Week 5 Class Notes

Other Popular Pastimes

Last week’s class ended with the Kansei Reforms, which began in 1788 and continued through the 1790’s. When the government reissued prohibitions against commercial printers illustrating samurai, the artists Utamaro, Toyokuni, Shuntei, Shun’ei, Tsukimaro, and the writer Ikku were arrested for violating this law.

The Kansei Reforms were initiated by Matsudaira Sadanobu (1759-1829), chief councillor and regent for Tokugawa Ienari (1773-1841), who came to power when he was a child. Ienari, the 11th shogun, held office for the longest period of any Tokugawa shogun. His rule was marked by excesses and corruption and he depleted the Tokugawa treasury. He had many concubines and fathered 75 children. He reputedly kept a harem of 900 women and he had a Yoshiwara brothel recreated within the castle grounds. He was an unpopular shogun whose rule ended with the Tenpo Famine of 1832-1837.

Ienari retired in 1837 and his son, Tokugawa Ieyoshi (1793-1853), became shogun. This was during the Tenpo Period, which was 1830-1844. Under Ieyoshi the strict and very much despised Tenpo Reforms of 1841-1943 were introduced. These affected many people and professions, with the majority relating to luxury items, social customs, performing arts and religious practices. With regard to ukiyo-e, the woodblock prints mainly purchased by the chonin, they restricted the number of colours that could be used to 7 or 8, they restricted the size of one composition to 3 sheets, and a limit was placed on the price of a print. Shunga (erotica) was forbidden. These restrictions were similar to those of the earlier Kansei Reforms, but in 1842 some very different additional instructions regarding prints were issued:
“Producing single-sheet prints of Kabuki actors, prostitutes and geisha – known as “brocade pictures” [nishiki-e] – is detrimental to public morals. It is forbidden to sell either new examples or existing stocks … actor likenesses and Kabuki themes must cease. Works should be composed in accordance with [the values of] loyalty and fidelity, to promote virtue among children and women … When new examples are printed they must be presented to the senior city official (machi-doshiyori) Tate Ichiemon for his approval.”
This was a complete departure from the previous understanding of the subject matter of prints. Prior to the Tenpo Reforms kabuki actors and beautiful professional women had been the primary subjects of ukiyo-e. The Kansei Reforms had specifically permitted the names of women who were registered sex workers to be given on prints and Kabuki actors had always been identified. Now both subjects had been banned.

Courtesan prints pretty much disappeared until the end of the Edo Period. The ban on actors was relaxed in 1846 and actors started to reappear in prints, though they would be shown in a landscape, or some place other than a kabuki scene. The actors were not identified on the print, but were recognizable by their facial features.

The Tenpo Reforms brought the usual strengthening of the sumptuary laws. In 1842 Icikawa Danjuro VII (1791-1859), then acting as Ichikawa Ebizo V, was arrested and accused of violating the sumptuary laws. He was handcuffed in his house for 2 months and then banished from Edo. His mansion was demolished. The charges against him included:
“…he built his house in Nageshi style, with lacquered frames and engraved copper nail covers. He placed granite lanterns and large stones in the garden and a statue of Fudo (a Buddhist deity) in his warehouse, and coffered his ceiling with gold power … He bought Chinese chests, picture frames, and a set of painted Nara dolls of fine Paulownia wood, which are sprinkled with gold and have crests painted with lime and foreign blue … He has a silver wine kettle … He insolently and outrageously refuses to know his place …”
Some felt he had been exiled because of extravagance on stage. He had worn real armour, which he had received as a gift, and in one of his plays the stage setting had been an exact replica of the interior of an aristocratic mansion.

It is also possible that he posed a real threat to the shogun’s authority. Danjuro was immensely popular and had many ardent fans. The shogun was unpopular. Had Danjuro wished to incite a rebellion it is possible many in Edo would have followed him.

Danjuro VII went to Osaka and acted under the name Ichikawa Hakuen II. He performed in Osaka and Kyoto until 1849 when he received a pardon. He returned to Edo in early 1850. In 1854 he went on tour with his son, Ichikawa Danjuro VIII. A few days after a triumphant arrival back in Osaka his son committed suicide at the inn where they were staying. (Danjuro VIII had not gone into exile with his father).

Danjuro VII and VIII would have traveled along the Tokaido Road en route to Osaka. This was the shortest route between the two capital cities, Kyoto and Edo, and was the most famous road in Japan. Government officials regularly travelled back and forth along this road and many of the daimyo processions to Edo would end up on this road for the last part of their journey.

The law required that specific towns provide services for travellers, including food, lodging, porters and stables. These “post” towns had to be within a half-day walk of each other and local authorities were responsible for the upkeep of their section of the road. There were 53 of these post towns, known as stations, between Edo and Kyoto.

In addition to all of those government officials and daimyo along with their samurai and servants who travelled the Tokaido, there were merchants, traders, peddlers, itinerant performers and others who made their living on the road.

The Tokaido is called a road, but much of it was just a foot path, suitable for people and horses, but not vehicles. Nobody at the time travelled cross-country in a carriage or a cart. Most people walked, but for those who could afford it there were options. Horses for hire could carry 1 or 2 people, but they would be led by an attendant rather than ridden. Only samurai or official messengers could ride horses themselves.

Another option was to be carried in a kago. These were essentially hanging baskets with wooden bases and a sort of tarp that could be up, or down for privacy or to keep the occupant dry.

High ranking men or women might own a palanquin. These were larger and studier than kagos and were often beautifully decorated.

Many rivers along the road did not have bridges. This was deliberate, in order to make it more difficult for armies to move quickly across the country, reducing the possibility of a surprise attack on Edo. But it meant travellers had to cross some rivers on foot or be carried by porters, and be ferried across in small boats at others. Sometimes the rivers could not be crossed due to inclement weather or high water and travellers had to wait, perhaps for days. Also, two sections of the Tokaido required a short sea crossing by ferry and travellers also faced weather delays at these stations. The trip between Edo and Kyoto could take a week or a month, depending on the weather.

In spite of some inconveniences, the availability of food, lodging, and transportation along well maintained paths made travel relatively safe and accessible, and many people began to travel for the pleasure, or the adventure of it. Towns along busy routes began to produce local novelties and specialities – souvenirs visitors could purchase. Guidebooks for travellers were published as early as the 1660s. These included descriptions of towns and the facilities they provided and recommendations on where to stay, eat, which local shrines and temples were worth a visit, and what local products and delicacies might be enjoyed. There were similar guidebooks for the major cities.

There was fierce competition for traveller’s business and waitresses from the local inns would call out to passersby to entice them to stay at their inn. Waitresses in the town of Goyu were particularly known for their aggressive solicitation of customers. Many of the towns also had brothels.

People needed to purchase travel permits and there were government operated barriers or checkpoints along the roads that travellers were required to pass through, where their credentials would be checked, but in general it seems travel became easier through time and tourism became more commonplace. People would generally say they were going on a pilgrimage rather than a holiday or vacation, but it amounted to the same thing. Pilgrimages became a real fad during the Edo Period. Of the many pilgrimage routes, the most popular was to the Great Shrine at Ise. It has been estimated that 10% of the population visited Ise during the Edo Period.

Do you remember the group of artists and a writer who were arrested along with Utamaro in 1804 for producing material that made fun of Hideyoshi, and by association, the shogun? The one author in this group was Jippensha Ikku (1765-1831). At the time of his punishment for portraying Hideyoshi as a snake (literally) in a comic novel in 1804, he was already well known for the first installments of his comic travel novel called Hizakurige, generally called Shank’s Mare in English. This story came out in a series of installments between 1802 and 1809. It followed two Edo chonin named Yaji and Kita on their pilgrimage to Ise, which took them along the Tokaido Road. In addition to being a comedy, it was also a guidebook as it contained much of the same kind of useful information found in more standard travel guides.

As an example, here is a very brief summary of their adventure at Odawara, where they stay at an inn with a type of bath they are not familiar with. The bottom of the tub is a thin sheet of iron, under which is a fire to heat the water. Water in this type of tub could be heated more quickly than in the more standard tub with a wooden bottom. A piece of wood floats on top of the water and bathers are supposed to submerge the floating wood and stand on that so as not to scald their feet. Yaji is the first to take his bath. He assumes the wood on top is a lid and takes it off. He burns his feet in the bath, so he puts on geta (wooden shoes). It was a terrible faux pas to wear shoes in a bath. Kita bathes next and also wears the geta, but he breaks the bottom of the tub, burns himself, and has to pay compensation to the astonished landlord.

Combining travel info with a lively comedy story was a new idea, and the stories became hugely popular, so much so that Ikku continued the story, with Yaji and Kita travelling to other areas of Japan. He also produced a prequel – the back story of their lives in Edo before they embarked on their travels. Later in his life, when he lost everything in a fire, he returned to writing the adventures of Yaji and Kita. Ikku himself travelled a great deal, researching and looking for ideas for his stories.

Ikku’s stories, begun in 1802, introduced the public to a lively view of life on the road and would have inspired more people to either embark on journeys themselves, or to dream of travel, yet in spite of the popularity of the travel industry there were not many woodblock prints showing landscapes until around 1830. This was largely due to the lack of a stable blue pigment. In the late 1820s a deep blue pigment known as Prussian blue became available for use in prints.

This blue pigment was created by a paint maker in Berlin around 1706. It is the first modern synthetic pigment and is produced by oxidation of ferrous ferrocyanide salts. When mixed with hydrogen peroxide or sodium chlorate it becomes Prussian Blue. In 1752 a French chemist discovered how to reduce it to a powder which could be reconstituted with hydrogen cyanide.

Prussian blue was used for art in Europe as early as 1709. Also, it was used to dye the uniforms of the Prussian army from the early 1700s through to the early 1900s, hence the name Prussian blue, although in Prussia they called it Berlin blue. It is still in wide use – perhaps in the ink in your pen – and is not only a pigment, but is used medicinally as an antidote for certain kinds of heavy metal poisoning. It reached Japan via China in the later 1700s, but was very expensive. By the late 1820s it became available in sufficient quantity and at a low enough price that it could be used for woodblock prints.

At the beginning of the 1830s two artists, in particular, made good use of Prussian Blue in the production of large sized landscape prints: Hokusai, in his 36 Views of Fuji series, and Hiroshige in his 53 Stations Along the Tokaido series.

Hiroshige (1797-1858) was the son of a low-ranking samurai serving the shogun. His father’s job was fire warden at Edo Castle. When both his parents died in 1809 he inherited his father’s position and small stipend. The actual duties did not entail much, so Hiroshige, who had been interested in art from a young age, was able to study with the ukyo-e artist Toyohiro from the Utagawa school. In 1823 he handed over his fire-warden duties to a relative so that he could concentrate on his art full-time. Hiroshige illustrated books and designed pictures of beauties and of kabuki actors.

Toyohiro died in 1828, but Hiroshige did not succeed him to become Toyohiro II. By this time he was designing bird and flower prints and may have begun work on his first landscape prints, a series of 10 views of famous places in Edo (Toto Meisho) which was published at the beginning of the 1830s.

In 1832 Hiroshige was invited to join an official procession to Kyoto. He made many sketches along the way and upon his return he began to produce his first Tokaido series called 53 Stations Along the Tokaido. This series was immensely popular and cemented Hiroshige’s reputation as a landscape artist. From then on he specialized in landscapes (though not exclusively), producing a variety of series including at least 15 more on the Tokaido road theme.

Hiroshige’s last great series, called The 100 Views of Edo, was produced over a period of a few years beginning in 1856 and ending after Hiroshige died in 1868. Due to its popularity the series had run to over 100 designs. The design that Hiroshige is most famous for today is from this series. It, and another from the series, were copied by the painter Vincent van Gogh.

Edo residents didn’t need to travel to find excitement and entertainment. Festivals of all sorts were held year-round in Edo. Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, many of which were very large complexes, sponsored entertainment for special occasions and hosted festivals, which always involved vendors of treats, toys and souvenirs setting up in and around the temple grounds and could also include anything from putting a prized temple possession on display to holding a fantastic parade.

The most important festival of the year was the New Year’s Festival. The New Year’s traditions were too numerous to mention them all, but they included special decorations, special food, exchanging cards, giving money or gifts to children and forgiving debts. New Year’s games included children flying kites and women and children playing a battledore game with paddles and a shuttlecock (like badminton with wooden paddles).

Other seasonal events were based on nature, such as the cherry blossom festival, or viewing autumn leaves, and in summer people went boating on the Sumida River for a respite from the heat. Also in the summer two firework companies competed in a big fireworks display over Ryogoku Bridge, with spectators watching from shore, from the bridge, and from pleasure boats on the river.

The three official Kabuki Theatres were the grandest and most famous theatres, but not the only theatres in town. Smaller theatres featured both professional and amateur entertainers. Singers accompanied by a shamisen player were popular as were story tellers. Local theatres in Edo and throughout the country presented Kabuki plays. There were even Kabuki plays performed by children.

In certain areas there was outdoor entertainment too. A pair of women who played shamisens and sang along the road running between the inner and outer shrine at Ise had an interesting speciality. The custom was for people to throw coins at their faces and they were exceptionally skilled at dodging or deflecting them while continuing their act. Edo pilgrims were reputed to throw more than they could keep up with. They are described in Shank’s Mare when Yaji and Kita try unsuccessfully to hit them with coins. Finally, in frustration, Yaji throws a pebble. The girl catches it in her mouth and spits it back at Yaji, hitting him in the face. There were also acrobats, comedians, jugglers, etc.

If one wished to stay home there were a large number of games to play. Board games were popular and go boards are often seen in ukiyo-e prints.

Sugoroku was another popular board game which involved progressing around a board showing scenes from famous places – often the Tokaido Road -- but including many other well-known places. Sugoroku boards were made of printed paper (like the ukiyo-e prints) and were often designed by ukiyo-e artists.

There were a variety of card games too, with the 100 Poets game being among the most popular. This game was based on a famous poetry anthology from the Heian Period, 100 Poems by 100 Poets. The cards in this game show either a poet or a poem and the players have to match them.

Poetry was a hugely popular pastime in the Edo Period. People studied poetry, they wrote poetry, they formed poetry clubs and they held poetry competitions. Some collected poems by well known people the way we used to collect autographs. There were various styles of poetry, including today’s well known haiku, but Kyoka poetry, meaning light verse, was the most popular at the time.

Other popular hobbies which people studied and enjoyed included: ikebana (flower arrangement), origami, the tea ceremony, calligraphy, painting, various forms of music and dance, bonsai and horticulture, and physiognomic divination.

Literati groups, frequently composed of artists, prosperous chonin and samurai, were also popular. People studied classical texts and showed off their learning with clever literary allusions such as this early print showing a beautiful woman reading while seated on an airborne crane. Those who’d studied the Chinese classics would know that this was a parody of the story of the Chinese sage Wang Tzu-Ch’iao. He climbed Mount Sung and remained at the summit perfecting his transcendence for over 30 years until he ascended to heaven on the back of a white crane.

Clever or witty comparisons such as these were called mitate. Many artists designed mitate, although today some of them are hard to spot when we don’t know the cultural context.

In this design Hotei, one of the seven gods of good fortune, is dressed as a courtesan on parade in the Yoshiwara followed by an attendant. Hotei was the god of happiness and little children and he was generally portrayed carrying a sack that was filled with gifts. Here the comparison is to a courtesan who brings another sort of happiness.

Utamaro also designed mitate prints. These are the last two in a series of 12 showing scenes from the Chushingura play (based on the Ako Incident and the 47 ronin) as mitate. The seated man at left represents Lord Kira and the women are the ronin fighting with Kira’s samurai and coming after him. The geisha in the background look as though they’re having a mock battle. Two women on the right are competing in a drinking game similar to rock paper scissors, called fox and hunter. The courtesan handing the customer a large sake bowl is a mitate of Kuranosuke handing Kira a dagger to commit seppuku. It is interesting to note that the customer, the mitate Kira, is identified as Utamaro himself, both by the crests on his jacket and the text above him which reads: “by request Utamaro traces his own ravishing features”.

This is another mitate of the attack of the Ako ronin on Lord Kira by Kuniyoshi. In this design a child playfully attacks his mother, who wears a kimono decorated with Kira’s crest. One of the ronin appears on the lantern at top right.

Kuniyoshi (1797-1861) was an artist who specialized in prints of warriors. He produced many designs featuring the 47 ronin. He was known to have admired Hideyoshi and he was the first ukiyo-e artist to begin designing prints of Hideyoshi after the 1804 incident with Utamaro and the others.

Kuniyoshi was also known for his humorous and clever prints, so when he produced the following triptych in 1843, during the time of the Tenpo Reforms, people looked for hidden meanings. The figure sleeping on the right side of this triptych is Minamoto no Raiko, a supposed historical figure who had many fantastic adventures with his four retainers. Their various exploits had long been the subjects of stories and pictures. This shows Raiko when he is unwell and asleep, dreaming of the giant earth spider and a host of demons. There was nothing unusual about this subject matter, particularly for Kuniyoshi, but the timing of it led people to interpret Raiko as representing Shogun Ieyoshi and one of the retainers as the senior councillor responsible for the reforms. Each demon was seen as representing a profession the reforms had suppressed or restricted.

When Kuniyoshi’s publisher heard how the triptych was being interpreted he had it withdrawn from circulation, but two other artist/publisher teams produced similar designs and received fines and short terms in handcuffs. Kuniyoshi’s triptych was later recarved and reissued. This is the second edition.

previous week as template