Japanese Prints of Actors – A Brief History Part 3B: still the years 1764-1796

With the exception of a small number of prints dating from around 1770, and then again from about 1790, most prints of both Bunchō and the Katsukawa do not feature any marks of publishers. Would this suggest that most of these prints were in fact somewhat like private publications, not available through commercial publishers, and rather directly distributed by the fan clubs of the kabuki actors? This might well have been a common practice in the early years of nishikie colour prints. As for Bunchō (see the previous issue, Part 3A for the reference), we can only identify some 52 designs out of a total of 395 being issued with some publisher’s mark, dating from 1769 (7 prints), 1770 (13), 1771 (6), 1772 (5), and 1773 (1). This is also what we see with Harunobu’s prints, where we can only find some 101 prints with a publisher’s mark out of a total of 843 known prints (mostly in his prints in the mizue 水絵 and benizuri printing technique, and only 11 among his 720 nishikie colour prints), whereas, by decree, publishers’ marks were obligatory from XI/1720 for both prints and books issued commercially. It is then tempting to conclude that most prints in the new technique, at least in the initial years, were not distributed commercially, but rather among members of private clubs, such as people around the hatamoto Ōkubo Tadanobu aka Kyosen 1722-1777, 旗本大久保忠舒巨川 in the case of Harunobu, and members of fan clubs of kabuki actors in the cases of Bunchō and Shunshō and his Katsukawa-workshop colleagues. It is probably also no coincidence that we begin to see the first colour printed books issued by commercial publishers around the same time, from 1770.

But maybe we should also have a look at the days of benizurie and see which role commercial publishers were playing then. It then appears that only 11.5% of benizurie, that is 103 out of a total of 1205 prints, was issued without any mark of a publisher. This might well confirm that the absence of publishers’ marks on most early nishikie indicates that we are, indeed, looking at some kind of private publication, at least some print that was being distributed privately. On the other hand, how exactly this worked is difficult to say. There must have been someone acting as a producer, who organized the cutting of the blocks, provided the paper needed, and eventually oversaw the printing, as we also see this with surimono prints, e.g. Kubo Shunman 窪俊満 in Edo and Tani Seikō 谷清好 in Osaka. Most likely these were established publishers who should well be able to handle all this, but couldn’t act as their publisher as it were the clubs who commissioned these and were paying the costs and were consequently in charge of the distribution as well. Thus, these prints were made by subscription, like, for example, upon an announcement that Katsukawa Shunkō would make a triptych composition after this and this play that was just staged yesterday at this and this theatre?

According to Arihara Kogan 1829-1922 在原古玩, Harunobu’s chūban prints cost 160 mon 文 at the time, whereas prints by other artists in the hosoban format cost 12 mon and ōban prints 24 mon (cited after Tanabe Masako 田辺昌子 in the Harunobu exhibition catalogue, Chiba City Museum of Art, 2002, 275 and 307). This may seem interesting, but on the other hand, it is also a little puzzling. How could one chūban print by Harunobu cost the equivalent of more than six and a half ōban prints by any other artist – and I always learned that format is a factor, and six and a half ōban prints equal thirteen chūban sheets, that is the printing blocks, the cutting of the line and colour blocks, and the printers working a number of days, and the paper also makes for a good part of the price, as do the pigments… It is also not very clear what exactly the source of Arihara’s statements is (though I must still try to locate a copy of his article). So I prefer to forget about this, it simply makes no sense (to me, at least).

Assuming that also the hosoban and ōban prints are full colour nishikie, we must realize that from 1772 a new set of standard formats of paper was introduced, as a necessary standardization that would enable the badly needed commercial production of colour prints, yes, indeed, commercial distribution, no longer just catering to only private subscribers. As a consequence, the traditional ōbirobōsho 大広奉書 sheet measuring 44 x 58 cms and yielding a chūban sheet of 290 x 220 mms, as we can find in the Art Institute of Chicago’s circa 1766 Zashiki hakkei 座敷八景 series of 289 x 218 mms, was replaced by ōbōsho 大奉書 sheets measuring 39 x 53 cms and yielding a chūban sheet of 265 x 195 mms that we find in Bunchō’s post 1772 chūban designs, and most other chūban designs, for that matter. And from then, a standard ōban print measures 390 x 265 mms. And the benizurie hosoban measuring 330 x 153, as one third of a Mino sheet of 330 x 460 would from then measure 330 x 156, exactly the third of a kobōsho sheet 小奉書, which, alas, hardly helps us date these hosoban prints on the basis of their measurements. Once this standardization is a fact, print production is gradually getting in the hands of commercial publishers, as we can see in the works of Isoda Koryūsai, Torii Kiyonaga, and Kitagawa Utamaro. And towards the late 1780s, when cultural life in Edo is more and more under close scrutiny of the government, leading to the Kansei Reforms concerning publishing of V/1790, even the Katsukawa artists have to give up their private business of exclusive catering to the kabuki fan clubs. From then, we only see privately distributed prints in the form of picture calenders, egoyomi 絵暦, mostly in the 1780s and 1790s, and kyōka surimono 狂歌摺物 from the 1790s on.

Katsukawa Shunei: The actor Bandō Hikosaburō III in the role of Sugawara no Michizane, probably V/1799, ōban format, publisher Uemura Yohei, KN 5:270 (Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art, JP2824)

The Katsukawa artists, as well as Bunchō and Sharaku, also worked in other formats than just hosoban. Both Bunchō and Shunshō, Shunkō 春好 act 1772-99 (?) and Shunei 春英 act 1783-1808 (?) designed quite a few works in the chūban format, and as the aiban 330 x 235 mm format came into use, the Katsukawa artists also used this format quite regularly as an intermediate format in between the ōban and chūban sheets. Shunshō’s use of the ōban format probably only dates from the early 1780s, in a series of prints portraying actors back-stage and a number of prints of sumō wrestlers. Moreover, as is well-known, Sharaku made his first appearance in the world of prints with a group of no less than 28 ōban prints with a mica ground portraying actors after performances in the fifth month of 1794, a feat unmatched by anyone else either before or after him. These so-called ōkubie 大首絵 or ‘large head’ portraits were probably an innovation that must be attributed to Katsukawa Shunkō, as we can learn from the comments in Kabuki nenpyō in the first month of 1789, stating that ‘for the fame of Tamejūrō, the kyōka poetry clubs of Edo had Katsukawa Shunkō make portraits of Tosshi [Sawamura Sōjūrō III], Okuyama [Asao Tamejūrō], Rokō [Segawa Kikunojō III], Tojaku [Iwai Hanshirō IV], and Mimasu [Ichikawa Danjūrō V], and distributed 500 of these,’ privately that is 為十郎大評判にて江戸狂歌連中より訥子奥山路考杜若三升五人の似顔を勝川春好に描かせ摺物五百枚を贈る (KN 5:81). And may we then conclude that an edition of 500 was really exceptional and that maybe something like 300 or 350 was more like common practice?

Katsukawa Shunshō: The actors Sawamura Sōjūrō to the right, and Nakayama Kojūrō VI, XI/1785 KN 5:10 (Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art, JP171)

But let us now again have a look at the prints of actors in role designed by Buncho, the Katsukawa workshop, and Sharaku:

 WhatIIIIIIIVVVIVIIVIIIIXXXIPrints
1697 1760tane urushie42% 9%   5%   29%563 99.5%
1742 1769benizurie27%9%9% 5% 6%   35%854 100%
1764 1796                         Katsukawa Bunchō Sharaku17%6%6% 7% 9%6%  40%794 99.5%
Katsukawa Shunei: The actor Ichikawa Monnosuke II in the role of Sukeroku, IV/1791, publisher Harimaya Shinshichi, KN 5:115 (Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art, JP2707)

As we already saw in Part 3A, the print buying audience keeps losing interest in prints after the New Year performances. Could it be that New Year’s egoyomi and surimono and the new novels of various kinds released in the first month were attracting more attention and that this made that prints after the New Year performances now make up for only 17% of the annual production, versus 40% for prints after the kaomise 顔見 performances marking the opening of the kabuki season. The interest for prints after the second and third months drops, the fifth month is on the rise, and new is prints after performances in the eighth month. In summary, the buying public is still moving, or is it the commercial publishers who cause these shifts, trying to reach a wider audience than just members of the fan clubs of specific actors?

Otherwise, looking a bit around at other developments, it is quite remarkable that most Katsukawa artists hardly lent themselves to illustrations of popular novels, with the exception of Shunjō (春常 13 in the years 1778-92), Shunrō 春郎, the later Hokusai (34 novels in the years 1780-97), and Shunei (33 in the years 1782-94). Shunshō, the head of the atelier, made the illustrations to only six popular novels and designed 17 picture books and 19 albums of erotic content, indeed making him an artist of the ‘old’ tradition. Otherwise he seems to have been in very strict control, only Shunchō 勝川春潮, who almost did no prints of actors, was allowed to do the illustrations of seven popular novels, in addition to making three picture books and 14 erotic works in the years 1783-98.

The actor Ichikawa Danjūrō V in the role of Kudō Suketsune, c.1800, a role he played every first month in the years 1778-1781 (Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art, JP3058)

The Katsukawa tradition, and certainly the branch devoted to the theatrical world, died out soon after the decease of Katsukawa Shunshō in Kansei 4, eighth day of the twelfth month 寛政四年十二月八日, that is 19/1/1793. His favourite pupil Shunkō suffered from a stroke that paralyzed his right arm in 1791 and stopped designing prints, after some training concentrating on painting instead. And his second choice, Shunei, also gave up soon as they lost their traditional audience to the upcoming Utagawa tradition of prints of actors, led by Utagawa Toyokuni 歌川豊國 act 1787-1825 and Utagawa Kunimasa 歌川國政 act 1795-1804, the subject of the next instalment. And, indeed, why not Shunrō, whom Shunshō always put in a far corner of his atelier, just allowing him to make the cheapest possible actor prints so that the Katsukawa atelier would also cater to a different audience and have some extra income – the later Hokusai I mean, who then left the Katsukawa workshop to establish a fully independent tradition by himself, but not in the world of actors.

Japanese Prints of Actors – A Brief History Part 3A: 1764-1796

In Part 2 of this Brief History, there was already mention of some major innovation, the development of full colour printing from 1764, giving rise to what we know as nishikie 錦絵, justly advertised as ‘Brocade Prints from the Eastern Capital,’ Edo that is, Azuma nishikie 東錦絵. These would gradually supersede the traditional benizurie 紅摺絵 that had been predominant in printmaking for the two preceding decades.

In the literature, the earliest nishikie are generally associated with Suzuki Harunobu 鈴木春信 act 1760-70. This is only based on the circumstance that, and don’t ask me why, Harunobu got involved in the sudden temporary craze of distributing picture calenders, egoyomi 絵暦, among one’s friends for the New Year, starting in Meiwa 2 明和二年, 1765, and already much less in Meiwa 3 明和三年, 1766. Indeed, why not Torii Kiyomitsu 鳥居清満 act 1745-77 or Torii Kiyotsune 鳥居清経 act 1757-78, both with a much more impressive record of production? Or even more to be expected, Ishikawa Toyonobu 石川豊信 act 1746-79. Anyway, we see the first use of the new printing technique with Katsukawa Shunshō 勝川春章 act 1764-93 as well as with some amateur designers of prints. And as for prints of actors, Harunobu wisely soon left the field to Shunshō.

The actor Ichikawa Yaozō II as Soga no Gorō in a performance at the Nakamura Theatre in II/1770 (Courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)
The actor Ichikawa Monnosuke II as Soga no Jūrō in a performance at the Kiri Theatre in I/1785, KN 5:4 (Courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)

A major innovation of Shunshō and his Katsukawa workshop was that he established close connections with the various fan clubs of kabuki actors. So they soon started designing narrow upright hosoban prints in triptych or pentaptych compositions, catering to the various fan clubs. However, as most kabuki aficionados apparently only bought the sheets portraying their favourite actor, it is now almost impossible to find such complete triptych or pentaptych compositions in either private or public collections. Checking the ukiyo-e.org site, for example, I only found among a total of 3675 hosoban sheets one hexaptych composition, seven pentaptych compositions and eight tetraptych compositions, and 74 triptych compositions (6%) as well as 175 diptychs (9.5%) – where we may sometimes also ask ourselves if these were complete compositions or just parts of triptychs and pentaptychs. Anyway, this means that we are left with almost 85% of single prints that were mostly picked by the kabuki fans out of their original multi-sheet compositions.

We must also realize that another major innovation of the Katsukawa artists consisted in rendering a direct and vivid interaction between the actors in triptych and pentaptych compositions, an aspect that alas goes forlorn when these are reduced to incomplete single print images. Of course, there is also a number of prints that was conceived as single sheet compositions from the beginning, but they really seem to have been a minority. One easy way to identify prints from multi-sheet compositions is when there is a simple décor or stage setting running to both the right and left edges — as in all pics seen here, and all by Katsukawa Shunshō — that we can almost always see from about 1770, although its absence is still no guarantee that we are looking at a single print composition. Anyway, we can well conclude that the kabuki lovers in these days demanded much more than just one or two prints after performances in the first and the eleventh months, as had largely been the case in the preceding decades. Indeed, from the 1760s we are gradually getting closer to the Floating World 浮世 where kabuki 歌舞伎 thrives, as do guides to the Yoshiwara 新吉原 pleasure quarter, illustrated popular novels 草双紙, collections of kyōka 狂歌集 poems, and the print culture.

Kabuki Actor Ichikawa Danjūrō V as Sakata Kintoki in the Play Raikō’s Four Intrepid Retainers in the Costume of the Night Watch (Shitennō tonoi no kisewata), Katsukawa Shunshō 勝川春章 (Japanese, 1726–1792), Woodblock print (nishiki-e); ink and color on paper, Japan
The actor Ichikawa Danjūrō V as Sakata Kintoki in a performance at the Nakamura Theatre in XI/1781, KN 4: 455 (Courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)

My original count was based on The actor’s image. Print makers of the Katsukawa school. The Art Institute of Chicago, 1994. But then I realized that it would be good to also include both Ippitsusai Bunchō 一筆斎文調 act 1764-79 and Tōshūsai Sharaku 東洲斎写楽 act 1794-95 in the count. Bunchō is a direct contemporary of Shunshō and worked for a quite similar audience, and both collaborated on the Picture Book of Fans on the Stage, Ehon butai ōgi 『繪本舞台扇』of I/1770, probably the first colour-printed book, published by Kariganeya Ihei 雁金屋伊兵衛. As for Sharaku, his production of prints, certainly his compositions in the hosoban format, is much more similar to the Katsukawa tradition than to the Utagawa tradition, the focus of Part 4. That this was quite correct can be inferred from the fact that percentagewise, this hardly affected the outcome based on my earlier count of the Katsukawa artists alone, just a difference of one or two percents in only a few cases. For Bunchō, I used ‘Ippitsusai Bunchō hanga sakuhin mokuroku’ by Hayashi Kyōhei 林京平、一筆斎文調版画作品目録 in the Ukiyoe shūka volumes 浮世絵衆花, and for Sharaku the 2011 Tokyo National Museum exhibition catalogue 東博展.

WhatIIIIIIIVVVIVIIVIIIIXXXIPrints
1697 1760tane urushie42% 9%   5%   29%563 99.5%
1742 1769benizurie27%9%9% 5% 6%   35%854 100%
1764 1796                         Katsukawa Bunchō & Sharaku17%6%6% 7% 9%6%  40%794 99.5%
The actor Ichikawa Yaozō II as Akeba no Chōkichi, in reality Soga no Gorō in a performance at the Nakamura Theatre in I/1770, KN 4:126. The writing top left is MS by a contemporary collector (Courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)

A real problem with most prints by Katsukawa artists, and also those by Bunchō and certainly the hosoban format compositions by Sharaku, is that these were destined at an audience of connoisseurs, who knew the plays, who knew the actors, who were mostly associated with an actor’s fanclub, so it was absolutely superfluous to print the names of the actors and their roles, as had been the custom until then. Consequently, it can be quite a problem for us nowadays to associate these prints with specific performances and date them accordingly. We are then lucky to have at least quite a few programmes illustrating the highlights of the plays and details of the performances to be found in the Annual Records of the Kabuki Theatres, Kabuki nenpyō 『歌舞伎年表』. And then there is a small number of prints that were inscribed by a contemporary collector, giving the names of the actor, the role, the theatre, and the date of the performance – as we can see in the figure to the right.

As in the preceding years, when benizuri prints were predominant, prints after performances in the eleventh and first months still take first and second positions, though the difference, percentagewise, is much larger: initially they were 42 and 29%, then 27 and 35%, now they are 17 and 40%, so the first month performances are quite dramatically decreasing. And there are third, fourth, and fifth positions for the seventh month (9%), the fifth month (7%), the second, third and eighth months (each 6%), leaving only the fourth, sixth, ninth, and tenth months out. In summary, we see in the period from 1697 to 1760 that 71% of the prints are after performances in the first and eleventh months, and only 29% such prints are bought by those wanting more than just one or two prints. And in the years when benizurie 紅摺絵 were predominant, 62% were prints after performances in the first and eleventh months, and some 38% were prints after performances in other months, already quite an increase. And in the years of the Katsukawa domination until the end of the eighteenth century, 57% were prints after performances in the eleventh and first months, leaving 43% for prints after performances in the other nine months. This makes it all the more interesting to find out whether something like a stable situation had now been reached, so that designing prints of actors would no longer be a strictly seasonal job for most – we’ll see it soon.

Japanese Prints of Actors – A Brief History Intermezzo: 1764-1796

In Part 2 of my Brief History of Prints of Actors, I raised the question ‘how designers of prints in much of the eighteenth century could possibly make a living,’ as well as suggesting that ‘it is only from the 1760s that Torii Kiyomitsu 鳥居清満 and Torii Kiyotsune 鳥居清経 can finally make a living by illustrating 71 and 200 popular novels respectively, in addition to the prints they designed, a totally new development of the time.’ As this may raise some eyebrows or even the question whether this is really correct, it may be good to have a closer look at the development of popular fiction at the time.

Going by Yamazaki Fumoto’s Nihon shōsetsu nenpyō 山崎麓『日本小説年表附総目録』(近代日本文學大系25) of 1929  – certainly not an infallible source, but absolutely sufficient for an overview and an adequate understanding of the developments – we find for the 1750s a total of 219 various kinds of popular fiction that go by the overall term of kusazōshi 草双紙, the largest portion, some 41%, being of the then popular kurohon 黒本 genre. For only 26 of these 219 titles the name of the illustrator is indicated. When you might consider this surprising, you’ll probably be even more amazed to learn that an author is only mentioned for 79 of these publications, or 36% – and later on, we’ll see why. Indeed, the 1750s and especially the 1760s is the period when names of writers are only just beginning to be mentioned, as also the late Nakano Mitsutoshi 中野三敏 (1935-2019) correctly remarked – but please forgive, I don’t remember where exactly. In the 1760s kurohon it would mostly be Kansuidō Jōa 観水堂丈阿 1686-1770 act 1752-70 whose name is mostly given, probably as he was then the most popular author.

And what about the Kyōhō Proclamation 享保布令 of XI/1722, you may wonder, as this required all publications to clearly indicate the real names of both author and publisher. Absolutely correct, but the common practice in Japan is that it prefers to have rules just in case there is some good occasion or need to apply them. And that moment would eventually and even most incidentally come with the Kansei Regulations of V/1790 (see below), and later again with more consequences with the Tenpō Reforms, Tenpō no kaikaku 天保の改革 of XII/1838 (Feb/1839), and mostly in Edo and to a much lesser extent in the Kansai Region, although they witnessed serious problems and unrest from the peasant uprising led by Ōshio Heihachirō 1793-1837 大塩平八郎 (cf also Kabuki nenpyō 7:345 歌舞伎年表).

Going back to the popular novels, in the 1760s, we see a considerable increase, numbering a total of 494 titles, with for only 198 the illustrator being mentioned. The majority, some 57% is still of the kurohon genre. And in the 1770s the number still increases to 529 titles, with for 262 of these an illustrator given. As I remarked earlier, this is where we finally see the beginnings of the ukiyo or ‘floating world’ culture. No less than 259 of these titles, some 56%, are of the kibyōshi 黄表紙 genre that by general agreement starts in 1775 with Koikawa Harumachi’s 恋川春町 1744-1789 Professor Clink-Clink’s Dream of Glory, Kinkin sensei eiga no yume『金々先生栄花夢』 illustrated by himself, and published by Urokogataya Magobei 鱗形屋孫兵衛. Ever since, novels of the kibyōshi 黄表紙 genre would continue to be a great success, until they were replaced by novels of both the yomihon 読本 and the gōkanmono 合巻本 genres from about 1805. Indeed, in the 1780s we can see some 653 new titles of the kibyōshi genre alone, an average annual production of 65 titles, with the names of the illustrators given for 475 of them, and their writers now for 529 titles. Later still, in the 1790s, their number stays steady and we can cite some 479 titles.

It is thanks to this ever increasing market of various genres of popular literature that those Edo publishers who chose to just focus on local production, the so-called jihon toiya 地本問屋, could develop. Their audience is the more than 1.3 million inhabitants of the metropolis Edo, undoubtedly also finding an avid readership among the 600.000 samurai directly serving the shogun. In fact, to get back to the writers of popular fiction, Koikawa Harumachi 恋川春町 act 1773-89 who is recognized as the author of the first kibyōshi novel, was a vassal of Matsudaira Hōshū 松平房州, the daimyō of Suruga 駿河侯 (as Kyokutei Bakin 1767-1848 in his recollections, Recent Books and the Party of Edo Writers, Kinsei mono no hon Edo sakusha burui. 曲亭馬琴『近世物の本江戸作者部類』1831, in the Kimura Miyogo 木村三四吾 edition of Tokyo: Yagi Shoten, 1988, p 31 tells us). We shall soon see why exactly this position enabled him to become a prolific writer of fiction (14 kibyōshi in the 1770s and 16 in the 1780s). Taking lessons with Toriyama Sekien 鳥山石燕 1713-1788 — whom we know as the teacher of Kitagawa Utamaro 喜多川歌麿 — he would also make the illustrations for most of his writings himself, as well as illustrating those by other authors. Hōseidō Kisanji 朋誠堂喜三二 1735-1813, act 1777-91 (9 kibyōshi in the 1770s and 24 in the 1780s) enjoyed a similar position as a vassal of Satake Ukeichō 佐竹右京兆, the Kubota daimyō 久保田侯 (Bakin 30).

As for Ichiba Tsūshō 市場通笑 1737-1812 act 1779-95 (8 kibyōshi in the 1770s, 96 in the 1780s, and 4 in the 1790s) he appears to have just written novels in his leisure time, otherwise making a living as a mounter of paintings, hyōgushi 表具師 (Bakin 32). Somewhat comparable is the position of Shiba Zenkō 芝全交 1750-1793 act 1780-93 (27 kibyōshi in the 1780s and 16 in the 1790s), writing popular fiction next to his official position of kyōgen actor 狂言師, a kind of comic performances such as were especially popular in daimyō courts (Bakin 32). And Nansenshō Somando 南仙笑楚満人 act 1783-99 (9 kibyōshi in the 1780s and 19 in the 1790s) made a living as a maker of sword sheaths, 鞘師 (Bakin 33).

Kane wa Ueno kana 『鐘は上野哉』A kibyōshi novel by Santō Kyōden illustrated by Kitao Masanobu, i.e. himself

Here we should realize that their writing popular novels would not necessarily yield them some extra income. As we know from Bakin’s recollections ([Bakin 37] act as a writer of 28 kibyōshi in the years 1793-98), it was only around 1795 or 1796 that the publishers Tsutaya Jūsaburō 蔦屋重三朗 and Tsuruya Kiemon 鶴屋喜衛門 decided to at least pay their star writers Santō Kyōden 山東京伝 1761-1816 (act as a writer of kibyōshi in the years 1780-99, 39 in the 1780s and 61 in the 1790s) and himself, as their novels generally sold in editions of 10 thousand copies or more (mind you, a best seller is presently defined as a book selling to 1% of the population, which would be 13.000 copies in the case of Edo). But this was not automatically applied to most other writers. They might at best hope to get some newly published novels or woodblock prints as a New Year present, or maybe being invited to some dinner party in the second or third month at the Yoshiwara — as had been the custom until then.

This explains how and why samurai writers such as Harumachi and Kisanji could afford writing novels in their spare time, enjoying a regular income anyway. Or also, for example as we saw, Ichiba Tsūshō, Shiba Zenkō and Nansenshō Somando, each of them next to their regular metier. Bakin also tells us that many aspiring writers had to pay a publisher the so-called nyūgin 入銀, a sum to have their writings printed and published, which probably explains the numerous names of authors just identified with one or just a very small number of novels in the last decades of the eighteenth century.

However convincing this may seem, it must also be said that Mizuno Minoru in his Santō Kyōden nenpukō. Tokyo: Perikansha, 1991, p 42 (水野稔『山東京伝年譜稿』東京:ぺりかん社) asserts that Kyōden received an advance of one gold ryō and five silver monme 金一兩銀五匁 in VII/1790 for three sharebon 洒落本 that Tsutaya Jūsaburō would publish in I/1791. This is quite well-documented as this would eventually as a result of the Kansei Regulations of V/1790, in III/1791 lead to Kyōden being fined to 50 days in handcuffs, Tsutaya as the publisher seeing half of his possessions confiscated, and the members of the Guild who had okayed their publication being exiled from Edo. There is probably some reason not to rely too much on Bakin’s memory.

Bakin also informs us that Koikawa Sukimachi 恋川好町 1751-1829, a pupil of Koikawa Harumachi, saw some success as a writer of popular novels (15 in the years 1785-94), but couldn’t really make a living (Bakin 35). He then gave up and started training as a writer of kyōka 狂歌 poems. Becoming a judge of these poems and charging one ryō silver  一銀両for his correcting a hundred poems, he finally could make a living. We now know him best as one of the greatest kyōka poets of the early nineteenth century, Kyōkadō Magao 狂歌堂真顔.

As for the background of Iba Kashō 伊庭可笑 38 kibyōshi in the years 1779-86, we have no idea and Bakin doesn’t mention him. A minor writer such as Shitchin Manpō 七珍万宝1758-1831 could afford to do this as an aside to his sweet shop 上菓子店 by Shiba Zōjōji 芝増上寺, or more precisely at Sakurada Kubochō 桜田久保町 as Kyōka jinmei  jisho 『狂歌人名辞書』 has it (Bakin 38). Bakin specifies that he was a pupil of Manzōtei 万象亭writing fiction from late Tenmei until mid-Kansei. Indeed, I found him active in the years 1787-95 with 21 kibyōshi novels to his name. Later he took the name of Manzōtei II and gave up writing fiction, becoming a renowned kyōka poet, active until his death in 1831.

Sakuragawa Jihinari 櫻川慈悲成 1762-1833? presents a somewhat similar case. Bakin informs us that he was running a small shop of Imari porcelains and metal ornaments 今利焼などの陶器を鬻ぐ小店  and that he had but little success with his writings — 47 kibyōshi in the years 1789-99 — and even still displaying no talent when he turned to writing kyōka poems (Bakin 39). Here I would suggest that he deserves some more praise for what he accomplished, for example, among others, he made some very nice surimono designs himself and initiated a most impressive series of annual New Year’s surimono, and was good or even close friends with Utagawa Toyohiro 歌川豊広, Ichikawa Danjūrō VII 七世市川團十郎, and Utagawa Hiroshige 歌川広重.

In conclusion we may say that writing fiction was, at least in the last decades of the eighteenth century, rather a vocation for those who could afford it and would have some leisure time. When we may believe Bakin, it was only from the middle of the 1790s that both he and Kyōden were being paid for their writings, though there is some evidence that Kyōden was even paid a considerable advance sum already in 1790. We may, on the other hand, assume that illustrators, or at least most of them, were considered to be ‘painters,’ eshi 絵師, and thus craftsmen who were naturally being paid for their work. And this, as I stated at the beginning, is how Torii Kiyomitsu and Kiyotsune could make a living as illustrators in the exploding market of popular novels, with a readership that expected a text that would be enlightened by explanatory illustrations.

Most likely, Koikawa Harumachi who, as we saw, also made the illustrations to most of his writings, was not considered an eshi, even though he studied with Sekien, being a samurai anyway, and thus he was not being paid for his illustrations. It seems that Santō Kyōden studied painting with Kitao Shigemasa 北尾重政 1739-1819 from about 1775, aged 14, and made his debut in 1778 as the artist Kitao Masanobu 北尾政演, illustrating the novel Ohana Hanshichi – Kaichō riyaku no mekuriai『お花半七―開帳利益遊合』 as well as the cover for a jōruribon 浄瑠璃本, illustrating another four novels as well as again a jōruribon in 1779, and in 1780 eleven kibyōshi, one sharebon 洒落本 novel and at least six prints of actors in role in the hosoban 細版 format. And then, maybe sufficiently convinced of some promising future, it is also in 1780 that he starts writing novels, illustrated by himself and published by Tsuruya Kiemon, the Yonemanju no hajimari『米饅頭始』in two vols and signed ‘written and ills by Kitao Masanobu’ 北尾政演画作, and Musume katakiuchi kokyō no nishiki 『娘敵討古郷錦』in three vols and signed ‘written for fun by Kyōden’ 京伝戯作. From then, he would always continue to illustrate most of his writings himself. And, as we learned from Bakin, he would be paid for his writing from about 1795 or 1796. We then have no idea whether it was his lifestyle, needing some more income, that made him run a shop of tobacco pouches and such smoking utensils from IV/1794.

Japanese Prints of Actors – A Brief History Part 2: 1742-1769

From the Kanpō period 寛保 1741-1743, and more exactly from the year 1742, prints with two to three colours printed from blocks begin to appear, the so-called benizurie 紅摺絵, mostly in a colour scheme identical to benie and primarily in the hosoban format. However, it is only from 1744 that these would account for most of the print production, and it is only from about 1750 that they completely supersede urushie, although we can even find a few exceptions as late as 1760. Their designers are Ishikawa Toyonobu 石川豊信 act 1743-59, Torii Kiyomitsu 鳥居清満 act 1745-77, Torii Kiyohiro 鳥居清廣 act 1752-68, and Torii Kiyotsune 鳥居清経 act 1757-78, some of them even adopting the novel technique of full colour printing, nishikie 錦絵, from 1764.

Torii Kiyomitsu: The actor Ichikawa Raizō as Minamoto no Yoshitsune, XI/1761 Courtesy The Art Institute of Chicago

Looking then at prints issued in the period from 1742 to 1769, the heyday of benizurie prints, we notice quite a shift. This period comes to an end when the newly developed full colour prints, nishikie, become the overall standard. Although we can notice a few designers of the Torii-tradition who still as late as 1778 try to serve their traditional clientele with benizurie prints, in the end they too have to submit to innovation.

PeriodWhatIIIIIIIVVVIVIIVIIIIXXXIPrints
1697 1760tane urushie42% 9%   5%   29%99.5%
1742 1769benizurie27%9%9% 5% 6%   35%100%

What we see in the benizurie days is that most prints of actors in role are associated with performances in the eleventh month, 35%, those associated with the New Year’s performances being second with only 27%, indeed a total reversal from the preceding period, as if the notion of the ‘kabuki year’ is now being accepted much more widely. In the third place are prints associated with performances in the second and third months, both accounting for 9%. The fourth place is for prints after performances in the seventh month, 6%, followed by those in the fifth month, 5%.

Ishikawa Toyonobu: The actors Nakamura Kiyosaburō as Matsuyama and Ichimura Kamezō as Wanya Kyūbei, XI/1749 Courtesy The Art Institute of Chicago

Yet, even with only five remaining months, and not seven as before, accounting for one to three percent of the prints of actors only, we still must really wonder how designers of prints in much of the eighteenth century could possibly make a living. For most of the print buying audience, if we can even speak of that in this period, it seems to have sufficed to just buy something like one print every year, either after the kaomise performances of the eleventh month, or after the New Year’s performances. And in case they might have forgotten the name of the actor and the role he played, these are invariably printed alongside the figures. Only very few slightly more passionate kabuki lovers, less than 30% in the earlier period it seems, and still less than 40% in this second period, seem to have been buying one or two more prints of actors in role.

We should also take into consideration that it was, until the 1760s, almost impossible to gain some extra income from making book illustrations or even design picture books, ehon 絵本 (of course, Moronobu 菱川師宣 and Jihei 杉村治兵衛 are exceptions in Edo). Okumura Toshinobu is known for just one book, as are Torii Kiyonobu II and Torii Kiyohiro. Nishimura Shigenaga 西村重長 is known for three books, Torii Kiyomasu II for twelve (in a period of 48 years of activity), and Torii Kiyoshige 鳥居清重 for sixteen (in 35 years of activity). If we also include books of erotic content, which the Japanese literature tries to ignore altogether, Torii Kiyonobu I is known for 6 books, five of which are of erotic content, Okumura Masanobu for 36 books, 23 of which are of erotic content, and Ishikawa Toyonobu for 13 books, all of erotic content. However, it is only from the 1760s that Torii Kiyomitsu and Torii Kiyotsune can finally make a living by illustrating 71 and 200 popular novels respectively, in addition to the prints they designed, a totally new development of the time.

Torii Kiyomitsu: The actors Ichimura Uzaemon IX as Nagoya Sanza and Ichimura Kamezō II, XI/1766 Courtesy The Art Institute of Chicago

Indeed, it is only from the 1760s that we find ourselves in a society where what we generally believed to be the ‘Floating World’ can finally, and only then, begin to develop. Until then, popular novels don’t get “popular” thanks to their illustrations or illustrators. And it would seem that, until then, only very few designers of prints could have made a living, or survive by just designing prints. Of course, we have no idea of the survival rate of prints in the eighteenth century, but even when we consider a survival rate of one third or one fourth, how, for example, could Torii Kiyotsune possibly have made a living for 21 years on a total of 3 x 18 = 54, or maybe 4 x 18 = 72 print designs, if only thanks to his illustrations to 200 popular novels? Or if we just take the 149 prints of actors listed by Mutō as a base, should we consider him as someone trying to make a living on the basis of 3 x 149 = 447 or 4 x 149 = 596 – which still comes down to not more than an annual production of 21 or 28 designs, sort of one every other week? Should we consequently consider most of these designers as gifted amateurs with some other regular income to make a living and support their family and occasionally maybe even running a part-time atelier with pupils? Anyway, they are eshi 絵師 or maybe gakō 画工, draughtsmen, certainly belonging to the social class of craftsmen.

Naturally, the various heads of the Torii tradition enjoyed a regular income from painting the posters of the Edo kabuki theatres, which brought them from Osaka to Edo to begin with, and this would go for Torii Kiyonobu 1664-1729, Torii Kiyonobu II 1706-1763, for Torii Kiyomitsu 1735-1785, and maybe also for Torii Kiyonaga 鳥居清長 1752-1815. Moreover, as the heads of the Torii tradition, they must have been able to make a living and train the next generation of Torii designers. The one other exception would be Okumura Masanobu who, as the ’inventor of perspective prints, ukie’ 浮繪根元, and much more, also acted as a real innovative publisher.

Of course, as we know, certainly also from Higuchi’s work, these artists justly considered themselves as craftsmen and also designed prints of fashionable women, as well as other fashionable images. Foremost in this respect are Nishimura Shigenaga act 1719-54, with only 6 prints of actors in role out of a total of 52 prints listed in Higuchi, that is 11%, and the real versatile talent Okumura Masanobu, with only 32 prints of actors out of the 111 works listed with Higuchi, or 28%. In the case of both Ishikawa Toyonobu with 22 prints of actors out of 58 prints listed in Higuchi (Mutō lists 90 prints of actors), and Torii Kiyohiro with 16 prints of actors out of 37 (Mutō lists 145), we are still in the less than 50% range with 38 and 43% respectively. However, for most other artists, prints of actors in role seem to have been their primary production, and consequently we must indeed wonder how they possibly made a living. For Nishimura Shigenobu 西村重信 act 1722-47 with 16 prints of actors out of a total of 27 listed in Higuchi (Mutō lists 46), this makes up for 60% of his oeuvre. Both Torii Kiyomasu I, Okumura Toshinobu, and Torii Kiyomitsu make prints of actors to 65% of their output, Kiyomasu with 39 prints out of 60, Toshinobu with 34 out of 52, and Kiyomitsu with 47 out of the 72 designs listed in Higuchi. Torii Kiyotsune, gets to 77% with 14 prints of actors out of 18, and both Torii Kiyonobu I and Torii Kiyomasu II not really surprisingly reach 79%, Kiyonobu with 62 prints of actors out of 78 designs, and Kiyomasu with at least 60 of the 76 designs by him listed in Higuchi. With Torii Kiyoshige act 1721-63 and Torii Kiyonobu II we get to the 95% range, with Kiyoshige being listed in Higuchi with 19 designs of actors out of a total of 20 designs, and Kiyonobu with 54 out of 57.

Next time A Brief History of Prints of Actors, Part 3A: 1764-1796, or maybe just an Intermezzo: Don’t Look Back

Japanese Prints of Actors – A Brief History Part 1: 1697-1760

It is really fascinating to have a closer look at what came to be called ‘actor prints’ from late Meiji, when the Japanese also started to demonstrate some real interest in Japanese woodblock prints and then coined the term yakushae 役者絵. At the time when these were made, they were simply called ‘pictures of figures,’ sugatae 姿繪, or also ‘pictures of the appearances of actors,’ yakusha no sugatae 役者の姿繪, as in Toyokuni’s series of Yakusha butai no sugatae, The Appearances of Actors on the Stage 役者舞臺之姿繪, so as to distinguish them from what we now know as ‘prints of beauties,’ bijinga 美人画, again a term only coined in the Meiji period for prints that had simply been known as ‘pictures of figures,’ sugatae, at the time, as in Seirō bijin awase sugata kagami, Mirror of Pictures of the Fair Ladies of the Green Houses 『青楼美人合姿鑑』, the 1776 book by Shunshō and Shigemasa.

Indeed, thanks to some quite comprehensive and reliable overviews of prints of actors, we can now discern some interesting shifts of interest that especially give us a better insight in the practices of print production. Until recently, we could probably just avail ourselves of Higuchi Hiroshi’s Shoki ukiyoe kaisetsu 樋口弘『初期浮世絵解説』 of 1977, or even, earlier still, of Helen Gunsaulus’ The Clarence Buckingham collection of Japanese prints: The Primitives, Chicago 1955. But now there is also Mutō Junko’s Shoki ukiyoe to kabuki 武藤純子『初期浮世絵と歌舞伎』 of 2005 as probably the best source available at the moment.

Torii Kiyonobu II, The actor Ichikawa Danjūrō II in the role of Soga no Jūrō in a performance in I/1733 Courtesy The Art Institute of Chicago 1939.2148

Making a chronological inventory of all prints that Mutō lists, and then even splitting them up according to the months when they were issued, we find that most such prints portraying actors in role in the period from 1697 to the mid 1740s can be assigned to the New Year’s performances in the first month. They make up for 42% of the total production, suggesting that it was then some kind of general practice to start the new year buying one’s first (and only?) actor print. Next come those that can be identified with the kaomise 顔見 performances of the eleventh month, the opening of the new kabuki season, 29%, a similar sort of moment for those rather adhering to the official beginning of the kabuki-year. Then follow prints that are associated with performances in the third month, 9%, and with those of the seventh month, 5%. The remaining seven months – there are no performances in the twelfth month – all account for less than 5%, and for the sake of clarity, I ignore them here.

MonthsWhatIIIIIIIVVVIVIIVIIIIXXXIPrints
1697 1760tane urushie42%  9%       5%     29%99.5%
Torii Kiyomasu, The actor Fujimura Handayū in the role of Ōiso no Tora, I/1715 Courtesy The Art Institute of Chicago 1925.1732

The period that I selected here is not a haphazard one, it covers the early period of prints in line only, sumizurie 墨摺絵, mostly until 1715 (?), and, from 1698-1725, the so-called tane 丹絵 with their characteristic hand colouring in a brilliant cinnabar orange-vermillion with green and yellow, as well as, from 1714-49, the rather predominant urushie 漆絵, prints with a hand-applied black mixed with glue to resemble lacquer, urushi 漆, sometimes even finished with powdered brass in some areas, and, from 1716-49 the less common benie 紅絵, prints hand-coloured with a strong pinkish red pigment and green or yellow. This is also the period of prints in various different formats – a real standardization only dates from 1772 – ranging from very large sheets ōōban 大大判, falling in the range from 594 to 543 x 332 to 312, or large sheets ōban 大判, of 453-380 x 300-270, or medium sheets chūban 中判, of 300 x 215, and, from 1717, the smaller hosoban 細判 of 350-285 x 216-158 that will then soon really become predominant.

These prints were designed by artists such as Torii Kiyonobu 鳥居清信 act 1696-1724, Torii Kiyomasu 鳥居清倍 act 1697-1720), as well as, during part of their careers, by Okumura Masanobu 奥村正信 act 1705-56, Okumura Toshinobu 奥村俊信 act 1717-49, Okumura Toshinobu 奥村利信 act 1717-49, Torii Kiyomasu II 二代鳥居清倍 act 1718-66, and Torii Kiyonobu II 二代鳥居清信 act 1725-61.

Next: Part 2: 1742-1769

Where Would One Buy a Netsuke in Edo: Check the Yellow Pages

Now that we have seen the shopping guides for Osaka and Kyoto, such a guide for Edo, Shopping Yourself in Edo, Edo kaimono hitori annai (江戸買物獨案内, 3 vols) of 1824, was actually, quite surprisingly, published by the Osaka firm of Nakagawa Gorōemon (中川五郎兵衛門) with Yamashiroya Sahei (山城屋佐兵衛), Okadaya Kashichi (岡田屋嘉七), Kuwamura Hanzō (桑村半藏) and Takegawa Fujibei (竹川藤兵衛) of Edo, and Kawanami Shirōbei (河南四郎兵衛) and Suzuya Yasubei (鈴屋安兵衛) of Kyoto, and Yanagiwara Kihei (柳原喜兵衛), Morimoto Tasuke (森本太助) and Nakagawa Gorōbei (中川五郎兵衛) of Osaka. It would seem that the Osaka publisher also acted as the compiler of the guide under the name of Nakagawa Hōsandō (中川芳山堂). And would he be the same as Nakagawa Gohei (中川五兵衛) whom we saw as the publisher of the Osaka shopping guide? All in all, the Edo guide lists 2622 shops, 151 of these are restaurants, all listed in the third volume. Anyway Nakagawa undoubtedly also targeted the Edo market, asking Ōta Nanpo (大田南畝, 1749-1823) to write a foreword, dated 1822, and asking Hokusai to contribute some illustrations (that apparently until now went unnoticed by all Hokusai researchers, so I’ll come back to these sometime soon).

A samurai spotting a toad on his shoulder, signed Takamasa 貴正 (Courtesy National Museum of Ethnology, Leiden)

Here we find, under the letter ‘ne,’ two shops explicitly selling netsuke: Yamagataya Sukejirō (山形屋助次郎) at Tōri Shiochō (通塩町), also advertizing a stock of leather pouches (?, 革提) and all kinds of ojime, and Fujishima Matsugorō (藤島松五郎) at Suwachō in Asakusa (浅草諏訪町), who is otherwise a woodcarving atelier making netsuke and ojime as well as pipecases, kiseruzutsu (煙管筒). According to this guide, Hiroseya Kashichi (廣瀬屋嘉七) of the Guild of Paper Tobacco Pouches (紙煙草入問屋) – which we don’t have in Kyoto or Osaka — at Bakurochō sanchōme (馬喰町三丁目), is also selling netsuke and ojime (緒留), and pouches, of course, even all kinds of leather pouches (?), as well as paper handkerchiefs (did we have paper handkerchiefs by then? remember, we are in 1824), and kanamono (金物, probably small knives, kozuka, razors, scissors, and the like). Misuya Zenbei (三栖屋善兵衛) of Ōtenmachōdōri Hatagochō (大傳馬町通旅篭町) sells all kinds of netsuke and ojime, as well as tobacco pouches made of both Kyoto and Ise fabrics. But unlike the shopping guides of Osaka and Kyoto, none of the forty haberdashers in this shopping guide — and there must have been many many more in this largest city of the world — claims to also sell netsuke, they do mention selling combs, ornamental hairpins of both the kōgai and kanzashi types, and some even ivory, but none of them specifically mentions netsuke. And this also goes for the forty dealers of tortoise, bekkō (鼈甲), most of these also working in ivory, but none of them mentions that they also make netsuke.

A Shishi lion with its paws on a jewel (Courtesy National Museum of Ethnology, Leiden)

Anyway, we may well conclude that there were, indeed, a few shops with an atelier where people were carving netsuke in various materials. Maybe most artisans engaged in netsuke carving would occasionally also sell their works through these shops, but mostly, it seems, they would try and make arrangements with the ubiquitous haberdashers, komamonoya, and this was how they found buyers for their works and where people wanting to buy a netsuke, or just another netsuke so they might fit these with another inrō or tobacco pouch would go. And for some Kokusai 谷齋 netsuke you would probably go and try one of the Asakusa haberdashers.

Where Would One Buy a Netsuke in Kyoto: Check the Yellow Pages

Moving from Osaka to Kyoto, another such guide is Shopping by Yourself in Kyoto, Kyōto kaimono hitori annai (京都買物獨案内) of 1831, published by Shimizuya Jihei (清水屋次兵衛) of Kyoto with his colleagues Choya Kanbei (著屋勘兵衛) and Izōya Saemon (伊像屋佐右衛門), also of Kyoto, and with Kawachiya Kihei (河内屋喜兵衛) and Harimaya Gorōbei (播磨屋五郎兵衛) of Osaka and Yamashiroya Sahei (山城屋佐兵衛) of Edo. Under the letter ‘so’ we find ‘ivory,’ zōge (象牙), starting with a large advert of Iseya Zenbei (伊勢屋善兵衛) at Teramachi Takatsuji (寺町高辻上ル), a Wholesaler of Ivory and All Kinds of Materials, Zōgerui toiya (象牙類問屋), who has netsuke, offering plectra (for playing the shamisen or the biwa-lute), various white silken kesa (priest’s stoles?), the jiku for mounters of paintings (the knobs on the roller), plectra for the koto, spinning tops, netsuke, indeed, chopsticks, tea spoons, incense boxes, combs and ornamental hairpins of both the kōgai (笄) and the kanzashi (簪) types [for ills see my earlier blog on netsuke in Osaka], all made of water buffalo, whale, elephant, bone, or horn, as well as of porcelain, stone, combs that one disposes of (?), cloisonné enamel, shells, of Chinese (or just outlandish) and Japanese woods, lathe work, peony, small runners for sugoroku boards, and stone, and various articles. Then there is Yorozuya Shōsuke (萬屋庄助) at the Yanagi horse riding ground by the Manju Temple (萬壽寺柳馬場), a member of the Guild of Ivory and Tortoise Importers (象牙鼈甲仕入問屋), also running a workshop, and offering various netsuke made of Chinese (or just foreign) woods and all kinds of ivory jiku for mounters of paintings (see above). And just specializing in netsuke carvings there is Hōgaku (宝樂), a master netsuke carver, netsuke horimonoshi (根付彫物師) at Ogawadōri Ebisugawa (小川通夷川上ル).

The Japanese wife of a Dutchman on Deshima holding a shawn and having a child on her back, signed Yoshitomo 吉友 (Courtesy National Museum of Ethnology, Leiden)

Among the haberdashers, komamonoya (小間物屋), we find Fujiya Sōbei (藤屋惣兵衛) at Rokkakujichō (六角寺町西へ入) as a shoshiki komamonoya (諸色小間物屋), that is a ‘haberdasher of commodities,’ apparently a sub-group among haberdashers, selling netsuke and various sagemono (提物, that is various items worn from the sash, which may be as varied as tobacco pouches, pipe holders, inrō, purses, gourds to contain liquids or also medicine, and scoops for drinking water), and items in tortoise and ivory, and combs and ornamental hairpins of the kōgai type (笄). Sawaya Kyūbei (佐和屋久兵衛) at Matsubara Tomikomichi (松原冨小路東へ入) offers netsuke and all kinds of hardware (kanamono 金物, probably small knives, kozuka, razors, scissors, and the like), ornamental hairpins of the kanzashi type, bags and pouches (fukuromono 袋物), and xx? (華提). And Komatsuya Mohei (小松屋茂兵衛) at Teramachi Matsubara (寺町松原下町) offers netsuke in addition to compasses (磁石) and various kinds of older hardware (?, 前金物類). And then there are another 199 haberdashers who just fail to specify whether they are also dealing in netsuke, among whom there is at least some Karakiya Shichibei (唐木屋七兵衛, suggesting something with foreign kinds of wood), and some Zōgeya Hanbei (象牙屋半兵衛, suggesting something with ivory). But hardly any of these shops selling netsuke is specific about whether they have ivory or wooden netsuke, and maybe they just have a good selection of both, the ivory ones undoubtedly being more costly than most common woods, certainly when these are not ‘foreign woods, karaki.’ And so far, just one shop-owner claims to sell netsuke made by a known carver. Isn’t that an issue at the time, or would you simply know that you should be here for your Tomotada ox and with that shop for an Okatomo goat? The connoisseurs, I mean.

A fisherman on the back of a huge blow fish, fugu, signed Masatomo 正友(Courtesy National Museum of Ethnology, Leiden)

A later edition of this Kyoto shopping guide is published in 1851 by the same Shimizuya Jihei (清水屋次兵衛) of Kyoto with his colleagues Shimizuya Kanbei (清水屋勘兵衛), Yoshinoya Kanbei (吉野屋勘兵衛) and Hiranoya Mohei (平野屋茂兵衛) also of Kyoto, and with Kawachiya Kihei (河内屋喜兵衛) and Harimaya Gorōbei (播磨屋五郎兵衛) of Osaka, and again with Yamashiroya Sahei (山城屋佐兵衛) of Edo. Here we find the Netsuke shop of Kaneya Ihei (金屋伊兵衛) at Tomikomichi Shijō (冨小路四条下る) with a stock of netsuke (根付仕入所) in ivory, Chinese, that is foreign woods, and Japanese woods, finally even mentioning the name of his netsuke carver: Matsui Masamitsu (松井正光). Could he be the Masamitsu listed as 1435 by Davey: ‘One recorded. Wood. Mask of Okame. Early 19th century.’ Or would he rather be one of the two Masamitsus listed in Ueda, nos. 219 and 220. The second died in 1902 at the age of over 50, so he was born around the late 1840s, making it quite unlikely that he was working with Kaneya in 1851. The first Masamitsu was actually ‘Ejima Kōtarō (江島幸太郎), from Takada in Echigo Province, a pupil of Ishikura Masayoshi (石倉正義 [also from Takada, Echigo, who died in 1848]) who adopted him as his son. He then returned to Echigo and died in 1909 at the age of circa 73.’ Not impossible, being born in 1836, but not really convincing.

Among the haberdashers, there is Naraya Yasubei (奈良屋安兵衛) at Teramachi Shijō (寺町四条下) selling all kinds of netsuke and ojime (緒メ), purses (紙入), tobacco pouches (煙艸入) and hardware (金物). And the Kyūmondō of Shimizuya Jihei (九文堂清水屋次兵衛) at Tomikomichi Shijō (冨小路四条下ル町) sells netsuke, and also dolls, the stones for the board game of shōgi (将棊駒), small picture books (小繪本), x?, and all kinds of kanamono (金物).

Obviously, there are plenty of shops where you might try and find a netsuke that you liked, and you wouldn’t have to ask where such or so school netsuke carver was having his studio. You might just as well try any haberdasher in the city. As far as I am aware, nobody in the vast literature on netsuke ever discussed how and where these could be bought, and for me, as an art historian, how the art market works is a primary interest. Next week we’ll be looking at the Edo market of netsuke.

Where Would One Buy a Netsuke in Osaka: Check the Yellow Pages

The various lists of netsuke carvers in, for example, Ueda Reikichi’s Netsuke no kenkyū of 1954 (上田令吉『根附之研究』大阪:前田大文館, the copy I have, listing 1307 names), or also Neil Davey’s Netsuke of 1974 (listing 3425 names), might well suggest that large numbers of individuals – admittedly over a longer period of time – made a living carving netsuke, now even being referred to as ‘artists.’ But when one in those days would like to buy a Tomotada (友忠) ox or a goat by Okatomo (岡友), how would you know how to get one, or even know where the man lived – this is the Edo Period, long before the internet and smartphones. Another problem is in the epithet ‘so and so school,’ as if there were such a ‘school’ where aspiring carvers would enrol to become a ‘so or so school netsuke carver.’ And how could you find these schools if you wanted to buy some ‘so or so school’ netsuke? And what would you do when you live in Osaka, where there is apparently no ‘Osaka school’ of netsuke carvers?

A reclining ox, signed Tomotada 友忠 (Courtesy National Museum of Ethnology, Leiden)

Don’t despair, no problem, also in Osaka there are numerous shops specializing in various products from Edo, or having large selections of Setomono, a term covering all kinds of porcelains and pottery from all over the country, which you would also find in Kyoto and Edo. Then there are shops with a large array of local products, such as cotton from Kawachi Province and Shikoku Island, dolls from Fushimi, medicines from China and Holland, or from Hizen, suggesting Dutch medicines imported through Nagasaki, and both Chinese and Dutch pairs of glasses, various qualities of paper from the provinces of Echizen, Mino, and Tango, as well as paper, ink, brushes and incense from China, soy sauce from Bizen, various products from Matsumae, the northernmost tip of Honshū, as well as ginned cotton (繰綿), ink, brushes and ink stones old and new, miso paste, saddlery (馬具), teas, and much more from all over Japan. Even woodblock prints from Edo (江戸錦繪) and popular novels were being offered by Sumiya Kanshichi (炭屋勘七) at Matsubaradōri (松原通) in Kyoto, who otherwise held a large stock of Chinese mirrors and strings for the koto and the shamisen. And umbrellas sold in Edo were mostly imported from Kyoto (下リ). Indeed, there was no internet in the Edo Period, but they were certainly the so-called pre-modern era, well-equipped with good and up-to-date shopping guides as the equivalent of our already extinct yellow pages. Anyway, no fear of being deprived of anything you could imagine.

From such shopping guides, we can get a better idea about the market procedures, even for netsuke. Although some netsuke carvers may have run an atelier with a number of students catering to some audience in the various cities, such would have been quite exceptional, I would say. It might well be that we are rather mostly dealing with netsuke carvers working with one or preferably several shops that would sell their works on the basis of some commission. That there are indeed such shops will be obvious from, for example, the Guide for Shopping Yourself in Osaka, Shonin kaimono hitori annai (商人買物獨案内) published in 2 parts in 1824-1831 by Yanagihara Kihei (柳原木兵衛), Morimoto Tasuke (森本太助) and Nakagawa Gohei (中川五兵衛) of Osaka, together with Enya Yasubei (鉛屋安兵衛) of Kyoto and Suharaya Mohei (須原屋茂兵衛) of Edo. Under the letter ‘ne’ it lists just one netsuke maker: the Celebrity Netsuke Carving Studio of Zōgeya Chōbei, Meika netsuke saikudokoro (名家根付細工所象牙屋長兵衛), located at the Toriyachō by Bingochō (鳥屋町備後町南へ入). But we have a much better chance among the many haberdashers (essentially komamonoya 小間物屋). The shop of Kikuya Ihei (キク屋伊兵衛) at Sakaisuji minami Honchō (堺節南本町) advertises that it has netsuke, as well as all sorts of combs and ornamental hairpins both of the kōgai (笄) and of the kanzashi (簪) types (see the ill. below). The ‘ivory,’ zōge in the names of two other commodities haberdashers of the Komamono shoshiki toiya (小間物諸色問屋) guild, going by the names of Zōgeya Jirōbei (象牙屋治郎兵衛) at Sakaisuji Hakurōchō (堺節搏労町) and Zōgeya Yasubei (象牙屋安兵衛) at Sakaisuji minami Kyūtarōchō (堺節南久太郎町南へ入) would make it quite likely that they would also sell netsuke, I would say. Another haberdasher named Zōgeya Heizō (象牙屋平蔵) at Sakaisuji Junkeimachi (堺節順慶町北へ入) mentions that he is selling all sorts of combs and ornamental hairpins of both the kōgai (笄) and the kanzashi (簪) types, as well as netsuke, where it is probably understood that these are ivory for whom can afford these. And Tatsumiya Kaemon (辰巳屋加右衛門) at Shinsaibashi minami itchōme (心斎橋南一丁目) specifies that, in addition to netsuke, he also sells tobacco pouches, hardware (kanamono金物, probably small knives, kozuka, razors, scissors, and the like), and sagemono (提物, that is various items worn from the sash, which may be as varied as tobacco pouches, pipe holders, inrō, purses, gourds to contain liquids or also medicine, and scoops for drinking water). Ōtsuya Kyūbei (大津屋久兵衛) of Nagabori Shinsaibashi kitakō (長掘心斎橋北浩) also has netsuke and tobacco pouches, but states that he is specialized in ornamental hairpins of the kanzashi type and pipes. Then there is the shop of Echigoya Tōsuke (越後屋藤助), a haberdasher at Kōraibashi itchōme (高麗橋一丁目), actually specialized in bags and pouches, fukuromono (袋物), but also selling tortoise ornamental hairpins, kōgai, as well as water buffalo and ivory hairpins, again kōgai, so why not also netsuke?

A Kaki fruit and a snail on its branch Courtesy National Museum of Ethnology, Leiden

And then there are still some thirty other haberdashers in this shopping guide that have tobacco pouches, various sagemono and various types of hairpins, but they just don’t explicitly advertise that they are also selling netsuke. Maybe it was well-known that you could just try any of the countless haberdashers if you wished to buy a netsuke and see whether they had any nice, new, or attractive model. Or just one really en vogue, if you would be looking for one that was like the talk of the town. After all, a figurative netsuke maybe best compares to a man’s necktie – even simple stripes may tell something about the wearer. As for the five Ateliers Working in Ivory, Zōge saikudokoro (象牙細工所), none of them advertizes that they also make netsuke, just combs, ornamental hairpins of both the kōgai and the kanzashi types, as well as the plectra for the shamisen and biwa lutes. One of these even claims to make various archer’s arm protectors (鞆), sword sheaths (鞘) and (other items?) in sharkskin (鮫, supposing that he refers to making sharkskin sword sheaths). But really, no netsuke if you work in ivory?

A hairpin of the so-called kōgai type, a single needle (Courtesy National Museum of Ethnology, Leiden RV-1332-1a)
Two hairpins of the kanzashi type, the top one in silver, the other imitation tortoise, 1820s (Courtesy National Museum of Ethnology, Leiden)
The advert for Ōmiya Ihei’s shop of rice cakes, mochi, printed in blue

One interesting feature of this shopping guide is that a number of shops want to catch more attention and have the information about their business printed in blue. For 1824 this is a very early case of aizurie (藍摺絵) which we can find in Edo really not much earlier than 1830 (see my earlier blog on Hokusai’s Wave off Kanagawa – Hokusai and aizurie). These were of course printed separately and pasted in the correct position in the bound books. Alas, the second part of this very interesting and useful publication didn’t yield any more shops selling netsuke. Next week: Where would one buy a netsuke in Kyoto.

Must see: Hokusai at the Sumida Hokusai Museum, best before July 24th

After quite some time, Japan reopened again for small groups of foreigners, and I was one of them. I also believe that it cannot have been a coincidence that I was not only welcomed by my in-laws but also by Hokusai himself. Indeed, I had an opportunity to see and enjoy two exhibitions devoted to the Master. One would close down the day after my arrival, the other opened just before my departure.

Showing Hokusai prints, illustrated books and a number of paintings all from the British Museum collection, the first one, at the Suntory Museum of Art, also displayed a few ‘masterpieces of painting from collections in Japan.’ Could it be that the organizers were afraid that the audience would be disappointed with the 108 works on loan from the BM, including one of the five best copies of the Wave off the Coast of Kanagawa in existence? Or that it would fail to recognize the exceptional strength in the painting of the demon inhabitants of Onoshima, in vain trying to pull the string of Minamoto Tametomo’s bow, complemented with an inscription by Kyokutei Bakin (曲亭馬琴)? The painting celebrating the completion of the novel Strange Tales of the Crescent Moon, Chinsetsu yumiharizuki (椿説弓張月, 5 parts, 1807-1811) was even displayed together with the mirrored image from the first part of the book that was the source for the painting. Or would it maybe overlook the elegance of the rather impromptu portrayal of the poem diviner that Hokusai made his first work of the brush in the New Year of 1827? Then there were also three paintings from his 88th year (when Hokusai was extremely productive, making at least some thirty paintings), one of a couple of ducks in the water, another of a cormorant on a wooden pole, and then one of the Chinese philosopher Sōshi (荘子, 胡蝶の夢) with a butterfly hoovering over his head – as he once woke up after dreaming of a butterfly and being unable to discern whether he had become that butterfly, or whether that butterfly had assumed his form. Sure, it was nice and good to see all these works again, though nothing new for me, even among the seven works from Japanese collections.

Indeed, for a real and most welcome surprise, I had to wait until the day before my departure, when I had a chance to see the very nice exhibition of demons in the oeuvre of Hokusai at the Sumida Hokusai Museum (すみだ北斎美術館 until 28 August). Amongst the large and comprehensive selection of plates from, among others, the various Manga volumes (北斎漫画, 27 plates from vols. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 9, 10, 11 and 12), the Quick Guide to Drawing Vol. 4, Hayashinan yonpen Ehon hayabiki (早指南四編画本早引, 1817), and the later Ehon hayabiki Vol. 2 (画本早引二編, 1819), all with their modest basic tints of rose and grey, as well as those from the Illustrated Life of Shakyamuni, Shaka goichidaiki zue (釈迦御一代記圖繪, 6 plates, 1845), just in black and white, sumizuri, the three full colour prints of the One Hundred Ghost Stories, Hyaku monogatari (百物語) of late 1831 (Shunen しうねん, Sara yashiki さらやしき, and Warai Hannya 笑ひはんにや) almost light up on the walls as it were.

Katsushika Hokusai, Dōjōji, The Sumida Hokusai Museum

However, the great surprise is a painting on Dōjōji (道成寺), the story about the young monk Anchin who used to stay with the headman of the village of Masago when making his annual pilgrimage to Kumano, whose daughter fell in love with him and begged him to marry her. This, of course, he refused to do, but she followed him to the Dōjōji Temple where he eventually hid from her under the temple bell. When she found out about his hiding place, she turned into a dragon and coiled herself around it, thus not only destroying the bell with her heat, but also burning Anchin to dust as well as perishing herself in the molten bell.

In Hokusai’s painting the dancer impersonating the young woman has adopted the appearance of a female demon with long waving hair, wearing a Ja mask, rather evoking a snake demon than the more common female Hannya demon, and holding onto a pillar of the temple, a red and white staff in his raised right hand. He is dressed as a Shirabyōshi dancer, wearing a red hakama over a white kimono. The painting in ink and pigments on paper measures 823 x 263 mms. and is signed Hokusai ga (北斎画), with two seals reading Tatsu/masa (辰政), suggesting a dating in the Bunka period, but before 1810, when Hokusai started using the name of Taito (戴斗). Please note: the painting is only on display until July 24th, when it will be replaced by a photographic reproduction.

The story is obviously derived from the Nō repertoire but it was also the source for various dance dramas in kabuki. Though difficult to proof – there are quite a few performances of Dōjōji plays in early Bunka — it seems most tempting to relate the painting to the performance of Sugata hanamusume Dōjōji, 容艶花娘道成寺, in XI/1807 at the Nakamura Theatre (中村座, KN 5:404). This performance was in so far special, as Segawa Rokō III (瀬川路考, 1751-1810), who had just before taken the name of Senjo (仙女) so as to prepare for retirement, played the role of Kiyohime, wearing a mask to make her look like a snake, which is the Ja mask in the painting, while Segawa Michinosuke (瀬川路之助, 1782-1812), who had just been given the name of Rokō IV, played the role of the monk Anchin.

The fact that Hokusai also made a print of Segawa Michinosuke, in the role of Komume (女房小梅), the wife of Ume no Yoshibei (梅の由兵衛), played by Sawamura Gennosuke, after an unrecorded performance of Sumida no haru geisha katagi (隅田春妓女容性) in the same year 1807, might well suggest some special relation between Hokusai and Michinosuke, even more so as this diptych composition represents the only known example of a traditional print of actors since Hokusai left the Katsukawa atelier. This diptych composition is apparently only reproduced in my Hokusai. A Guide to the Serial Graphics (1974), Plates 34 and 35, only the Michinosuke sheet being known in a Japanese collection.

When the museum acquired the painting, it had a very simple mounting (also on display) that hardly supported the vivid sense of drama in the painting. The museum therefore decided to have it remounted with a very appropriate silk brocade with repeated motifs of dragons, also giving it much wider margins right and left that really make the painting stand out, a well-deserved upgrade as it were. This is the first time it is shown at the Sumida Hokusai Museum and, again, only on show until July 24th.        A 192 page catalogue complements the exhibition, published by Kodansha and available at 2.640円 (ISBN 978-4-06528083-6).

I am grateful to the Sumida Hokusai Museum for allowing me to use their photographs of the painting.