Gifts from the Ebb Tide


In Japan, collecting beautiful shells and decorating them with poems is an elegant pastime dating from ancient times. Shiohi no tsuto (Gifts from the ebb tide, popularly known in English as The Shell Book), is an illustrated book of multicolored woodblock prints by Kitagawa Utamaro (circa 1753–1806). Such ehon (picture books) are part of a long tradition featuring the fine collaborative work of artists, calligraphers, writers, papermakers, block cutters, and printers. This one, published in about 1789 by Tsutaya Jūzaburō, has 36 kyōka (humorous and satirical Japanese poems of 31 syllables) by a number of different poets illustrating the 36 shells. The book begins with a scene of shiohigari (clam-digging), followed by six pages of elaborately drawn pictures of shells with the kyōka, and concludes with a scene of the shell-matching game. On some pages, metal dust, crushed shell, and mother-of-pearl has been applied, conveying sheen or sparkle, and the texture enhanced by pressing carved stone against the paper without ink (blind embossing).

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Tsutaya Jûzaburô, Edo


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1 book : woodblock prints, color ; 27.4 × 19.4 centimeters

Last updated: December 12, 2017