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Education

 

History of Japanese Woodblock Prints
Japanese Print Era Dates
How to Read Japanese Woodblock Prints
How to Identify Artists' Signatures
How to Identify Publishers' Marks
How to Identify Censors' and Date Seals
Sizes & Types of Japanese Prints
Caring for your print - Framing Instructions
Building a Collection
Evaluating Art
Glossary
Japanese Photography

 

History of Japanese Woodblock Prints

            The image of a Floating World (Ukiyo) had its origin in Buddhism. It emphasized the transitory and troubled nature of human life. Gradually, during the sixteenth century, this image changed its reference to the ephemeral world of pleasure, luxury, and indulgence.

            By the middle of the seventeenth century, when the ancient feudal wars had ended, Japan entered a period of peace and prosperity. The new Tokagawa Shogunate moved the capital of Edo (Tokyo). As would be expected, Edo became a flourishing commercial center and the townspeople grew steadily in importance and wealth. A new “gay” world arose catering to Edo’s vast population of pleasure seekers. The center of this world was the Yoshiwara (the licensed prostitution district). The Kabuki theatre also prospered and became a national passion. Soon the light-hearted Edoites began to demand a pictorial art of their own.

            The Ukiyo-e artists realized the esthetic charm of the everyday life of their countrymen. They concerned themselves with the beauty of the present world as depicted in pictures of the Yoshiwara and the Kabuki. As the Floating World became more popular, the spheres of life represented included warriors, wrestlers, children, landscapes, flowers, birds etc. The enthusiasm with which the public received these pictures caused Moronobu and his followers to develop and refine the process of wood-block printing.

            A Japanese woodblock print is always said to be the work of the designer, but in truth it is the joint efforts of three independent men- the artist, the engraver, and the printer. A master artist first draws his design that is then pasted down on a finely prepared cherry woodblock. The engraver follows the lines with a sharp knife and hollows out the intervening spaces with a chisel. He uses so much skill and follows the design with such fidelity that the block, when finished, is a work of art. After that, the block is inked and a sheet of dampened paper is laid upon it. The back of the paper is rubbed until the impression is uniformly transferred onto it. This is the key block design. The artist then indicates the colors he wishes to be used and a separate block is carved for every color. Now the printer, using mulberry paper, rubs natural vegetable dyes onto the blocks and transfers each impression in register with absolute perfection. The wonder of all this is the high level of technical achievement combined with pure beauty.

            During this period when Ukiyo-e was developing, Japan had little contact with other countries. When in 1854 Perry finally opened the doors of Japan, these lovely “Images of the Floating World” reverberated around the world. The art world was immediately captured by the vitality, freshness and charm of the Woodblock Print, and since its introduction, it has been avidly collected by such men as- Van Gogh, Gaugan, Monet, Frank Loyd Wright, James Michener to name a few.

            With the ravages of time, war, fire and earthquake, few of these priceless sheets of beauty have survived. However, those who are lucky to know these lovely images of a life lived long ago are captured in a world of enchantment, a world that becomes a passion in their minds as well as hearts. For a Japanese Woodblock Print is a marvel of line, color, and composition. It has a life of its own and is always a joy to behold.



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Japanese Print Era Dates

Genna

1615

Jokyo

1684

Meiwa

1764

Ansei

1854

Kanei

1624

Genroku

1688

Anei

1772

Manen

1860

Shoho

1644

Hoei

1704

Temmei

1781

Bunkyo

1861

Keian

1648

Shotoku

1711

Kansei

1789

Genji

1864

Joo

1652

Kyoho

1716

Kyowa

1801

Keio

1865

Meireki

1655

Gembun

1736

Bunka

1804

Meiji

1868

Manji

1658

Kampo

1741

Bunsei

1818

Taisho

1912

Kambun

1661

Enkyo

1744

Tempo

1830

Showa

1926

Empo

1673

Kanen

1748

Koka

1844

 

 

Tenna

1681

Horeki

1751

Kaei

1848

 

 

 

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How to Read Japanese Woodblock Prints

            Part of the fascination of a Japanese woodblock print often lies in its seals and signatures. The ability to “read” or decipher these identifying marks is essential for anyone interested in the art of ukiyo-e; without it, the language of the Japanese print cannot be understood, and the history and origin of each print remain riddles to the untrained eye. Although there are many fine books about woodblock prints, most ignore this crucial point; those that do not, are either quite expensive or out of print. To help you with the process of “decoding” Japanese prints, Ronin Gallery has compiled this basic reference guide. The seals and signatures assembled here pertain to artists who worked within the period of 1680-1940. Although out compilation is not complete, we have taken care to represent the most commonly used seals and signatures. In addition, we have included a glossary of terms, a list of major eras in ukiyo-e, and a section on publishers’ marks. We hope that this pamphlet makes the world of ukiyo-e a more familiar and enchanting place for you.

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How to Identify Artists’ Signatures

           Identifying the signature on a print is not an easy task at first. The signature may appear anywhere on a prin. It usually, but not always, is near the publisher’s mark and censor’s seal. Sometimes it is found in a cartouche- a design or demarcated area within a print. In most cases the signature is followed by the characters gwa, fude or hitsu, which mean “drawn by”.

            Artists rarely signed their work with their family names, but used go’s, or pseudonyms. The practice of exceptionally gifted artists adopting their masters’ go’s was customary. Usually, when the same go has been used by more than one artist, a numeral is placed after it, e.g. Toyokuni III. Many artists changed their go’s at different periods in their careers; Hokusai, for example, used as many as thirty-one. To prevent confusion, only the most commonly used go’s are represented here.

 

1. Anchi fl. 1700-1716

36. Kunisada (Toyokuni III) 1786-1864

2. Buncho fl.c. 1765-1792

37. Kuniyasu 1794-1832

3. Chikamaro-Gyosai 1831-1889

38. Kuniyoshi 1797-1861

4. Chikanobu 1838-1912

39. Masanobu 1686-1764

5. Dohan fl.c. 1710-1716

40. Masayoshi 1764-1824

6. Eisen 1790-1848

41. Morofusa 1685-1703

7. Eishi 1756-1829

42. Moronobu c. 1618-1694

8. Eisho fl.c. 1780-1800

43. Sadafusa fl. 1825-1850

9. Eizan 1787-1867

44. Sadahide 1807-1873

10. Gakutei 1786?-1868

45. Sadanobu 1809-1879

11. Gekko 1859-1920

46. Sharaku fl. 1794-1795

12. Goyo 1880-1921

47. Shikimaro fl.c. 1810

13. Gyosai 1831-1889

48. Shucho fl.c. 1790-1803

14. Harunobu 1724-1770

49. Shuho 1898-1944

15. Hasui 1883-1957

50. Shuncho fl.c. 1780-1795

16. Hidemaro fl.c. early 19th century

51. Shunei 1762-1819

17. Hiroshige 1797-1858

52. Shunjo ?-1787

18. Hokkei 1780-1850

53. Shunko 1743-1812

19. Hokuei fl.c. 1829-1837

54. Shunman 1757-1820

20. Hokusai 1760-1849

55. Shunsen 1762-1830

20A. Shunro (Hokusai)

56. Shunsen 1886-1960

21. Hokushu fl.c. 1808-1832

57. Shunsho 1726-1792

22. Kikumaro (Tsukimaro) fl. ?-1830

58. Toshihide 1863-1925

23. Kiyochika 1847-1915

59. Toshikata 1866-1908

24. Kiyokata 1878-1972

60. Toyofusa 1712-1788

25. Kiyomine 1787-1868

61. Toyoharu 1735-1814

26. Kiyomitsu 1735-1785

62. Toyokuni 1769-1825

27. Kiyonaga 1752-1815

63. Toyokuni II 1777-1835

28. Kiyonobu II 1706-1763

64. Tsukimaro fl. ?-1830

29. Kogyo 1869-1927

65. Utamaro 1754-1806

30. Koryusai fl.c. 1764-1788

65A. Utamaro 1802-1806

31. Kotondo 1900-1976

66. Yoshitaki 1841-1899

32. Kuniaki fl. 1850-1860

67. Yoshitora fl.c. 1850-1880

33. Kunichika 1835-1900

68. Yoshitoshi 1839-1892

34. Kunimaru 1794-1829

69. Yoshitsuya 1822-1866

35. Kunimasa 1773-1810

70. Yumeji 1884-1934

 

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How to Identify Publishers’ Marks

            Each woodblock print was actually the work of three different craftsmen: the artist, the woodblock engraver, and the printer. Rarely, did the engraver’s or printer’s name appear on a print. The publisher coordinated the activities of all three. This chart is designed to help you identify the most important publisher trademark seals. These seals vary greatly in size and shape, and are usually found in the margins of the print or near the artist’s name.

 

1. Katoya

28. Kawachiya Chozo

55. Ibaya Sensaburo

2. Ezakiya Kichibei

29. Eirakuya Bunsuke

56. Gusokuya Kahei

3. Mikawaya Kihei

30. Izumiya Ichibei

57. Daikokuya

4. Maruya Kuzaemon

31. Kikuya Kozaburo

58. Wakabayashiya Kiyobei

5. Mikawaya Rihei

32. Emiya Kichiemon

59. Okuroya kinnosuke

6. Sugiya Kihei

33. Izumiya Ichibei

60. Hiranoya Heisuke

7. Tsuruya Kiemon

34. Iwatoya Genpachi

61. Ogawa Heisuke

8. Tsuruya Kiemon

35. Ebiya Rinnosuke

62. Sumiyoshiya Masagoro

9. Truruya Kiemon

36. Kikuya Ichibei

63. Wakasaya Yoichi

10. Tsuruya Kinsuke

37. Soneya Ginjiro

64. Moritaya Hanzo

11. Tsutaya Juzaburo

38. Kazusaya

65. Joshuya Shigezo

12. Tsutaya Juzaburo

39. Ezakiya tatsuzo

66. Yamaguchiya Tobei

13. Maruya Kiyojiro

40. Nishimuraya Yahachi

67. Kawaguchiya Uhei

14. Yamadaya Shojiro

41. Urokogataya Magobei

68. Kaguya Hanjiro

15. Fujiokaya Hikotaro

42. Tsujiokaya Bunsuke

69. Aito

16. Echigoya Heisuke

43. Nishimuraya Yohachi

70. Enshuya Yasubei

17. Iseya Sanjiro

44. Moriya Jihei

71. Owariya Kiyoshichi

18. Nishimuraya Yohachi

45. Iseya Magobei

72. Tamaya Sosuke

19. Iwatoya Kisaburo

46. Sanoya Kihei

73. Mokuya Sojiro

20. Takatsuya Isuke

47. Yamamotoya Heikichi

74. Tsujiya Yasubei

21. Ningyoya Takichi

48. Shimizuya

75. Uwoya Eikichi

22. Kagaya Yasubei

49. Maruya Jinpachi

76. Sagamiya

23. Enshuya Hikobei

50. Takeuchi Magohachi

77. Hirookaya Kosuke

24. Soshuya Yohei

51. Etsuka

78. Tenki

25. Enshuya Matabei

52. Itoya Yohei

79. Minatoya Kohei

26. Kagaya Yoshibei

53. Iseya Tetsujiro

80. Morimoto Junzaburo

27. Murataya Jirobei

54. Iseya Chubei

 

 

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How to Identify Censors’ and Date Seals

            Censors’ seals provide important clues in the dating of Japanese prints. Used from 1790 on, their purpose was to insure government inspection of all printed material. Before publishers could proceed with the engraving and print of any print, they had to present the censor with a sketch of it. Only when the censor approved its subject matter could the print be published. Censorship seals are not found on prints prior to 1790, private printings, or shunga (erotic prints).

 

1. Kiwame seal 1791-1804

16. Murata Heiemon

2. Kiwame seal 1805-1810

17. Takano Shinemon

3. Kiwame seal 1811-1814

18. Yoshimura Gentaro

4. Kiwame seal 1815-1842

19. Kinugasa Fusajiro

5. Aratame seal

20. 1852 Rat

6. Fukatsu Ihei

21. 1853 Ox

7. Takeguchi Shoemon

22. 1854 Tiger

8. Mera Taichiro

23. 1855 Hare

9. Muramatsu Genroku

24. 1856 Dragon

10. Watanabe Jiemon

25. 1857 Snake

11. Watanabe Shozaemon

26. 1858 Horse

12. Tanaka Heijiro

27. 1859. Sheep

13. Hama Yohei

28. 1860 Monkey

14. Magomi Kandayu

29. 1861 Cock

15. Fukushima Giemon

30. 1862 Dog

 

31. 1863 Boar

 

During these periods, several censor seals, or censors seal as well as date seals, were necessary:

1843-1847:      Only one seal of censor’s name

1847-1852:      Two seals of censor’s name

1852-1853:      Two seals of censor’s name and year/month seal

1853-1857:      Aratame and year/month seal

1858                Only year/month seal

1859-1871:      Aratame and year/month in one

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Sizes & Types of Japanese Prints

Aiban:              Size of a print (approx. 31 x 22 cm) between chuban (medium) and oban (large)

Chuban:          Medium sized print (approx. 25 x 17 cm)

Chutanzakuban: Medium-sized tanzaku

Hashira-e:       “Pillar” print; long and narrow print with variable dimensions (approx. 75 x 12 cm) hung on a pillar

Hoso-ban:       Narrow print (approx. 32 x 22 cm)

Koban:             Small print (approx. 12 x 9 cm)

Oban:              Rectangular print (approx. 37 x 25 cm)

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Building a Collection

  1. Consult an expert or a dealer. Perhaps even more important than knowledge or expertise in the field is reputation. By building a relationship and rapport with a reliable dealer, you will benefit from their expertise and learn about the field.
  2. Educate yourself. While an established and knowledgeable dealer or curator is vital, there is no substitute for learning about the art yourself. One of the best ways to learn about prints is through exposure to them and training your eye. The following collections are among the best in the world: Metropolitan Museum of Art; Japan’s Wood-Block Print Museum (Nihon Ukiyo-e Hakubutsukan); Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum, Waseda University; Tokyo Metropolitan Library; Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
  3. Buy what you love. The value of certain artists, subjects, and periods are susceptible to change. What is popular one generation may fall out of favor the next. Your eye and your taste is what is most important in your collection; your taste never goes out of style.

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CARING FOR PRINTS AND WORKS OF ART ON PAPER

1.  Works of art on paper should only be matted and backed with 100% acid free archival board or museum board.  Works of art on paper should always be behind or within a mat, never directly against the glass.  This will enable air to circulate and will help prevent moisture damage or mold

2. Never use pressure sensitive tape or glue to mound a print.  Special 100% acid free archival tapes and adhesives are available to hinge art to the mats.

3.  Do not expose works of art on paper to direct sunlight as the colors will fade.  Use a UF plexiglass which is specially made to filter out ultraviolet light.  UF plexiglass is unbreakable.  Do not clean UF plexiglass with ammonia based cleaners.  A soft rag is all that is necessary.  Plexiglass does have a static charge and is therefore not recommended for pastels and charcoal drawings.

4. Do not use “non-glare” glass because its use requires that the print be placed directly against the glass which can cause the growth or mold and does not filter out ultraviolet light.

5.  Never allow a framer to cut or trim the art to fit in a frame or mat.

6. Never glue the print to the backing or mat.

7.  Never assume that your framer will mount your prints according to these standards.  Always specify that the mats and tapes are archival and that UF plexiglass is being used.

8.  If unframed, works of art on paper should be matted or kept in acid free archival folders so that they will not be handled directly and will remain protected.

The Ronin Gallery is happy to suggest framing options to enhance the beauty of your art.  All of our frames are Japanese designed and made with out nails with either rounded or square corners.  They are custom made for each individual work of art.  They are available in a variety of finishes including walnut, cherry, mahogany. black lacquer, gold and silver.  To ensure the optimal preservation of your art we use only archival materials and UF plexiglass.

 

Evaluating Art

  1. Artists. Certain artists command higher prices than others.
  2. Subject. Some designs and motifs are more masterful and desirable than others. Furthermore, some subjects elicit more emotion in their viewers.   
  3. Condition. How prints have physically fared over their history affects their value. 
  4. Impression/Edition. The edition/impression of the print and the clarity of the strike impact value.
  5. Market. Value varies according to contemporary taste and demand. 

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Glossary

A

Aizuri-e:          Predominantly blue prints; produced from late 1820’s to early 1840’s
 
Aragoto:          Stylized an emphatic recitation used in the Kabuki theatre of the Edo period to exalt the superhuman force.
 

Asanoha:         Hemp leaf

Awase:             Game, contest

Ayame:            Siberian Iris

B

Beni-e:             Prints hand-colored with pink-pigment (beni)

Beni-girai:       Delicate pink; in these prints, purple is used with yellow and grey.

Benizuri-e:       Predominantly prink and green prints; produced form 1740’s t 1760’s

Bijin-ga:          Pictures of beautiful women (Bijin)

Binzashi:         Hair pins

Biwa:               Musical instrument; a kind of mandolin with four strings

Bizen:              The name given to hard, earthen-glaze pottery produced in the Bizen region. Representing a thousand-year-old tradition, it is the oldest and most characteristic pottery of Japan. The subtle beauty of its form and texture embodies the essence of the Japanese aesthetic- simplicity, elegance, and harmony. All the pieced here are stamped by the kiln, and each of the handmade boxes is signed by the potter.

C

Cloisonne:       Originated in central Asia and came to Japan with Buddhism. The technique of making cloisonné involves wrapping wire on a copper or silver foundation; afterwards, colored enamel or powdered glass is painted into the design. It is finally baked several times before the surface is polished and smoothed to the desired gloss.

Chonin:           Literally “citizen”. Refers to the new town class, the middle class, composed primarily of merchants and artisans. It denotes the urban middle class that developed during the Tokugawa or Edo period (1603-1868).

D

Daimyo:          Feudal lord

E

Ebusshi:          Painters of religious paintings

Egoyomi:         Calendar prints

Ehon:               A book of illustrations

Enoki:              Nettle plant of the Chinese variety

Eshi:                Painter

F

Furisode:         Jacket with extremely long sleeves

Futon:              Padded quilt

G

Geta:               Wooden clogs raised by two small bars also made of wood; these are parallel, with about eight to ten centimeters between them, and are placed across the clog, in the middle

Go:                  Pseudonym or assumed stage-name

Gofun:             White pigment made of chalk or pulverized shells which is splashed onto a print

H

Hagi:               Meadow with Japanese clover

Hanamichi:     A passageway within the stage

Hanga-ehon:   Books (hon) that are illustrated (e) by paintings (ga) that are xylographic (han)

Hanmoto:        Publisher

Harimaze-e:    Paintings obtained by fragments of pasted paper (collage)

Harugoma:     Dance of the Kabuki theatre, performed by holding the head of a toy horse in one’s hand

Hashiraeban:  Print with the pillar format; size (ban) of a painting (e) which is narrow and long, like a pillar (hashira)

Hikite-Jaya:     House of the “initiation of eroticism”

Hon:                Book

Higa:                Erotic picture

Hoso-ban

Sanpuku-tsui:  Narrow triptych

Hosho:            Paper on which ukiyo-e was printed; handmade from bark of the mulberry tree.

I

Ichimai­­-e:        Illustrated prints on single sheets of paper

Imari:              Ko Imari takes it name from the port from which it was first exported. Imari porcelain dates back to the 17th century. The porcelain’s signature is its highly complex ornamentation, brilliancy of colors, and decorative flair.

Ise MonogatariThe Tales of Ise, Japanese literary work attributed to Ariwano-Narihira

Ishizurie-e:      Paintings executed on silk     

J

Jidaimon:        A king of theatrical performance based on historical subjects

Joruri:             Japanese dramatic ballad 

K

Kabuki:           Japan’s popular theatre

Kacho-ga:       Pictures of flowers and birds

Kakemono:      Literally “hanging (kake) object (mono)”. Rectangular painting which is hung vertically on the wall.

Kamuro:          Apprentice courtesan

Kanjo-bugyo:  Minster of the Treasury

Kannon:          Goddess of mercy (of Mahayanic Buddhism)

Kawaramono: Beggar

Karazuri-e:     Print obtained by means of embossing

Kento:              Technique of blind printing, invented in the eighteenth century

Ki:                      Art, talent

Kiboyoshi:       Popular novels

Kimekomi:       Method employed to create a three-dimensional effect

Kimono:          Literally “to dress (ki) an object (mono)”. An open garment similar to a dressing gown

Kirazuri:           Mica printing technique, which consists in applying mica powder to the paper to obtain a silvery background effect.

Kirar-e:           Prints with a mica background

Kizuri-e:          Prints with a yellow background

Kotatsu:           Foot warmer

Koto:               Musical instrument with strings, which as the harp or lyre

Kutani:            Decorative porcelain produced in the mountain village of Kutani in the Kaga province. It is characterized by bright colors and its rich use of gold.

Kyoka:             Humorous verse

M

Manzai:           Strolling comic dancer

Mikaeri bijin:  Beautiful woman looking back

Moji:                Rough fabric of twisted hemp yarn

Mon:                Crest or badge.

Monogatari:    Novel

Musa-e:           Pictures of warriors (musha)

Musha-e:         Paintings of historically important warriors

N

Nagasaki-e:     Illustrations from Nagasaki, with foreigners as their subject

Nanga:            Japanese school of art of the late 17th century. Known for the artists’ flawless technique that imitates ancient Chinese masters, especially their sublime designs.

Nenbutsi Odori: Buddhist religious dance to invoke the protection of Amitabha

Netsuke:          Miniature carvings by artists with high technical virtuosity. They were once suspended from the obi as counter balances for small, compartmentalized cases known as inro. Sizes range from 1” to 3”.

Nezumi-

Tsubushi:        Engravings with a yellow and grey background

Nigao-e:          Likenesses

Nikawa:           Brilliant and viscous animal glue

Nishiki-e:         Full-color prints; produced after 1765; also known as “brocade” pictures

Noh:                Dramatic performance with a religious content

O

Obi:                 Kimono sash

Okubi-e:          Literally “large heads”. Bust portraits

Onna-e:           Pictures of women

Onnagata:       Kabuki actors who took the part of female nudes

Oshi-egata:     Relief painting

Otanzakuban: Large tanzaku

R

Rakan:             The followers of Buddha (500) who conquered Nirvana

Rendai:            Palanquin carrier on the shoulders

Ro:                   Transparent silk

Romaji:            Literally “Latin Roman letters”. The Latin alphabet used to translate Japanese words

S

Sake:               Typical Japanese drink made from fermented rice

Samisen:          Musical instrument; a kind of guitar with strings

Samurai:         Provincial military aristocracy, which characterizes the Japanese feudal system.

Sansui:            Literally “mountains and waters”. Landscape

Sansui-ga:       Landscape painting

Sembei:            Literally “rice-crusher”. Habit of bestowing a spare of professional name on an actor

Sensu:              Folding fan

Sewamono:      Type of performance based on daily life

Shaku:             Japanese measure of one foot (30.03 cm)

Shunga:           Literally translated as “Spring Pictures” but is commonly known as erotica

Shogun:           Military leaders who ruled the government of Japan between 1186 and 1886.

Shoji:               Screen

Shosagoto:      Danced performance 

Sumi:               Ink stick

Sumi-e:            Black and white prints

Sumo:              Japanese wrestling

Sun:                 Japanese thumb measure corresponding to roughly 3.04 cm

Surimono:       Deluxe prints privately commissioned by poetry clubs and wealthy connoisseurs for the purpose of commemorating special occasions such as the New Year. Expense was not a consideration, the finest hand made paper were used. Gold, silver, bronze, mica, and gauffraging were used to embellish these small marvels of woodblock printing.

Suzuri:             Hollowed out slab for ink

T

Tamigata-e:     Illustrations characteristic of the Osaka district

Tan-e:              Prints hand-colored with an orange, lead pigment (tan); popular from 1670’s to 1730’s.

Tanzaku:         Strip of paper on which verses were written

Tayu:               Very young and beautiful prostitute

Torii:               Entrance to a Shinto sanctuary

Tsuba:             Sword guards that were used to protect the hand during combat. The size and visibility of a tsuba made them convenient vehicles for the ingenuity of Japanese metal smiths.

Tsuzumi:         Hand drum

U

Uchiwa-e:        Fan (uchiwa) prints

Uki-e:              Prints employing European techniques of perspective

Ukiyo-e:          Pictures of the “floating world”

Urushi-e:         Lacquer prints; glue and metallic compounds were added to the pigment to give it a lacquer finish

Uta:                 Song, poem

Y

Ya:                   Shop

Yakusha-e:      Portrait of actors

Yokohama-e:   Illustrations from Yokohama, with foreigners as their subjects

Yamoto:           Japan’s ancient name. Originally it indicated the region which was the birthplace of Japanese culture.

Yujo:                Courtesans

Yukata:            Cotton bath robe

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Japanese Photography

History of Japanese Photography

Introduction of photography to Japan started in Kyushu during the Edo period with Dutch merchants in Nagasaki Bay. Various local governmental officials ordered cameras from the merchants and slowly began to learn daguerreotype and wet-plate photography from them.  Many early Japanese photographers studied in Nagasaki. In 1854, Kawamoto Komin published Ensei-kikijutsu, the first book in Japanese about photographic techniques. Three years later, two photographers took the first successful photograph in Japan by a Japanese person, a portrait of a Satsuma clan lord, Shimazu Nariakira. Later, the wet collodion process replaced the daguerreotype. With the beginning of the Meiji period and the promotion of Western modernity, photography in Japan began to take off as a commercial industry.

The Meiji government eased travel restrictions on foreigners, and tourists began to flock to Japan. Photographs were popular souvenirs, but travelers were more interested in perceived ideas of traditional Japanese culture than the Japanese society that was transforming and modernizing. For many tourists, Japan was a way to escape modern industrial society, so they tried to control the vision of Japan. Depictions of Mount Fuji, cherry blossoms, temples, shrines, samurai, and geisha were the ideas of Japan they sought.

The largest market for these photographs was in Yokohama, so Japanese tourist photography became known as Yokohama shashin, or Yokohama-style photography. These images tended to be hand-colored and were very decorative. They were mounted in albums that contained anywhere from 25 to 100 prints. The subject matter can be divided into three categories: customs and types, women; and famous places and views. Tourists could also visit a studio and choose images that most closely matched their travel experience. In 1872, an album of fifty hand-colored photographs from Baron Raimund von Stillfried’s studio cost about $48. At the end of the 19th century, picture postcards overtook Yokohama-shashin because they were cheaper.

First Photographers

Ueno HIkoma and Shimooka Renjo were two of the first professional Japanese photographers, both setting up businesses in 1862. Ueno Hikoma was considered the “master of portrait photography in mid-nineteenth-century Japan” and his studio prices were known to be very high.  Shimooka had a hard time mastering photography, and soon grew tired of