November 7, 2011

Momotaro and Kaidomaru Wrestling

This nishiki-e (multicolored woodblock print) is by Utagawa Kunisada I, also called Toyokuni III and other names, who lived circa 1786–1864 and was a leading artist of ukiyo-e (pictures of the floating world). He was famous for his prints of Kabuki actors, beautiful women, and sumo (Japanese traditional wrestling). A favorite pictorial joke in the Edo period (1600–1867) was the depiction of sumo performed by unusual participants. In this print Kunisada shows the meeting of the two strong boys of Japanese folktales, Momotarō and Kintarō. Momotarō, born from a giant peach, defeated ogres with the help of his trusty dog, monkey, and pheasant. Kintarō (here called Kaidōmaru), grew up on a mountain with animals for his friends. In this match, Momotarō's pheasant appears as the gyōji (referee), while Kintarō's bear acts the yobidashi (announcer). Such nishiki-e served the function of increasing the popularity of sumo. The National Diet Library, which holds this work, has more than 100 of Kunisada’s sumo prints. From the name and the seal, this work can be dated 1843–44.

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).

Ito Hirobumi's Handwritten Diary of His Foreign Journey

In December 1871 (lunar November, Meiji 4), the Iwakura mission departed Japan, led by Iwakura Tomomi serving as ambassador plenipotentiary, and including Kido Takayoshi, Ōkubo Toshimichi, and Itō Hirobumi as deputy ambassadors. The mission lasted approximately two years, and its members made a circuit of the United States, Britain, France, Russia, and other European countries. One of its purposes was to promote international recognition of the Meiji Restoration, which returned Japan to imperial government in 1868 after the Tokugawa shogunate. The others were investigation of the institutions and cultures of different countries with a view to adopting parts potentially suited to Japan, and possible revisions to the “unequal treaties” forced on Japan by foreign powers. This diary, by Itō (1841–1909), was written in March 1873 (Meiji 6) during his stay in Prussia (Germany). It includes detailed notes about the parliamentary and electoral systems of different European countries. Itō, who four times served as Japan’s prime minister, later began work on a draft of Japan’s first constitution, which became law in 1890 and bore striking similarities to that of Prussia.

Meiji Dignitaries

These nishiki-e (multicolored woodblock prints) of Meiji dignitaries are by Yamazaki Toshinobu (1857–86). They are group portraits of members of the early Meiji government, formed when imperial government resumed in Japan in 1868 after the Tokugawa shogunate. Most of the figures depicted were statesmen important to the Meiji Restoration, such as Sanjō Sanetomi (seen at rear right in the center panel), Iwakura Tomomi (rear left in right-hand panel), Kido Takayoshi (rear right in left-hand panel), and Ōkubo Toshimichi (front left in left-hand panel). The portrait of each personage is accompanied by his name and position. The political organization of the early Meiji government adopted the Dajōkan (Council of State) system, with a view toward the establishment of a parliamentary-style structure. The broad outlines of the Dajōkan system took shape in 1871 (Meiji 4). Although it underwent several administrative reforms, Dajōkan persisted until the cabinet system was established in 1885 (Meiji 18). Toshinobu created these prints in 1877.

Imperial Order to Dispatch Mission Head Plenipotentiary Itō to Europe to Study Constitutional Forms of Government

This document is the 1882 imperial order commanding Itō Hirobumi (1841–1909) to visit Europe to study the constitutional systems of various European countries. A separate document presents a concrete list of 31 different items to be studied, including each country's constitution, royal family, legislature, cabinet, judiciary, and system of local government. On March 14, 1882 (Meiji 15), Itō set sail from Yokohama. He spent 14 months in Europe, traveling around Prussia (Germany), Austria, Britain, Belgium, and other countries. In Prussia he was influenced by the lectures of such men as Rudolf von Gneist, the jurist and statesman; Albert Mosse, a lawyer who lived in Tokyo in the late 1880s; and Lorenz von Stein, an economist, sociologist, and expert on public administration. Itō had studied in Britain in the 1860s and was a deputy ambassador on the Iwakura mission, which traveled to the United States, Britain, France, Russia, and other European countries in 1871–73. He served four times as Japan’s prime minister, and supervised the drafting of Japan’s first constitution, which became law in 1890.

Formally Dressed Emigrant Family Listening to the Record Player (in South America)

During the period of Japanese emigration to other countries, Japanese diplomatic establishments abroad recommended that Japanese immigrants adopt local customs and manners so as to avoid friction with local inhabitants. This photograph illustrates the assimilation of Japanese emigrants. Japanese emigration to Brazil began in 1908, and reached its peak in 1926–35. Following the abolition of slavery in Brazil in 1888, the government of Brazil looked to immigrants to address a labor shortage in the increasingly important coffee industry. European immigrants, particularly Italians, filled the gap at first, but were later joined by immigrants from Japan, where rural poverty was widespread and the economy was struggling to modernize and to reabsorb soldiers returning after the Russo-Japanese War (1904–5).