V. Ukiyoe and Edo Books


 Book illustration was a significant part of Japanese art already in the early Middle Ages. For a long time, however, it was limited to the literature of religious and court character. In that period, image functions played a subordinate role in relation to text. Illustrations primarily served to emphasize important passages, and their esthetics was important only inasmuch as it assisted the reader to appreciate the contents of a text better.
 Books published in the Tokugawa period can be roughly divided into two kinds. The first kind comprised publications that enjoyed the support of the Shogunate and were a continuation of the earlier trend. Those included religious books, scholarly dissertations, novels and plays appreciated at the court, textbooks of proper conduct and propaganda praising the current form of government. The second kind, under a common name of ukiyo-zoshi, or stories of the Floating World, included all kinds of popular literature, erotic and pornographic novels, romances, ghost stories and books about adventures of famous characters. The first kind was addressed both to samurai and townsmen; the recipients of the second kind were mostly townsmen, although as evidenced by historical sources, it was sometimes appreciated by less conservative members of the higher classes. Practically, both kinds were published by townsmen's publishing houses and naturally enough illustrations for the books were largely made by ukiyoe masters associated with these publishers.
 Hokusai's and Utamaro's prints in a popular novel increased the demand for it since the buyer received two coveted objects in one, namely a fashionable novel and a collection of prints by a famous ukiyoe master. Shikitei Sanba in a novel published in 1809 under the title of Ukiyo-buro, Ukiyo Bath-house, describes  fascination with books and prints. Mothers talking about their children in a bath-house complain that they refuse to stop spending money on portraits of Kabuki actors and gokan, many-volume illustrated novels. A network of book lenders operating since the middle of the 17th century greatly contributed to the dissemination of literature in Edo. For a small fee, much lower than the price of a book, one could borrow from them the latest editions of popular novels. Akai Tatsuro reports that towards the end of the century there were twelve guilds of such travelling librarians in Edo with total membership of 656. It is estimated that each of the librarians serviced 180 houses. Illustrated books were bought and published also by members of the higher classes. Sakai Hoitsu, daimyo of the Himeji castle, published his poems with Utamaro's illustrations. Ryuetei Tanehiko, a high Shogunate official, after retirement published Inaka Genji, a popular parody of the classical Story of Genji, providing it with illustrations by Kunisada. Yanagisawa Nobutoki, daimyo of Yamato Koriyama, was also a collector of books, albums and single ukiyoe.
 The origins of ukiyoe are closely related to the development of book illustration and popular literature. Hishikawa Moronobu, widely recognized as the first of distinguished makers  of woodblock prints, was predominantly a book illustrator. Thanks to Nishikawa Sukenobu's (1672-1751) book illustrations, ukiyoe developed in Kyoto which had been dominated by traditional Kano and Tosa schools of painting. His individual prints were widely discussed among the intellectual elites of Kyoto meeting with both enthusiasm and condemnation. However, Sukenobu's book woodblock prints, both didactic and popular, strengthened the position of ukiyoe in the old capital.
 Numerous publications of various pattern-books made a separate kind of books. Their text was usually reduced to technical descriptions leaving most of the space to illustrations. This kind of books included A Pattern-Book of Door-Lights designed by Ooka Shunboku published in 1732 and a Pattern-Book by So Shiseki of 1765. Their simple and functional form should not conceal the fact that the famous Manga by Katsushika Hokusai published a hundred years later were also pattern-books for amateurs and beginning artists.
 Book illustration, due to its function, had to yield to text in importance. In the composition of an average book a picture occupied a half of the page or even less. In the early stage of ukiyoe, in the 17th and in early 18th centuries, illustrations were often separated from the text by frames. As a rule, prints did not have individual signatures of artists; only on the title page was sometimes the name of the artist given. In many books from this period illustrations spread horizontally across two opposing pages, thus forcing vertical composition upon the illustration. A natural consequence of this layout was a search for models in earlier vertical painting compositions of which painted emaki scrolls, that Tosa school traditionally excelled at, made up the largest group. The subject matter of emaki included court romances, heroic legends, religious and war presentations. This, and the existence of a large group of scrolls in which picture co-existed with text made them an excellent foundation for the development of book illustration.
 As the woodblock print developed and acquired the status of an independent artistic genre, the role of illustration in the text increased. Collections of poetry appeared in which short texts were only pretexts for presenting collections of prints by well-known masters. In those publications, which were more of albums in character, as in regular illustrated books, pictures graciously fused with text making for a compact and homogeneous composition. This was made possible by Japanese writing which was recorded in books both as hieroglyphic kanji characters and as a much simpler hiragana syllabary. Japanese calligraphy, which originated in China and developed to a large extent under Chinese influence, strongly emphasized text esthetics, thus enabling a harmonious co-existence of text and illustration. Illustration itself became quite independent when ukiyoe flourished. Artists selecting motifs for illustrations created sometimes separate narrative threads parallel to the plot of the text but with accents differently distributed. When selecting motifs artists had to be guided more by their visual attractiveness than by their importance for the plot. The same story told by a writer and by a painter acquired sometimes a different meaning. This phenomenon is clearly seen in erotic books where sometimes a very complicated story by an author is reduced by an illustrator to a simple series of various love situations.
 These initial relations between text and illustration were completely reversed in some 19th-century publications due to the spreading of multicolor printing that encompassed also books. A picture occupying now less space on the page, dominated, thanks to its bright colors, calligraphy which filled the background with its densely printed characters.
 Popular literature in Japan, contrary to its European counterpart, did not undertake to create artificial reality that would be a reflection of the real one. The term "literary fiction" is of no use here, since the objective of a writer was rather to metaphorically present phenomena of a universal character. A means that he used was a set of typical images of a given type of a hero. This literature was, therefore, based on a convention and in this sense its public perception resembled that of a woodblock print. What differed ukiyo-zoshi from ukiyoe was the relation to the world they described. Majority of Japanese woodblock prints depict only positive aspects of the chonin world. Towards the end of the 18th cent. the Shogunate issued a number of regulations condemning townsmen's extravagance and their liking for luxury. In reply to the injunctions of the authorities that recommended to merchant families a more ascetic way of life following the teachings of Confucius, Kitagawa Utamaro made a series of prints named Kyokun oya no megane or Advice for Parents that explained what was wrong with the conduct of young girls. Prints from the series presented typical likenesses of Edo belles in situations which in other series were commonly used to show the scenes of everyday life of courtesans. The scenes included a girl drinking sake (ill.  ), reading a book, or writing a letter. Allegedly didactic sense of these prints served as yet another opportunity to render female inhabitants of Yoshiwara. Contrary to ukiyoe, authors of popular novels actually and often did criticize townsmen by ridiculing their quest for everyday pleasures, and some of their works were full of vitriolic satire and malice. However, even in books in which characters had negative character traits, illustrations followed the ukiyoe convention and did not have any critical connotations. Because of it, the impact of a work lessened, which must have greatly suited the publishers since it ensured a greater popularity to the book.
 The same rules worked for pornographic literature. Regardless of the quality of a book, illustrations were typical ukiyoe. Erotica, even before ukiyoe, had an age-old tradition in Japanese art. The oldest, the so-called spring paintings, shunga, date back to the 11th cent. and were made by painters working in the yamato-e genre. Almost all the renowned masters of woodblock prints designed illustrations for both erotic and pornographic literature. The Shogunate which issued various ordinances regulating social life and maintaining strict censorship of publications did not pay any attention to mass publishing of pornography. Kunisada, Hokusai, Utamaro and Harunobu made many prints in respect of which the term "erotic" would often be too mild. In the Edo period the term ukiyoe was replaced colloquially by a stronger designation higa, i.e. secret images. Erotica was believed to be the most typical subject matter for woodblock prints. It can hardly be expected of artists who describe districts of pleasure to disregard their basic functions, all the more so as making illustrations for erotic books had always been a reliable source of income.
 

 

132.Ooka Shunboku
A Pattern-Book of Door-Lights /Ranma zushiki ge/,1734
a book, sumizuri-e, illustration 190 x 260 mm
MNP G/018744

 

 

133.Aino Tokubei
Collected Sketches of Temple Sculptures,
1700-1750
a book, sumizuri-e, 310 x 215 mm
MNP G/018773

 

 

134.Nishikawa Sukenobu
The Heart of the Pond /Ehon ike no kokoro/
1739
a book, sumizurie, an illustration 225 x 301 mm
MNP G/026326
A collection of edifying maxims by Nakamura Michiko published in Kyoto in 1739. The subtitle is: A Hundred Instructions in the Saimyoji Style /Saimyoji dono zoku hyakushu/, which very clearly defined the contents of the book for the Japanese reader. Saimyoji is the pseudonym of a 13th c. politician and writer, Hojo Tokiyori, who advocated the writing of simple texts of an instructive character, comprehensible to women and children. The Heart of the Pond is such a collection of useful maxims which advise one how to behave in various everyday situations. Sukenobu's illustrations have a mainly didactic role here, helping the reader to understand and memorize what is to be learnt. In spite of the trivial content, the prints are of a high standard. The unconstrained drawing and the matter-of-fact, clear composition are linked harmonically with the calligraphy of the text.

 

 

135.So Shiseki
The Drawings of So Shiseki /So Shiseki gafu chi/, vol. I
1765
a book, sumizuri-e 265 x 180 mm
MNP G/018750

 

 

136.So Shiseki
The Drawings of So Shiseki /So Shiseki gafu chi/, vol. II
1765
a book, sumizuri-e, page 265 x 180 mm
MNP G/018768

 

 

137.So Shiseki
The Drawings of So Shiseki /So Shiseki gafu chi/, vol. III
1765
a book, sumizuri-e 265 x 180 mm
MNP G/018769

 

 

138.Katsushika Hokusai
a leaf from the book Over the Mountains /Yama mata yama/
1804
nishikie 230 x 306 mm
MNP G /027778
Apart from his prints and single ukiyoe, Hokusai made illustrations to over two hundred books and albums. Some of them, mainly the author's Manga collections of drawings formed to a great extent Hokusai s type of style. The illustration presented here belongs to the kyoka collection of witty poems published in 1804, derived from court poetry but popular among the middle-class in the Edo period in a way similar to haikai. The titular mountains have a wider meaning there, and refer also to numerous difficulties that travellers have to overcome on the way. In accordance to the nature of kyoka, some of those obstacles are of a somewhat humorous nature. In his illustrative commentary to the poem, Hokusai refers more clearly than he does in his independent prints to the 17th c. forms of the ukiyoe. Thanks to limiting the forms of expression, the illustration does not dominate over the text, and the conservatism of the drawing is in harmony with the traditional form of the poem.

 

 

139.Ryuryukyo Shinsai, Reisai Senri
a leaf from the book A Bell from the Road /Ekiro no suzu/
1823
benizurie 227 x 287 mm
MNP G/027202

 

 

140. Utagawa Kunisada, text by Enkobo Gessei
Night March with a Hundred Phantoms /Hyakki Yakko/
1825
a book, nishikie 220 x 150 mm
MNP G/027502/002
The masters of the Japanese wood-block print, today seen as the authors of artistic prints, devoted a great part of their artistic work to the commercially lucrative illustrations of the popular literature of kibyoshi. Erotic themes were some of the earliest ones in wood-block prints, and their wide presence accompanied the ukiyoe throughout its development. Published in mass numbers and widely circulated, they usually represented a relatively low standard, though there did sometimes occur true masterpieces among them, among others by Harunobu, Utamaro, Hokusai and Kunisada. The prints in the Night March... are obviously the effect of hasty, careless work, yet though they are inferior to the author's best works, thanks to their completely different theme have allowed Kunisada a great measure of novelty in the treatment of given scenes.

 

 

141.Kawamura Kiho
A Collection of Kiho Drawings /Kiho gafu zen/
c.1827
a book, sumizuri-e, illustrations 265 x 350 mm
MNP G/018770

 

 

142.Totoya Hokkei
A Collection of Sea-Shells /Kaizukushi/
1830-1850 a book, nishikie, surimono, illustrations
212x364mm
 MNP G/018771

 

 

143.Author unknown
Love, the Pavilion of Water Chrysanthemums /Enshoku Suikotei/
c.1840-1850
a book, nishikie, 123x155mm
MNP G/027502/001