Kinko and Echizen

The term ukiyo-e, literally “pictures of the floating world,” refers to a genre of Japanese artwork that flourished in the Edo period (1600–1868). As the phrase “floating world” suggests, with its roots in the ephemeral worldview of Buddhism, ukiyo-e captured the fleeting dynamics of contemporary urban life. While being accessible and catering to “common” tastes, the artistic and technical details of these prints show remarkable sophistication, their subjects ranging from portraits of courtesans and actors to classical literature. Black-and-white compositions like this one are known as sumizuri-e because they were rubbed or printed in ink only. This print, created around 1700 by Ōmori Yoshikiyo, is part of an altered edition of an ehon (illustrated book) and depicts a scene in Kyoto’s Shimabara pleasure district. One courtesan, identified as Echizen, is seen writing poetry while the second, called Kinko, grooms the hair of a male patron as he watches in a mirror. These figures are identical in pose to figures from an earlier work, Courtesans in Opposing Mirrors, signed by Okumura Masanobu (circa 1686–1764). Masanobu’s work was based on an image created by Torii Kiyonobu I (circa 1664–1729), dated 1700.

Eight Sights in the Environs of Edo

This work is a series of nishiki-e (Japanese multicolored woodblock prints) that depict eight scenic spots around Edo (present-day Tokyo). The series, dating from about 1838, is one of the greatest artistic masterpieces from among the many woodblock prints of Utawaga Hiroshige I (1797–1858). The work consists of: Azuma no mori yau (Night rain at Azuma no mori); Haneda rakugan (Wild geese alighting at Haneda); Gyōtoku kihan (Returning sailboats near Gyōtoku); Sibaura seiran (Mountain vapor at Shibaura); Ikegami banshō (Evening bell at Ikegami); Koganei-bashi sekisho (Evening glow at Koganei-bashi bridge); Tamagawa shūgetsu (Autumn moon over the Tamagawa River); and Asukayama bosetsu (Evening snow at Asukayama). The son of a jōbikeshi dōshin (a fireman officer under the shogunate), Hiroshige was born in Edo, and his original name was Ando Jūemon. He became an artist in the ukiyo-e style, training under Utagawa Toyohiro (1773–1828). Hiroshige’s scenic landscapes are among the best-loved of his many works.

Ishinpō

Ishinpō, the Japanese encyclopedia of Chinese medicine, was compiled by Japanese author Tanba Yasunori (912–95) in the Heian period. It is a collected work of quotations from more than 200 works on traditional Chinese medicine dating from the Sui and Tang dynasties (581–907), comprising about 10,000 items. It preserves a large amount of medical lore from books that have since been lost. It is also the earliest medical work existing in Japan. Originally in 30 juan, it was issued in 982 and presented to the Japanese emperor in 984. Tanba gathered material from Chinese medical works that included medical classics; sources on drugs and drug formulas, acupuncture, sex regimens, and dietary therapy; and Buddhist sutras, talisman drawings, and writings. The order and the arrangement of the materials collected differ from those of Chinese works, reflecting the differences between the two medical communities. After completing his work, Tanba presented a handwritten copy to the imperial court and another copy to the highest official, Fujiwara Michimichi. The latter copy was called the Uji edition. In 1154 a Japanese scholar added punctuation to the imperial copy by consulting the Uji edition. Afterwards the book was sequestered in the imperial collection and had very limited circulation. Most of the other copies outside of the imperial court were used by the later generations of the Tanba family, repeatedly copied through generations, or published under other titles. Another manuscript copy with incomplete volumes is held in the Nannaji Temple in Kyoto. In 1573, Shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu gave the 30-juan imperial copy to Nakarai Zuisaku, who made public 22 juan. In 1854, the first year of the Ansei era, the Tokugawa shogun ordered the Nakarai family to forward this treasure to Edo Medical Academy for revision and reproduction, so that the work finally was made known to the world. This is a handwritten draft copy from the Tanba family’s private collection, dated the third year of the Bunsei era (1856). It has 20 juan in nine portfolios. The preface was written by Izawa Nobusada of Fukui-han (also dated 1856). A postscript by Tanba Motozane, dated the third year of the Kansei era (1791), gives a brief description of the publication and its transmission in the country and characterizes Ishinpō as “the first classic of our country.”

The Courtesan Shigeoka of Okamoto-ya; The Courtesan Sugatano of Sugataebi-ya; The Courtesan Hanamurasaki of Tama-ya

The term ukiyo-e, literally “pictures of the floating world,” refers to a genre of Japanese artwork that flourished in the Edo period (1600–1868). As the phrase “floating world” suggests, with its roots in the ephemeral worldview of Buddhism, ukiyo-e captured the fleeting dynamics of contemporary urban life. While being accessible and catering to “common” tastes, the artistic and technical details of these prints show remarkable sophistication, their subjects ranging from portraits of courtesans and actors to classical literature. Bijin-ga (pictures of beautiful women) capture the trends in feminine beauty by featuring both real and idealized images of high-ranking courtesans, historic figures, geisha (performers of music and dance), lower-ranked courtesans, fictional characters, notable townswomen, and ordinary women. These high-ranking courtesans from Edo’s famous pleasure district, Yoshiwara, are identified on each print by their names, the houses in which they worked, and the locations of the houses. Gorgeously attired from their elaborately coiffed hair to their lofty platform shoes, these women create a dramatic impression. There were several parallels between Kabuki actors and high-ranking courtesans during the Edo Period, including the use of hereditary names that could carry the cachet of celebrity down through generations.

The Young Maiden Oshichi

The term ukiyo-e, literally “pictures of the floating world,” refers to a genre of Japanese artwork that flourished in the Edo period (1600–1868). As the phrase “floating world” suggests, with its roots in the ephemeral worldview of Buddhism, ukiyo-e captured the fleeting dynamics of contemporary urban life. While being accessible and catering to “common” tastes, the artistic and technical details of these prints show remarkable sophistication, their subjects ranging from portraits of courtesans and actors to classical literature. From the series Edo Meisho (Famous sites of Edo), this 1867 print portrays Yaoya Oshichi (1666–83), the young daughter of a greengrocer. The koma-e (vignette image) above her head shows a famous place in Edo known as Ai no Uchi. When the family house burned down in the great fire of 1682, Oshichi and her father took refuge in a temple, where Oshichi fell in love with a young man who was studying there. Father and daughter returned home once their house was rebuilt, but, in order to return to the temple to be with her love, Oshichi set fire to the house again. Her punishment was execution by fire in 1683 when she was 17. Oshichi’s story is recounted in Kabuki drama and puppet theater, where her character is portrayed in a kimono bearing the distinctive starburst-like hemp design associated with her.

Gajō icchō

The term ukiyo-e, literally “pictures of the floating world,” refers to a genre of Japanese artwork that flourished in the Edo period (1600–1868). As the phrase “floating world” suggests, with its roots in the ephemeral worldview of Buddhism, ukiyo-e captured the fleeting dynamics of contemporary urban life. While being accessible and catering to “common” tastes, the artistic and technical details of these prints show remarkable sophistication, their subjects ranging from portraits of courtesans and actors to classical literature. These woodblock ukiyo-e prints are selections from the series Meisho Edo Hyakkei (100 Famous views of Edo) by Utagawa Hiroshige, bound as a gajō (album of fan-folded prints). Hiroshige (1795–1858) is known as one of the foremost ukiyo-e artists of landscape imagery, expressing nature and daily scenes with clever designs and surprising perspectives. He made use of the development of nishiki-e (full-color prints) by employing such techniques as gradation, adding visual depth to the scenery. This particular series depicts sites of historical, geographical, seasonal, as well as cultural relevance in Edo, and was the last masterpiece of his life.

A View of Mimeguri Shrine from the Sumida River

This work by Shiba Kokan (1747-1818), a famous Western-style painter of the late Edo period (1600-1867), is the first copperplate etching by a Japanese artist. It depicts the landscape of Mimeguri Shrine at Mukōjima, eastern Edo (present-day Tokyo), as seen from the bank of the Sumida River. Because the etching was made for a peep-show box, left and right are reversed. Kokan was interested in Western science and wrote works on astronomy and geography. In this picture, he uses Western perspective drawing technique.