The artistic dam was broken by Hokusai, whose great series '36 Views of Fuji' was the fruition of a life dedicated to art, and to constant improvement and learning. Once public taste, by now desperate for something fresh, had ratified his new direction, other younger artists such as Hiroshige (1797 - 1858) and Kuniyoshi (1798 - 1861) the freedom to explore new areas, although expanding the scope of woodblock prints to make landscape prints a major part of its subject matter was perhaps the biggest change.
At the same time, increased stagnation and ineffectuality in the feudal Shogunal government as a whole had reverberations in the restricted world of ukiyo-e. Previously, the government had tried to crack down on ukiyo-e over a number of issues, but as the government drifted into ineffectuality in the middle of the nineteenth century, the world of ukiyo-e managed to evade many of the restrictions which had been placed on them.
One concerned the lavish nature of the prints. In their attempt to ensure social stability, the government had enacted strict sumptuary laws, to prevent the wealth chonin from upsetting the social order by flaunting their wealth. These limitations, such as on the number of different blocks allowed to be used in a colour-print, had a crimping impact on the field, until the always-inventive chonin developed ways around them (e.g. by re-use of single blocks with different colours).
The other concerned the subject matter (particularly courtesans and kabuki actors), which was deemed to be harmful to social uprightness. One decree complained that:
"The trash known as nishiki-e ... [is] detrimental to public morals; henceforth, not only the production of new prints, but the buying and selling of existing stocks also, will be forbidden."Thankfully, the government lacked both the will and the means to impose these draconian restrictions, and the most cursory of fig-leaves regarding content (such as camouflaging prints of actors with landscape backgrounds, a dissimulation that surely fooled no-one) were enough of a genuflection to the authority of the government to allow the field to proceed as it wished.
All artist names are given the Japanese style, with family name first; also the names given are usually their 'go' (literally, 'art-name', the rough equivalent of a pen-name for Western writers), rather than their legal names.
All prints are produced with the nishiki-e technique, unless otherwise specifically noted.
Some of the actors' names have not had their proper generation attached/checked (e.g. Ichikawa Danjūrō IV), and in the explanatory text their names are often missing the proper macrons (signs which indicate that the vowel is long, rather than short) over the vowels which need them (e.g. 'ū', 'ō').
|Thumbnail||Artist||Date||Technique / Format||Title / Subject||Commentary|
|Utagawa Kunisada (1786 - 1865) (signing Gototei Kunisada)||ca. mid 1810s||tate-e oban||The Kabuki actor Onoe Kikugorō III||This print dates from very early in Kunisada's career; we can see that
his style is still very similar to that of his master,
This is yet another view of Onoe Kikugorō III (1784 - 1849), whom we saw earlier the show, portrayed in a magnificent standing profile by Toyokuni I. He was one of the first, and one of the most versatile and talented kaneru yakusha, actors who could perform any role, not just male (both heroes and villains), but also female roles as well.
In this print he is holding a yellow kimono box; kimono must be stored in a particular folded configuration to preserve their natural pleats, and for this special chests (tansu) and boxes were made. The boxes are often works of art in their own right, especially the ones finished in maki-e (literally, "sprinkled picture"), lacquer-ware decorated with gold.
|Utagawa Kunisada (1786 - 1865) (signing Gototei Kunisada)||ca. early 1820s||tate-e oban triptych||The Kabuki actors Nakamura Karoku I (L), Nakamura Shikan II (C), and Segawa Kikunojō V (R)||This triptych of the three actors shows them on stage in an unknown
play. (The name of the play is not given, merely the roles - and those
are written in an archaic cursive script called sōsho
(literally, "grass-writing") which is extremely difficult to decipher.)
The contrivance the middle one is riding in is a so-called "dog cart".
Nakamura Karoku I (1779 - 1859) was an excellent onnagata (female impersonator), who excelled in roles as keisei (literally, "castle-destroyer" or "castle-toppler"; they were the highest-ranking courtesans). He had a large number of descendants who were also Kabuki actors, and some are still on the stage today.
Since the date of this print is not certain, it is not definite which Nakamura Shikan is portrayed here, but it is probably Nakamura Shikan II (1796 - 1852), later Nakamura Utaemon IV - which, if true, would serve to more closely date the print, as he assumed that name only in 1825. He too was a kaneru yakusha, able to perform a broad range of male and female roles; he was also an outstanding dancer.
Segawa Kikunojō V (1802 - 1832) was acknowledged to be the leading onnagata in Edo, endowed with both beauty and intelligence, but he sadly died very young, at the height of his career, after coming down sick while performing.
|Utagawa Kunisada (1786 - 1865) (signing Gototei Kunisada)||ca. 1820s||tate-e oban, one panel from a triptych||The Kabuki actor Seki Sanjuro||He is portrayed against a spider web.|
|Utagawa Kunisada (1786 - 1865) (signing Kochoro Kunisada)||ca. late 1820s||tate-e oban||A bijin in snow with an umbrella.
The distinctive mincing step of traditional Japanese women derived from the use of platform shoes. The skill took a bit of practice, and became even more important in snow and ice. The parasol, popular with beautiful women, also protected their complexions from rain, sun and snow. The paper umbrella became a pop-culture item in Japan through the 1920's, when 10 million were made annually. Now replaced by durable steel-framed Western style umbrellas, production of paper versions has declined to 100,000 a year.
|Utagawa Kunisada (1786 - 1865) (signing ??? Kunisada)||ca. 1830s||tate-e oban||This stylistically innovative print shows an unknown actor reflected in a
dressing-room mirror. The mirror is resting on a dressing table, and we see
various brushes, containers of makeup, etc scattered across the table. The
table and mirror frame are decorated en suite in maki-e
(literally, "sprinkled picture" - an extremely labour-intensive and refined
lacquer technique in which powered gold is sprinkled on wet lacquer, forming
designs). The frame is further draped in fabric decorated with a tie-dyed
The object held in the actor's right hand is a small drum.
|Utagawa Kunisada (1786 - 1865) (signing Kochoro Kunisada)||ca. 1835-38||tate-e chuban||"Edo Nihonbashi no zu (View of Japan Bridge in Edo)", #1 from the series 'Tōkaidō gojusan tsugi no uchi' ('53 Stations of the Tokaido', known as the 'Bijin Tokaido')||
This series is the first in which Kunisada did a series on the subject of the
in front of landscapes scenes from the various stations of the Tokaido.
In most of the prints in this series, as in this one, the landscapes were
taken from the famous Hiroshige Tokaido series, the 'Hoeido Tokaido'.
(You can compare this print with Hiroshige's version earlier in the show.)
The bijin's red kimono, with its beautiful bokashi (shading) is decorated with prunus (the group of trees and shrubs which includes plums and cherries). Note also the three kites in the sky, forming parallel triangles with the outline of Mt. Fuji, a masterful visual touch which is missing in Hiroshige's version, and which shows that Kunisada was a master of the landscape image in his own right.
|Utagawa Kunisada (1786 - 1865) (signing Kochoro Kunisada)||ca. 1838||tate-e oban||The Kabuki actor Onoe Kikugorō III from the series 'Tosei haiyuu kobakō (Incense Boxes and Actors of the Current Age)'||Another stylistically innovative print from Kunisada, this one shows an
image of the actor Onoe Kikugorō III, in the role of Omatsuri
Sashichi, displayed in an incense box.
Onoe Kikugoro III (1784 - 1849) used that name from 1815 to 1848. He was one of the first and most accomplished actors in Kabuki history to perform both male and female roles. Besides playing vengeful ghosts, his specialties included adolescent males and older wise men, but his range also extended to villains. He was acclaimed as an all-round actor, or 'man of a thousand faces', and his ability to do the miraculously quick changes so popular in his era allowed him to play seven to nine roles in one play.
|Utagawa Kunisada (signing Toyokuni) (1786 - 1865)||ca. 1843-45||tate-e oban||"Miya", #42 from the series 'Tōkaido gojūsan tsui (53 Parallels for the Tokaido)'||
This series was a collaboration between Kunisada,
but each artist was responsible for different complete prints, rather than
collaborating on individual prints. Each print illustrates a scene from
legend, folklore, fairy tales or history which is associated with each
stage of the
In this one, we see the Lady Fuji no Tsubone appearing to her husband, Taira no Tsunemori, a minor member of the Taira (Heike) clan, and the nephew of the clan leader, Taira no Kiyomori.
She appears as a character in the famous five-act Kabuki play 'Ichi no Tani Futaba Gunki (The Chronicle of the Battle of Ichi no Tani)', in which the main character's real son is sacrificed to save the life of someone more important (someone who had, moreover, previously performed an important service for them), a common theme in Japanese legend and myth. Only the climactic act, entitled 'Kumagai Jin'ya (Kumagai's Camp)', is usually performed now.
Miya, which means "shrine", developed around the ancient Atsuta Shrine, one of the most important in Japan, as it holds the Sacred Sword, one of the three divine symbols of the Imperial throne. Situated at the junction of three roads, it was one of the busiest stations on the Tokaido, with around 250 inns to accommodate visitors to the shrine.
|Utagawa Kunisada (signing Toyokuni) (1786 - 1865)||ca. 1847-50||tate-e oban||#92 from the series 'Ogura nazorae hyakunin isshu (Comparisons of the 100 Ogura Poets, One Poem Each)'||
Poet: Nijō-in no Sanuki([Lady] Sanuki of Nijō-in)
(ca. 1141 - ca. 1217)
Persons depicted: Tsuma Orie (wife Orie) and Yazama Jūtarō
My sleeves are like
This image is from the bunraku (puppet theatre) play Taiheiki Chūushin Kōshaku, a variant of the Kanadehon Chūshingura (Treasury of the Loyal Retainers), the most common adaption of the story of the 47 Ronin.
In this scene we see a chance meeting in the street between one of the ronin (who is carrying swords for his comrades, concealed in a bundle of sticks), and his estranged wife, who has become a streetwalker to support her in-laws. She tries to persuade him to return home, but is unaware of the secret of his mission, and is greatly saddened when he refuses.
The hidden rock of the poem at one level refers to the secret plan of the ronin; but at another level, to the costs of duty: that of the wife, who has accepted the shame of prostitution to perform the duty of supporting her husband's parents, and of the husband, who will die as a result of revenging his master's death.
|Utagawa Kunisada (signing Toyokuni) (1786 - 1865)||ca. 1847-50||yoko-e oban||Chapter #15, from the series 'Faithful Genji'||In a field under full moon Prince Genji, along with a bijin and a servant, watches geese flying.|
|Utagawa Kunisada (signing Toyokuni) (1786 - 1865)||ca. 1851-53||yoko-e oban||Chapter #36, from the series 'Faithful Genji'||Prince Genji, fan in hand, leans an elbow on a balcony railing overlooking the lake.|
|Utagawa Kunisada (signing Toyokuni) (1786 - 1865)||ca. 1849-53||tate-e oban||This print appears to be a rare remnant of a common use for woodblock
prints, which was to produce sets of playing cards. The cards would be
printed several to a sheet, which would then be cut up and made into cards.
Subject to substantial handling, these cards generally have not survived.
This sheet was probably retained by a Kabuki fan, and has thereby been
preserved for us to see.
The particular game here appears to be one called iroha karuta, in which pairs of cards are assigned to one of the elements of the Japanese syllabary (Japanese is written in part using symbols, hira-gana, which represent all the possible noun-vowel pairs.).
The game was set up by laying out all the cards face up. To play, a card which was one half of a pair was selected, and the object of the game was to find and seize the matching card of the pair before the other contestants; the process would then be repeated.
|Utagawa Kunisada (signing Toyokuni) (1786 - 1865)||1852/12th month||tate-e oban||Ichikawa Omezō I in the role of Danshichi Kurobei, from the series 'Oyama rokuju yoshu (60-Odd Provinces of Great Japan)'||
The fishmonger Danshichi Kurobei was the archetype of the Ōsaka
otokodate - gangs of tough and fearless commoners originally formed
to protect ordinary townspeople, who soon came to have more in common with
protection rackets than anything else. These Robin Hood-like figures, who
made a living with gambling, were the ancestors of today's yakuza
(Japanese mafia). In Kabuki plays, they usually appear as chivalrous
figures protecting common people against oppressive samurai.
The role was based on a real man, a fish-monger in the city of Sakai, who killed someone in the middle of winter in 1697. The dead body was hidden in the snow and discovered in Spring, after the melting of the snow. This event was dramatized for the first time in 1698; half a century later, Danshichi became the hero of the sewamono (dramas dealing with the lives of ordinary people) "Natsu Matsuri Naniwa Kagami" in 1745, which is still part of the current Kabuki repertoire, and one of the most popular plays. It contains the most famous murder scene in Kabuki, the murder of Mikawaya Giheiji by his son-in-law Danshichi.
This print also uses a number of the elaborate techniques which were introduced to ordinary woodblock prints after their development in surimono. Look for kirazuri (a glittering effect caused by the application of mica flecks) along the top of the print; karazuri, an embossed printing effect used in the white stripes of the kimono, and shomenzuri, a polishing technique, in the black cartouche around the bridge scene.
|Utagawa Kunisada (signing Toyokuni) (1786 - 1865)||1856, 8th month||tate-e oban||An actor with a wooden bucket.|
|Utagawa Kunisada (signing Toyokuni) (1786 - 1865)||1857, 12th month||tate-e oban diptych||Here, samurai wear traditional geta (platform sandals), attire more commonly found on stage than on actual samurai, as it was sometimes considered lower class.|
|Utagawa Kunisada (signing Toyokuni) (1786 - 1865)||1859, 4th month||tate-e oban||Unidentified||
This actor in a blue-spotted kimono makes an arresting figure, particularly
through the subtle use of silhouetted gray figures in the background,
a very unusual effect in ukiyo-e.
Attention to detail, delicacy and subtlety in the composition indicate
Kunisada's true mastery of woodblock design, in which he was
assisted by the skilled block-carvers and printers, whose skills are on
display in this beautifully printed copy from early in the production run.
Note the prominent vertical lines of the wood-grain in the background; these indicates that this print is from very early in the production run, when the pores of the wood had not yet been filled with pigment.
|Utagawa Kunisada (signing Toyokuni) (1786 - 1865)||1860, 3rd month intercalary||tate-e oban||The Kabuki actor Kataoka Nizaemon VIII, from the series 'Ima-yo oshie kagami (Fashionable Mirror Portraits)'||
Here we see
Kataoka Nizaemon VIII
(1810 - 1863) in the role of Saito Naizonosuke, from the Kabuki play
'Yayoi zakura hisago no makubari'.
He was particularly good as a nimaime, an actor who specialized in the roles of handsome and refined young lovers, often performed in the wagoto or "gentle" style of acting (as opposed to the more dramatic, forceful aragoto - literally, "rough stuff" - style).
Here he wears a striped kimono, with an under-kimono with a pine motif. The pine tree was a Japanese symbol of longevity and being virtuous; it came to symbolize longevity by being green throughout the year, as well as resistant to strong winds and heavy snows. Several samurai families adopted a variation on the pine motif for use in their family mon, circular symbols which are the Japanese equivalent (and from exactly the same military roots) as the Western crests.
|Utagawa Kunisada (signing Toyokuni) (1786 - 1865)||1861/9th month||tate-e oban||The Kabuki actor Kawarazaki Gonjūrō I||
Here we see
Kawarazaki Gonjūrō I
(1838 - 1903) in a role as a demon.
His career demonstrates the way in which the Kabuki theatre had schools which took the form of families, and the way the families had hierarchies of stage-names within each family.
After a glittering early career, during which he successively took the names of Kawarazaki Chōjšrō III, Gonjūrō I, Gennosuke VII, and Sanshō I, in 1874 he was adopted into the leading Ichikawa actor family, and took the stage-name Ichikawa Danjūrō IX. That name, reserved for truly extra-ordinary actors, had not been held by anyone for around 20 years.
On the three great Kabuki stars of the second half of the nineteenth century, he was the standard-bearer for Kabuki during the long Meiji Era, and worked tirelessly to save this most Japanese of art forms, forming a human bridge between the feudal Japan of the past, and the modern Japan of the twentieth century. Many people feel that without him, kabuki might not have survived the transition.
This print is also an excellent example of the technical sophistication which the Japanese wood-block print reached at the end of its life.
The dark shading at the top of the print is bokashi; it was produced by a number of different techniques, such as:
The black areas of his robe contain an intricate geometric pattern produced with shomenzuri; literally, "front-printing", it is a polishing technique. A carved block was placed behind the print and the printed surface rubbed with a hard polisher (often a boar's tusk).
|Utagawa Kunisada (signing Toyokuni) (1786 - 1865)||1862, 2nd month||tate-e oban||The Kabuki actor Ichimura Kakitsu IV, from the series 'Chikurin shichi-ken no mitate Toji Ryuko Shichi-enjin Chi (Parody of the Seven Wise Men in the Bamboo Garden)'||
Ichimura Kakitsu IV
(1844 - 1903) is perhaps better known under his later stage name,
Onoe Kikugorō V.
He belonged to the trio of stars who dominated the Kabuki world
around the turn of the 20th Century. (The two others
were Ichikawa Danjūrō IX and Ichikawa Sadanjō I.)
One of his particular professional interests was the creation of zangirimono (literally, "cropped hair plays") which dealt with contemporary characters: these were the second step in the development of a modern theatre in Japan, and the first time in centuries that Japan had had a contemporary theatre. The name "cropped hair" refers to the fact that as part of the reforms of Japan's feudal society in the Meiji Restoration, hair-styles also changed; previously, a man's station was indicated by the details of his hairdo, such as the length of the hair, and the method of tying it. After the reformations, ordinary close-cropped hair (zangiri) became the style for all classes; the characters in zangirimono appeared with short hair and modern dress, leading to the name.
Mitate (literally, "likened") are contemporary recreations of well-known scenes from history or myth, often with a parody in mind. It is not known what the subject of this parody is; woodblock prints are often obscure in meaning, in some cases to avoid the attention of the government censors.
|Utagawa Kunisada (signing Toyokuni) (1786 - 1865) and Miyagi Gengyo (1817 - 1880)||1862, 10th month||tate-e oban||The actor Kataoka Nizaemon VIII in the role of Sato Masakiyo, from an untitled series of actors with poems, known as the 'Poem Card' or 'Wood-Slab Poem' series||
This print displays the technical sophistication which the Japanese
wood-block print reached at the end of its life. The black hat contains an
intricate wavy pattern produced with shomenzuri; literally,
"front-printing", it is a polishing technique. A carved block was placed
behind the print and the printed surface rubbed with a hard polisher (often
a boar's tusk).
The collar contains karazuri, literally, "empty printing"; this is an embossed un-inked printing effect, a technique called gauffrage in the West. It is produced by hard pressure on an un-inked block, with the print dampened, leaving whatever pattern is carved in the block embossed into the paper.
The wooden panel to the side makes use of mokumezuri, the use of a densely grained woodblock which has been soaked in water to emphasize the pattern of the grain, and is used to print areas of unfinished woodwork portrayed in the print. It is sometimes called itame mokuhan, literally "imitation woodgrain".
The wooden slab on which the poem is inscribed is the kind used in the Kabuki theatre to hang next to the stage, to carry the name of the play which is currently being performed.
|Utagawa Kunisada (signing Toyokuni) (1786 - 1865)||1864, 4th month||tate-e oban||"Ichikawa Danjuro VIII as Horibei Yasubei Taketsune", "So" from the series 'Seichu gishi-den ('Lives of the True and Faithful Retainers', known as the '47 Ronin')||
This print, done at the age of 79, is from one of the last major series
which Kunisada produced
in his long career, during which he is known to have produced over 15,000
designs, including around 1,000 series (although some of the designs,
especially those from the middle of his career, were no doubt from
Written Japanese uses a syllabary (consonant-vowel pairs) called hira-gana, and there are 47 signs in common use; this nice coincidence led to their use to enumerate the 47 Ronin.
Interestingly, although the use of real names for historical figures living after 1572 were forbidden when this print was produced, all the Ronin are shown with their original names, and not the aliases (derived from the popular 'Chushingura' Kabuki play based on the real events) which had been used for more than 150 years in prints and other popular literature.
Here we see one of the Ronin (portrayed by an actor) carrying over his shoulder the large wooden maul which he used to break down the gate to Kira's mansion.
This was the second time Horibei Yasubei Taketsune had been a ronin; as a young man, he had been a traveling warrior, moving through various provinces and perfecting his combat skills.
|Utagawa Kunisada (signing Toyokuni) (1786 - 1865)||1864, 7th month||tate-e oban||"Nakamura Ganpachi I as Onodera Hanemon Hidetomi", "Sa" from the series 'Seichu gishi-den ('Lives of the True and Faithful Retainers', known as the '47 Ronin')||
He is portrayed bringing down a brazier of burning coals; note the
hand-applied grey gofun powder (composed of ground and burnt shells)
, used to portray the ash from brazier.
Onodera Hanemon Hidetomi did not keep his part in the plot secret from his wife; when she read his note explaining why he had left, she wrote him a poem:
When I read the wordsWhile in disguise in Edo, waiting for the attack, he set up as a physician. Although he was over sixty, he assumed a leading role in the attack, killing two of Kira's retainers.
|Utagawa Yoshitaki (1841 - 1899)||ca. 1860||tate-e chuban||Jitsukawa Gakujuro and Nakamura Jakuemon|
|Utagawa Yoshitaki (1841 - 1899)||ca. 1860||tate-e chuban diptych||Three actors against a blue and grey key-fret background.|
|Utagawa Hirosada (fl. 1819 - 1865)||ca. 1848||tate-e chuban||Black robed actor, role Nobutaka in Chuko Buyuden|
|Utagawa Kunikazu (fl. 1848 - 1868)||ca. 1860||tate-e chuban triptych|
|Utagawa Kunikazu (fl. 1848 - 1868)||ca. 1850s||small shikishiban||"Kyobashi in Snow"|
|Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1798 - 1861)||ca. 1844||tate-e oban||"Tametomo wa Seiwa-tei hasse no son, etc."||
This is the right hand panel of a triptych (the complete triptych may be
It shows a celebrated scene from the life of Minamoto no Tametomo (1139 - 1170), a legendary archer, and a favourite subject of Kuniyoshi's. Tametomo was one of a set of brothers who played large roles in the Hōgen civil war (1156-1159) between the leading Taira, Minamoto and Fujiwara clans. He was a giant in size and strength, and as his left arm was four inches longer than his right, he was able to draw a bow with great force.
After being on the losing side in the civil war, he was exiled to the island of Ōshima, just off the Izu peninsula, where he soon contrived to carve out a small domain among the surrounding islands. An expedition was sent to arrest him, and he reputedly sank the leading ship of the fleet with a single giant arrow, the scene shown here.
|Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1798 - 1861)||ca. 1847-48||tate-e oban||"Uramatsu Handayū Takano", #19 from the series 'Seichū gishi Den (Stories of the Loyalty of the Famous Samurai)'||
This print is from the earliest, and perhaps the most popular of the
approximately dozen or so series which Kuniyoshi produced on
the subject of the
In this image, we see an illustration of a story this ronin told his comrades; while practicing with his sword, his swings often brought down a pine branches; a particularly large one knocked him down, amusing him.
|Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1798 - 1861)||ca. 1847-50||tate-e oban||"Clearing Weather at Mt. Shimahiro", from the series 'Gōketsu Hakkei (Heroes for the Eight Views)'||
Formalized series of landscape views on eight particular themes
of the Xiao and Xiang Rivers, the rivers and wetlands around Lake Donting,
developed in Eleventh Century China, and they appear throughout Japanese
Kuniyoshi, alone of the major figures of his generation of artists, had a major specialty in musha-e (images of historically significant warriors), and in this series of prints he whimsically adapts those same eight themes - autumn moon, lingering snow, evening glow, vesper bells, returning boats, clearing weather, night rain and homing geese - to portrayals of historical heroes.
This one shows Musashi Gorō Sadayo defending himself against a flight of arrows at the battle of Mt. Shimahiro, in which the rebel Taira no Masakado was defeated by the Imperial forces.
Musashi Sadayo was a squire of Masakado; he was only 15 at the time of his death in battle. Masakado was Tenth Century lord of the Kanto (the plains around Tokyo); the capital then was Kyoto, and the Kanto was a remote frontier. He was one of the leaders of the powerful Heike clan, and a descendant of an Emperor, and in 939, using the mystique of his Imperial blood, he revolted against the government, killing his uncle Kunika (who was part of the Taira clan) in the process, and set up a new kingdom in the Kanto, and proclaimed himself Shinno ("New Emperor").
His independent regime only lasted for several months. The Imperial government in Kyoto ordered another clan to send an army to subdue his kingdom, and Fujiwara no Hidesato, along with Masakado's cousin Sadamori (son of Kunika) attacked; although Masakado and his army fought bravely, he was slain, and the revolt was suppressed.
|Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1798 - 1861)||1852, 8th month||tate-e oban||"Nagato and Kii Provinces", #26 from the series 'Kōto nishiki imayō kuni-zukushi (Modern Provinces in Edo-Brocade Style)'||
The upper panel shows Nagato Province; the story referred to by the image
of the vessel and the man in the water is obscure.
The lower panel shows Kii Province, and the actor Sawamura Chiyojūrō V in the role of the monk Karukaya, from the Kabuki play 'Zoho Tsukushi no Iezuto'.
Karukaya was originally Kato Sayemon Shigeuji, the daimyō of Chikuzen Province in northern Kyushu (the Southern main island of Japan). He became disillusioned with the everyday world, and sought spiritual refuge on Mt. Koya, in the large peninsula South of Osaka and Kyoto on Honshu (the main island of Japan). This holds a monastic center which is a nexus for Shingon Buddhism; this Buddhist sect was introduced to Japan in 805 by Kobo Daishi, one of the most important historical Japanese religious figures.
Although he had abandoned his family while his son was still a baby, the boy later went searching for his father, whom he recognized from a birthmark. The father, who wanted to remain true to his vows, denied it, and turned him away; the son agreed to go, and promised to keep the truth from his mother, so that his father could remain in peace.
Monks of many of the schools of China, Korea and Japan generally wear austere robes, with a simple cloth collar draped around their necks. Japanese monks wear black or gray robes, and a prayer robe is worn over the regular robes.
|Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1798 - 1861)||ca. 1851-53||tate-e oban||The Kabuki actor Ichikawa Danjuro VIII||
Here we see the renowned Kabuki actor Ichikawa Danjuro VIII in the role of
the priest Narukami, from the play of the same name (Narukumi,
"Thunder God"); he is shown in the so-called 'pillar wrapping' pose
which was a staple of the Kabuki theatre.
The plot of this play concerns a priest, Narukami Shōnin (literally, "superior man", a title reserved for Buddhist monks known for virtuous behaviour). Angered that his petition to the emperor was refused, locks the rain dragon up in a cave, and causes a drought. The court responds by sending the beautiful princess Kumo no Taema, who seduces Narukami, and then releases the rain dragon. When it starts to rain, Narukumi realizes he has been duped, and becomes enraged. It is this moment that we see captured in this print.
|Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1798 - 1861)||1852, 9th month||tate-e oban||"Suwara", station #40, from the series 'Kisokaidō Rokujūku Tsugi (The Sixty-nine Stations of the Kisokaido)'||
The poet Ariwara noh Narihira eloping with Nijō-no-tsubone
This print illustrates a famous moment from the tenth century epic, Ise Monogatari (Tales of Ise). It is commonly held that the hero of this novel is the poet Ariwara Narihira Ason (828 - 880), an Emperor's grandson, and one of the "Six Great Poets". Legend states that he was exiled as the result of an affair with the empress. This scene shows him carrying his lover Nijō-no-tsubone across a grassy moor at night, pursued by a party of men with torches.
|Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1798 - 1861)||1852, 9th month||tate-e oban||"Sekigahara", station #59, from the series 'Kisokaidō Rokujūku Tsugi (The Sixty-nine Stations of the Kisokaido)'||
The Kisokaido Road was an inland route connecting Edo (present day Tokyo)
with Kyoto. (The costal route between Edo and Kyoto was the
There were sixty-nine rest stops along the Kisokaido Road; in this series
Kuniyoshi designed one print for each of the sixty-nine rest stops, plus
prints for Edo and Kyoto, as well as a title page. The main design of each
print portrays a historical, legendary of fictional scene associated with
In this image, the rival wrestlers Hanarigoma Chōkichi and Nuregami Chōgorō are in combat, using a ladder they are throwing back and forth; the ground is covered with debris from their struggle. Chōgorō is the favorite and certain winner, and Chōkichi is the young upstart.
The two are the protagonists in several Kabuki scenes, the Sumōba and the Komeya. Although often performed independently, they are actually from the same long original play, as is common now in the Kabuki theatre, where a performance often consists of favourite scenes from a number of different plays.
|Kōko Yoshitsuya (1822 - 1866)||ca. 1861||tate-e oban||From the series 'Kinsei Giyu Den (Courageous Biographies of Recent Years)'||
In this image we see a samurai enveloped in a cloud of smoke from a gunshot;
he has dropped his katana as a result. This image is eerily
reminiscent of a famous war photograph by Robert Capra, "Spanish Loyalist
at The Instant of Death", from 1936.
Yoshitsuya was an early student of Kuniyoshi, and began producing his own prints around 1845. Almost all of his prints were images of warriors. During his short working life he produced many memorable designs of samurai, the 47 Ronin, and the heroes of the 'Taiheiki (History of the Great Peace)', a fictionalized historical chronicle that describes the events of the 1300s, when the Kamakura Shogunate fell, and civil war enveloped the country.
|Kōko Yoshitsuya (1822 - 1866)||1863, 4th month||tate-e oban||"Moon and Lake Biwa", from the series 'Tōkaido meisho no uchi' ('Famous Spots of Tokaido', usually called the 'Processional Tokaido')||
This large series was a collaboration by a large number of different
artists and publishers, to commemorate the historic trip of the Shogun
Tokugawa Iemochi from Edo to Kyoto to pay respects to the Emperor.
A total of 12 artists and 21 publishers co-operated to produce the set
of 68 prints.
In this print we see the full autumn moon over the cliffs at Mt. Ishiyama; the plumes of the procession seen on a moonlit hillside. In the distance a sea bridge and two mountain tops in a mist.
Ishiyama holds a large Buddhist temple, the Ishiyama-dera, founded in 749. A pagoda added by Minamoto no Yoritomo (1147? - 1199), the first Ashikaga Shogun, is now the oldest standing structure of its type in Japan. The Ishiyama-dera is also the place where Lady Murasaki Shikibu is said to have written then 'Genji Monotagari (The Tale of Genjii)', the world's first novel, and one of Japan's great literary classics.
|Utagawa Shigenobu (1826 - 1869) (signing Kisai Ryūshō)||ca. 1866||tate-e oban||"Peonies at Hyakken", #18 from the series 'Tōkyō Meisho Sanjurokkasen (36 [Flowers at] Famous Places in Tokyo)'||
Well off the beaten path, the tiny Mukojima Hyakken municipal garden is an
odd remnant of
culture; it is the only municipal garden dating from that era which was not
at one time part of a
It was founded around 1804 by an antiques dealer name Sahara Kikuu, who was part of the chōnin intelligensia of his period; the garden still contains many stone monuments engraved with their words. It began as a plum grove amidst the farmlands, for at that time the east bank of the Sumida River was still Edo's vegetable garden. He also planted many flowers, selected from the flowers which had been themes of classical poems in China and Japan.
After the founder's death, and throughout the Nineteenth Century, it remained a playground for ordinary people; in 1939, a subsequent owner bequeathed it to the city of Tokyo.
The garden has twice been completely destroyed. In the 1920s, a typhoon flooded the area for a month, and the long immersion in brackish water killed everything in the garden. During World War II, it was completely devastated during the firestorm of the Great Tokyo Air Raid in March, 1945. After the war, the city wanted to use the barren space for an athletic practice field, but local residents mounted a campaign to reestablish it as a garden. The city relented, and with the help of local residents, it was replanted in the style of a country garden.
Traditional Chinese beliefs hold that the peony represents spring and female beauty; in Japan they also represent good fortune and nobility of spirit.
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