Floating World of Ukiyo-e - Shadows, Dreams, and Substance

HouseUkiyo-e prints and picture books depict Japanese material culture in a strikingly graphic and visually appealing manner. Whether the subject is one of the thirty-six views of Mount Fuji or a portrait of an actor or beautiful courtesan, each image includes a vast array of items, both everyday things and luxury commodities. In the prints and books in this exhibition, elegant kimonos, elaborate furnishings, hairpins, fans, spectacles, kites, brooms, paper lanterns, umbrellas, and more are shown in vivid detail, allowing a glimpse at the implements of Edo life.

In addition to decorative items are images that serve a more utilitarian purpose of describing or reporting things in their own right. Thus, Ukiyo-e prints and books depict the great Kyoto disturbance and fire of 1864, the heyday of the Japanese whaling industry, and how to prepare fish and fowl for a general's meal. Pattern books and design albums provide important practical information on the popular designs of the time and their effect on current fashions in Edo. Gazetteers and prints that focused on famous places provided the opportunity to experience vicariously the sights and products of the most remote spots in the country and even exotic foreign lands.

Stopping for Tea

Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858) designed two sets of prints inspired by the wildly popular series The Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji, first composed by Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) between 1829 and 1833. This print shows two young ladies stopping to admire the distant view of Mount Fuji from an outdoor tea stall at Zôshigaya, an outlying district of Edo. Tea stalls like this were strategically located throughout the Japanese countryside and within cities so they could do business along major thoroughfares and at popular tourist destinations.

Utagawa Hiroshige. Viewing Mount Fuji from a Tea House at Zôshigaya" (Zôshigaya Fujimi chaya) from the series The Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji (Fuji sanjûrokkei),1858-1859. Color woodblock print, ôban, 15 in. x 10 in. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (64). (LC-USZC4-8424)

Bookmark this item: //www.loc.gov/exhibits/ukiyo-e/realia.html#obj64

Hunting for Whales

Utagawa Hiroshige II (1826-1869), also known as Ichiyûsai Shigenobu, was the pupil and adopted son of the famous landscape artist, Utagawa Hiroshige. This print portrays whaling, an important Japanese industry since the seventeenth century. At first, whalers used harpoons, as depicted in this print; after 1675, they used specially designed nets. The Japanese whaling industry peaked between 1810 and 1850. By the time Shigenobu designed this print in 1859, whalers from Western nations, hunting in waters off the coast of Japan, had begun to deplete the supply of whales for Japanese fishermen. This print may thus be viewed as a nostalgic vision of a waning industry.

U tagawa Hiroshige II. Whale Hunting at Gotô in Hizen Province" (Hizen Gotô geigyô no zu) from the series One Hundred Views of Famous Places in the Provinces (Shokoku meisho hyakkei), 1859. Color woodblock print, ôban, 15 in. x 10 in. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (65). (LC-USZC4-8420)

Bookmark this item: //www.loc.gov/exhibits/ukiyo-e/realia.html#obj65

Material Culture

This triptych is a joint work by Utagawa Kunisada (1786-1865) and Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858). The signature "Painted by Toyokuni" (Toyokuni-ga) appears on the left and right prints, while the center piece is signed "Brush of Hiroshige"(Hiroshige hitsu). The careful recording of physical objects, typical of Ukiyo-e, is in abundance here--including the elaborate dress of the male figure delicately holding an umbrella above him, and the female figure elegantly brandishing a broom.

Utagawa Kunisada and Utagawa Hiroshige. Modern Genji: Viewing in Snow (Fûryû Genji yuki no nagame), ca. 1840. Image 1. Image 2. Image 3. Color woodblock print, ôban triptych, 15 in. x 10 in. each. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (66). (LC-USZC4-8447, 8448, 8449)

Bookmark this item: //www.loc.gov/exhibits/ukiyo-e/realia.html#obj66

A Culinary Handscroll

This illustrated handscroll contains vivid hand-drawn illustrations on how to carve, debone, and otherwise dress a wide variety of species of fish and fowl for culinary appreciation. The Ikuma School, one of several schools of food preparation, zealously guarded their secrets, just as today's gourmet master chefs do. Shown here is the technique for carving a pheasant, on the right, and for preparing a sea bass, on the left. The inscription at the end of the scroll states that a member of the school is allowed to copy the scroll's contents but must not divulge the techniques to anyone.

Anonymous. Scroll on preparing fish and fowl, 1800. Illustrated handscroll. Scroll. Image 1. Image 2. Ink and pigments on paper, 11 1/2 in. x 26 in. (portion on exhibit). Asian Division, Library of Congress (67). (LC-USZC4-8637; LC-USZC4-8724, LC-USZC4-8723)

Bookmark this item: //www.loc.gov/exhibits/ukiyo-e/realia.html#obj67

Back to Top

Fulling Cloth by Moonlight

This work by Nagayama Kôin (1765-1849) is among the several hand-drawn albums of exceptional beauty in the Library's collection. The artist was a merchant's apprentice, discovered in Japan's northern provinces by the Kyôto scholar and poet Murase Kôtei (1746-1818). At Kôtei's introduction, Kôin traveled to Kyôto and entered the Shijô school of painting. In this image an elderly woman sits alone in the autumn moonlight softening newly-woven cloth with a fulling mallet. This melancholy image alludes to the Nô play Kinuta (The Fulling Block) in which a woman awaits the return of her husband whose duties have taken him to the Capital where he remains for three years. The wife, in turn, recalls the Chinese tale of Su Wu, who has been taken prisoner by foreign forces. Su Wu's wife calls out to him over the vastness by fulling cloth in the moonlight. Kôin's drawing reverberates both with the sound of the fulling mallet and the longing of two women for their husbands' return.

Nagayama Kôin. Chôkô's Album of Paintings (Chôkô gajô). Pre-1850. Image 1. Image 2. Album of hand-drawn sketches, 10 3/8 in. x 7 1/4 in. Asian Division, Library of Congress (68). (LC-USZC4-8682, LC-USZC4-8683)

Bookmark this item: //www.loc.gov/exhibits/ukiyo-e/realia.html#obj68

An Imagined Chinese Fishmarket

Kawamura Bunpô (1779-1821) stands as one of the most gifted promoters of contemporary Chinese painting in the Kamigata (Kyoto-Osaka) area. The painting manual shown here was printed using three blocks--one for the drawing in black ink, one for the highlights in light blue, and one for the details in light brown. In this scene, simply labeled "Fishmarket," the background is left blank, providing focus on a number of fishermen gathered to hear one of them recall "the one that got away." Behind the speaker are several varieties of the bounty of the sea.

Kawamura Bunpô. Instructions in Kanga Painting: Second Edition (Kanga shinan: ni-hen), Kyoto: Hishiya Magobei, 1811. Image 1. Image 2. 3 vols., 10 1/4 in. x 6 1/4 in. Asian Division, Library of Congress (69). (LC-USZC4-8706, LC-USZC4-8707)

Bookmark this item: //www.loc.gov/exhibits/ukiyo-e/realia.html#obj69

A Rare Album of Illustrated Book Wrappers

Japanese woodblock books often came in envelopes or wrappers, called fukuro, which were especially common in small works of illustrated fiction, such as collections of humorous stories, popular romances, and action adventures. These wrappers, in spite of their attractive designs, were usually discarded when the book was read, and are, therefore, quite rare today. The Library of Congress possesses two large albums, each containing scores of fukuro, dating from the 1830s through the 1870s. The image here, of a fan with several varieties of maple leaves, provides the title, author, illustrator, and publisher of this work of popular fiction in the guise of a fan poem.

Toyokuni, Kunisada, Yoshiiku, et al., illustrators. Album of Illustrated Book Wrappers (Ezôshi-bukuro harimaze chô), 1830s-1870s. Various publishers, mid-nineteenth century. Album of woodblock-printed book wrappers, 6 3/4 in. x 10 7/8 in. Asian Division, Library of Congress (70). (LC-USZC4-8696)

Bookmark this item: //www.loc.gov/exhibits/ukiyo-e/realia.html#obj70

An Artist Surrounded by His Creations

The title of this print--The Famous, the Unrivalled Hidari Jingorô--which appears in the box in the upper right, involves a pun. In Japanese the phrase for "unrivalled" literally means that there is no enemy on the right, which plays against the name of the famous left-handed sculptor Hidari (meaning "left") Jingorô. In this triptych, Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1798-1861) may be presenting himself as Jingorô because the sculptor, shown seated in the center panel, has the artist's identifying seals on his robe and cushion. The cat in the scene is also a reference to Kuniyoshi, who was known for drawing cats. In addition, the sculptures surrounding him are thought to bear the faces of well-known Kabuki actors, some of whom Kuniyoshi depicted in his other prints.

Utagawa Kuniyoshi. The Famous, the Unrivalled Hidari Jingorô (Meiyo migi ni teki nashi Hidari Jingorô). Image 1. Image 2. Image 3. Color woodblock print, ôban triptych, 15 in. x 10 in. each. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (71). (LC-USZC4-8525, 8526, 8527)

Bookmark this item: //www.loc.gov/exhibits/ukiyo-e/realia.html#obj71

Spring Outing in a Villa

This print by Toyohara Kunichika (1835-1900) depicting a lavish outing is possibly an elegant family portrait. The man is shown wearing a jacket with Western-style lapels and a golden dragon design, signed "Rigyoku." The woman in the foreground holds a screen which bears the signature "Sakurai Kiku." The great blue-and-white bowl into which children have placed figures, the man's finely decorated fan, the elegant clothing of the individuals, and the handsome lacquer boxes and cases in the background attest to the wealth of the leisured classes in mid-nineteenth-century Edo.

Toyohara Kunichika. Spring outing in a villa, ca. 1862. Image 1. Image 2. Color woodblock print, ôban diptych, 15 in. x 10 in. each. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (72). (LC-USZC4-8450, LC-USZC4-8451)

Bookmark this item: //www.loc.gov/exhibits/ukiyo-e/realia.html#obj72

Back to Top

Visit to a Peony Garden

Punctuated by giant peonies in the background, this triptych by Utagawa Kunisada (1786-1865) depicts a highly detailed scene in a flower garden--most likely the garden at the Buddhist temple Eitai-ji in the Fukagawa section of Edo. Fukagawa was famous for its "unlicensed" pleasure district (as opposed to Yoshiwara, which was licensed and controlled by the regime). Its teahouses and restaurants attracted pleasure seekers from all over Japan.

Utagawa Kunisada. Visit to a Peony Garden (Fukigusa sono no yûran), after 1844. Image 1. Image 2. Image 3. Color woodblock print, ôban triptych, 15 in. x 10 in. each. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (73). (LC-USZC4-8458, 8459, 8460)

Bookmark this item: //www.loc.gov/exhibits/ukiyo-e/realia.html#obj73

Playful Perspective

Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858) is known for his clever and surprising designs. In this work, the viewer is invited to peer at, below, and beyond the "business end" of a group of horses. The effect seems almost photographic in its suggestion of a real moment and, simultaneously, fantastic in its exaggerated emphasis.

Utagawa Hiroshige. "Yotsuya: The New Station at Naitô" from the series A Hundred Views of Famous Places in Edo (Meisho Edo hyakkei: Yotsuya, Naitô Shinjuku), 1857. Color woodblock print, ôban, 15 in. x 10 in. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (74). (LC-USZC4-8421)

Bookmark this item: //www.loc.gov/exhibits/ukiyo-e/realia.html#obj74

The Rinpa Revival

Ogata Kôrin (1658-1716) developed a stylized approach to form and design that was recognized as a unique development in world art--a way of looking at and depicting the world that became known as "Rinpa" (or "Rimpa"). After 1803, artists Sakai Hôitsu (1761-1828), Nakamura Hôchû (d. 1819), and others brought about a revival of Kôrin's distinctive art. The pages displayed show, on the right, several pattern designs for cotton summer kimonos, and, on the left, a highly stylized signature of a Kôrin stag looking for its mate.

Sakai Hôitsu. Kôrin's One Hundred Illustrations (Kôrin hyakuzu). Ogata Kôrin, illustrator. Kyôto: Hosokawa Kaiekidô, n.d. (first pub. 1815). Image 1. Image 2. Woodblock-printed book, 10 1/4 in. x 6 1/2 in. Asian Division, Library of Congress (109). (LC-USZC4-8700, LC-USZC4-8701)

Bookmark this item: //www.loc.gov/exhibits/ukiyo-e/realia.html#obj109

Torching and Rebuilding

In 1864, troops from the Chôshû domain attempted to enter the capital, Kyoto, demanding pardon for exiled allies. The resulting battle against forces loyal to the shogun generated a devastating conflagration that destroyed some 28,000 structures over much of the city. Three years later, the shogun abdicated, and power reverted to the Meiji emperor and his allies, including Chôshû rebels. These two prints illustrate both the battle, called the Hamaguri Gate, or Kinmon (Palace Gate), Incident, and the rebuilding that occurred in the capital afterward.

Mori Yûzan, based on drawings by Maekawa Goryô. Illustrations of the 1864 Military Catastrophe (Kasshi heisen zu). Kyoto: Tanaka Chihei, 1893. Image 1. Image 2. Woodblock-printed books, 9 in. x 6 1/4 in. Asian Division, Library of Congress (110a, b). (LC-USZC4-8726, LC-USZC4-8727)

Bookmark this item: //www.loc.gov/exhibits/ukiyo-e/realia.html#obj110

Back to Top