Pictures of Imported Birds


Raikin zui (Pictures of imported birds, also seen as Pictures of birds imported from abroad) is a color-printed picture book that depicts birds that were shipped to Japan from overseas during the Edo period. The pictures were painted by the Ukiyo-e artist Kitao Masayoshi (Kuwagata Keisai, 1764‒1824). The book was published in 1790. During the Tenmei (1781‒89) and Kansei (1789‒1801) periods, many sumptuously detailed color-printed picture books were published in Japan. They used advanced and time-consuming printing techniques, such as kirazuri (application of metallic pigments and mica), karazuri (blind-printing), and bokashi (graduation of color). This book is considered to be the finest example of such books. It consists of two pictures of the Chinese man from Nanking who supplied the rare birds from which the illustrations were made, and ten pictures that combine birds and plants in skillful compositions. This version in the National Diet Library is missing one picture of the Chinese supplier, the introduction, explanatory notes, and the colophon. Many picture books depicting plants and animals were made during the Edo period, the result of a concurrence of the deepening of honzōgaku (traditional pharmacognosy—the knowledge of medical substances of biological origin, particularly from plants) from China and the arrival of knowledge of Western natural history from Holland. This work was intended not only to be enjoyed as a beautiful picture book; it also is thought to have fulfilled the role, as a document that accurately depicted rare birds, of satisfying the growing popular interest in natural history.

Last updated: May 31, 2016