FUJISAWA (Utagawa Yoshikata)

Polychrome large vertical format woodblock print taken from the “Scenes of Famous Places along the Tokaido Road” (東海道名所絵), the famous series of prints, also known as “The Processional Tokaido” (御上洛東海道), which was made with a exceptional collaboration of different artists and publishers to commemorate the historic journey from Edo (江戸) to Kyoto (京都) of the procession of the shogun Tokugawa Iemochi (徳川家茂) who in 1863, when the Tokugawa shogunate was in a state of final weakness and dissolution, went to pay his respect to the emperor.

The work, printed by the publisher Koshimuraya Heisuke (越村屋平助), is signed by the artist Utagawa Yoshikata (歌川芳形) and in the background depicts the procession at the station of Fujisawa (藤澤), in today’s Kanagawa Prefecture (神奈川県), and in the foreground a man who cleans his horse’s hooves and then puts the traditional uma no waraji (馬の草鞋) straw rope sandals on the animal, to help him move better on steep or muddy terrain.

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Original large format woodblock print made around 1844 by the artist Utagawa Kunisada (歌川国貞) and taken from the series “Moral Instructions Grown in a Hedge” (教訓植附垣根ノ中). The work, depicting a bijin (美人) beauty while reading crouched next to an andon (行灯) lamp, is entitled “Kenko no Tsurezuregusa” (兼好のつれづれ草), a reference to the famous collection of essays “The Harvest of Leisure” written by the Buddhist monk Yoshida Kenko (吉田兼好), the most important writer of the Kamakura period (鎌倉時代).

The print, signed with the pseudonym Kochoro Toyokuni (香蝶楼豊国) and decorated in the upper left corner with an insert of lilies, is taken from a volume entitled “Shunseki Bijo no Yugaeri” (春夕美女の湯かゑり), ie “Beautiful Women Returning from the Bath on a Spring Night”.

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The ideogram 福, depicting the blessing, but also more simply happiness and good luck, in its ancestral form appeared as two hands raised towards the sky that offered a wine cask over an altar. In its current form it is composed of the ideogram 示, which means omens from heaven, and 畐 a container filled with votive offerings.

In the tradition of the Far East this kanji represents, together with prosperity (禄) and longevity (寿), one of the three most important auspicious symbols of life. These three goals, visually represented in the Chinese mythology by the Three Stars (三星), ie the three deities Fu Xing (福星), Lu Xing (祿星) and Shou Xing (寿星), in Japan are summarized in the figure of Fukurokuju (福禄寿), one of the Seven Lucky Gods shichifukujin (七福神).

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Precious woodblock print of vertical large oban (大判) format made around 1845 by Utagawa Hiroshige (歌川広重) and taken from the “Fifty-three Pairings for the Tokaido Road” (東海道五十三対), an elegant series of prints in which the artist combines fifty-three renowned places with characters and legends of the Japanese tradition. The work presented here is dedicated to the Hara (原) station and to the famous Taketori Monogatari (竹取物語), that is “the tale of the bamboo cutter”.

The aforementioned folktale, also known as Kaguya-hime no Monogatari (かぐや姫の物語), or “the tale of the shining princess”, is considered the oldest extant Japanese prose narrative and tells the story of an old bamboo cutter that found inside a cane a little girl who, once grown, would make even the emperor fall in love but, finally, would go back to her hometown, Tsuki no Miyako (月の都), the capital of the moon.

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The yuya (湯屋), literally “hot water shops”, were places where customers had the opportunity to spend time dedicated to cleansing the body in the company of friends, family, neighbors or even strangers in order to relax and socialize. Contributing to the popularity of public baths in the Edo period (江戸時代) were female attendants, known as yuna (湯女), assigned to the assistance of the bathers. They were mainly responsible for scrubbing the back of the guests, but they could also take care of their entertainment and it was not uncommon for them, after closing time, to perform additional services dedicated to male customers.

This beautiful large vertical format woodblock print, depicting the public bath at Shiba Iikura (芝飯倉) in Tokyo, was made by the artist Shosai Ikkei (昇斎一景) and is taken from the “Selection of Thirty-six Humorous Views of Famous Places in Tokyo” (東京名所三十六戯撰), a series produced in 1872 by the publisher Yorozuya Magobei (万屋孫兵衛).

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VISIT TO NIKKO SHRINE (Toyohara Chikanobu)

Nikko Toshogu (日光東照宮) is a Shinto shrine dedicated to Tokugawa Ieyasu (徳川家康), the founder of the Tokugawa shogunate (徳川幕府), the last feudal Japanese government. During the Edo period (江戸時代), the shogunate carried out processions that started from Edo to visit the temple complex. Today’s annual spring and autumn festivals of the shrine reenact these occasions, and are known as “processions of a thousand warriors” (千人武者行列).

The precious triptych of woodblock prints, made in 1897 by the artist Toyohara Chikanobu (豊原周延) and produced by the publisher Fukuda Hatsujiro (福田初次郎), owner of Gusokuya (具足屋), is entitled “Visit to Nikko Shrine” (日光御社参) and is taken from the series “Chiyoda Outer Palace” (千代田之御表).

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Magnificent triptych of polychrome woodblock prints entitled “Imperial Audience for Seven Instruments” (天覧栄七曲合), made in 1877 by the female artist Toyohara Chikayoshi (豊原周義) and depicting a young Emperor Meiji (明治天皇) who, in the company of the empress consort Shoken (昭憲皇后), visible in the center of the scene, attends the performance of seven musicians. In the background, the sun sets beyond a garden of pines and cherry trees in bloom.

The author of the work, birth name Suzuki Sato (鈴木サト), was a talented student, and in later life also the partner, of the famous Toyohara Kunichika (豊原国周). She competently depicted theatrical actors, as well as the manners and customs of her time, with a style deeply grounded in the Utagawa school (歌川派).

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«Autumn has come in heaven and earth, and the leaves are falling in the garden. But a paulownia leaf, the symbol of my family name, never falls and my spirit of loyalty never changes». The words of the famous daimyo Katagiri Katsumoto (片桐且元) are taken from the third act of the kabuki play “Kiri Hitoha” (桐一葉), meaning “a paulownia leaf”, by Harunoya Oboro (春のやおぼろ), pseudonym of the playwright Tsubouchi Shoyo (坪内逍遥).

The elegant kuchi-e (口絵) woodblock print presented here, made by the artist Suzuki Kason (鈴木華邨), was produced as the frontispiece of the print version of the aforementioned play, edited in February 1896 by the publisher Wada Atsutaro (和田篤太郎), owner of Shunyodo (春陽堂) in Tokyo.

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GIRL AND PEONIES (Utagawa Kunisada II)

Charming and rare woodblock print by the artist Utagawa Kunisada II (二代目歌川国貞) depicting a beautiful girl who, overwhelmed by the heat of early summer, symbolized by the peonies of the background, has taken off her coat and wipes her sweat with a tenugui (手拭) hand towel. At her side, the young brother plays with a flag attached to a bamboo stick.

The precious work, of vertical large oban (大判) format, is taken from the series “The Age of Blooming Love: a Collection of Young Women” (情盛花娘揃), produced in 1868 by the publisher Yamashiroya Jinbei (山城屋甚兵衛), owner of Sansendo (山泉堂).

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GARDEN PARTY (Mizuno Toshikata)

Fine polychrome woodblock print made in December 1898 by the artist Mizuno Toshikata (水野年方) and entitled “Garden Party” (園遊会). In the foreground the waitresses of a tea house. In the background some men, wearing kimono (着物) and top hats, are walking in a park of cherry trees in bloom.

The work, produced by the publisher Akiyama Buemon (秋山武右衛門), owner of Kokkeido (滑稽堂), is taken from the series “Ima yo bijin” (今様美人), or “modern beauties”, and is dedicated to the month of March.

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original Japanese woodblock prints and paintings