russia, a sleepy fishing village of Yokohama was selected to open its port for international trade and commerce. Japanese merchants from nearby regions flocked to the port to take advantage of this new business opportunity, exporting raw silk, tea, and copper. With foreigners from the United States and European countries pouring in, Yokohama became an international city overnight.

As the news of foreign lifestyles reached further inland, Japanese interest and curiosity towards foreigners grew. Seeing an opportunity in the people’s interest in the lives of the ‘others,’ business-minded publishers in Edo sent Ukiyo-e artists into Yokohama to make prints depicting the new and exciting lives of the foreigners. This type of journalistic prints that became popular beginning in 1860, eventually came to be known as “Yokohama-e” or “Yokohama Nishiki-e,” and it played an important role in informing Japanese as they prepared to take in the influences of the foreign culture.

Yokohama Kaikō Kenmonshi was published in 1862, during the peak of Yokohama-e’s popularity. There are only a few other examples of Yokohama-e published in book format, as the majority of it was done in color prints. In this book, the artist/author Sadahide illustrates not only foreign people and objects they brought in but captures scenes of lively interactions and behaviors of the foreigners. Although this book mostly consists of illustrations, there is a significant amount of journalistic writing by Sadahide. There is a depiction of the impromptu dance party amongst the foreigners, what children played with and how they behaved, and description of work performed by the servants and what they ate, to give a few examples. There is even a detailed account of a quarrel he encountered at a bar between the Japanese bartender and a foreign drunkard who demanded top-shelf liquor without having enough money for it. Sadahide, unlike many other Yokohama-e artists of the time, visited Yokohama often to observe and interact with people of various backgrounds to produce this work.


Each of the 6 volumes starts with a full page of the preface, which explains the topics covered in the specific volume. The preface is followed by 13-15 spreads of illustrations with brief descriptions, and each volume concludes with 10-12 pages of texts, describing what Sadahide has seen, overheard and encountered, along with his interpretations and opinions on the matter.

What is most notable and touching about this work is his appreciation and respect for people, no matter what countries they may be from. Sadahide captures all the uniqueness and differences he sees in foreigners and the things they do, but he also captures many similarities between himself (Japanese) and the foreigners throughout the text.

Yokohama Kaikō Kenmonshi became an instant bestseller, and there is no doubt that it had an impact in opening up Japanese minds toward foreign culture as they were getting ready to adopt western ideas in a transitional time. It will continue to be a valuable source not only for art historians or book historians, but also for scholars researching topics such as foreign influences on Japan, international trade and commerce, or history of slaves.

Utagawa Sadahide歌川貞秀, also known as Gountei Sadahide五雲亭貞秀, Hashimoto Gyokuransai橋本玉蘭斎, Gyokuransai Sadahide玉蘭斎貞秀 or Gyokuō玉扇, was born in 1807 (Bunka 4) in Fusa providence (modern-day Chiba) as Hashimoto Kenjiro橋本兼次郎. Sadahide studied under the master Utagawa Kunisada, and he is said to be the most successful pupil of Kunisada. Sadahide’s illustrations were first published in 1821 (Bunsei 4) when he was 14 years old, for a kokkeibon published by Takizawa Bakin’s apprentice.

Sadahide is most known for his Yokohama-e, and considered to be the pioneer of the genre, as the first known print published of Yokohama after its port opened was Sadahide’s Kanagawa Yokohama shin kaikō zu 神奈川横浜新開港図(Newly-opened Port of Yokohama, 1860).

Sadahide was also known for his panoramic landscape and cityscape paintings done in birds-eye-view. Sadahide traveled on foot for days to research the land before he went to work on his large-scale maps.

In 1866, Sadahide, along with 11 other Ukiyo-e artists exhibited their work at the Paris International Exposition and received Legion d’Honneur.

Sadahide continued to work until a few years before he died in 1878 or 1879, when he was 71 or 72 years old.

Other Impressions

The British Museum

Freer/Sackler – The Gerhard Pulverer Collection

Nagoya Hōsa Library

The Met Museum

Waseda University Library

Selected reading/bibliography

Kida Jun’ichirō. 紀田順一郎. “Yokohama Kaikō Jidai no Hitohibo.” 横浜開港時代の人々. Kanagawa Shinbun Sha, 2009.

Munakata Morihisa. 宗像盛久. “Yokohama Kaika Nishiki-e o Yomu.” 横浜開港錦絵を読む. Tōkyō-Dō Shuppan, 2000.

Takumi Hideo. 匠秀夫. “Yokohama Nishiki-e to Gountei Sadahide” 横浜錦絵と五雲亭貞秀. In Nihon no Kindai bijutsu to Bakumatsu. 日本の近代美術と幕末, p.95-184. Chūseki Sha, 1994.

Sugimoto Fumiko and Michael Burtscher. “Shifting Perspectives on the Shogunate’s Last Years: Gountei Sadahide’s Bird’s-Eye View Landscape Prints.” Monumenta Nipponica, vol. 72 no.1, 2017, p.1-30.


Posted by Eri Mizukane

March 25, 2020

Utagawa school 歌川派, wrappers (fukuro) for inu no sо̄shi 犬の双紙

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 sо̄shi (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

Utagawa Toyokuni 歌川豊国, Yakusha meisho zue 戯子名所図会, 1800



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

Uta no shiori teikoku ryūkō kashū 歌のしおり帝国流行歌集, 1944

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 http://gunka.sakura.ne.jp/nihon/aikoku.htm 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 https://blog.goo.ne.jp/mr_asuka/e/681bfe28f1e849421cb7b0beb707c050

Yamada Isai 山田意斎 and Katsushika Hokusai 葛飾北斎, Shaka go-ishidaiki zue 釈迦御一代記図絵, 1845

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).