About Asai collection

Summary of Asai Collection

The Asai collection consists of Ukiyoe prints (Nishikie) collected by Yusuke Asai from. around 1915 (Taisho 4th) and is one of the leading collections in Japan with a history of over 100 years.

The number of possession items to around 10,000 items, and it counts approximately 30,000 pieces in number.

The enormous number of Ukiyoe are covering every era of Japanese history, especially about the Ukiyoe and Nishikie during the last days of Edo era and Meiji era, which Japan was the most vigorous and particularly developing days, Asai Collection is one of the largest in the world.

Yusuke Asai had not only gathered numerous Nishikie, but also evaluated Nishikie from the historical and cultural aspects, and the research result was organized in "Early modern history of Nishikie" in 8 volumes (1935, Heibonsha) had been done. (* 1)

Asai collection was highly appreciated by prominent historians. When Former Professor Siro Konishi of University of Tokyo published the 12 volumes of "The Nishikie History of the Bakumatsu-Meiji period" (1977 Kodansha) as the responsible editor, Approximately 70% in all items were from Asai Collection.

In addition, all of the articles were Asai Collection’s items, in the 4 volumes of “Nishikie, Japanese History” (1981 NHK Publishing Association) published by Masaru Tokinoya, Honorary Professor of Osaka University.

And he wrote as follows in its commentary.

"The public institutions, etc. have many superior Ukiyoe and Nishikie terms, even from an artistic point of view. However, as far as the Meiji Period from the end of the Edo, Asai Collection is the most comprehensively covering. There seems to be no other example. "

Also, exhibitions by Asai collection’s items are held throughout the country including the Osaka castle tower museum.

The Story of Asai Collection

The pioneer of the Asai Collection goes back to the history that Yusuke Asai, who had been operating a bookstore in Osaka, started collecting Ukiyoe from 1915

Yusuke Asai was born in Takefu-cho, Nanjo-gun, Fukui Prefecture (present Echizen-city) in 1881, beside the management of the bookstore "Asai Taizando" in the Kita-ku, Osaka City, but also tries to collect and preserve for the losting Ukiyoe.

Speaking of Ukiyo-e, we can imagine beautiful woman paintings such as Utamaro Kitagawa, Kiyonaga Torii and Harunobu Suzuki, actor paintings of Sharaku Toshusai, Toyokuni Utagawa the 1st, and landscape paintings drawn by Hokusai Katsushika and Hiroshige Utagawa the 1st. They are recognized as worthwhile by Westerners in the past.

In late Edo period, Hiroshige Utagawa and Utagawa family who celebrated the heyday, Kunisada Utagawa (Toyokuni Utagawa the 3rd), Kuniyoshi Utagawa, etc. were active.

Ukiyoe has a field called history painting besides the above works. In the Edo era when there was no newspaper, magazine, radio, television, history painting not only taught the Japanese history to the people, but also with the style of historical pictures, offered political coverage that the Tokugawa shogunate forbade, furthermore, had an amazing role of criticising Tokugawa shogunate that unprecedented work even in industrialized countries. (* 2)

"Taikou gossip-rakuto-yukan-no-zu" (* 3) painted by Utamaro Kitagawa, famous and beautiful masterpiece in his later years, was a historical picture. This fact clearly shows that history paintings were preferred by the masses at the time and the beautiful paintings did not sell.

It was reported that the Samurai picture of Ukiyoe appeared from the tomb of the young boy of the Owari Tokugawa family.

In Japan there is a custom to put what the deceased preferred into a coffin.

Parents did not have picture books and television at that time, so they bought pictures such as Kintaro and Ushiwaka-maru for boys, Japanese badminton and girl’s festival pictures for girls, and children watched such a Ukiyoe and dreamed we can guess.

During the Edo period, the people learned the history of their own country by the historical picture of Ukiyoe, besides they were able to know about the political trend such as the black ship's arrival and the shogunate by satirical wearing as a historical picture. (* 4, 5, 6)

At the end of the Tokugawa shogunate, black ships of the world including the United States came and Japan opened, but like other Asian countries, they were on the verge of being colonized by the Western powers.

However, Japan skillfully dodged the crisis since Mongolia attacked and succeeded in modernizing through the Meiji Restoration. One of the reasons for this was the education and information by historical pictures.

It is well known that Samurai in the Meiji Restration had loved to read Raizanyo’s book "Japanese foreign history". Young people who grew up watching historical paintings from the early age are thought to have carefully read the above history books and to cultivate national consciousness soon to learn more about their own history.

Japan in the Meiji era actively adopted the Western civilization and assimilated, unlike other Asian countries, trying to strengthen military and promote economy, raising the country to catch up with the Western powers.

It might be said that Japan of this time was the most vibrant and shining in its history.

Ukiyoe and Nishikie in the Meiji Era visualize this aspect. (* 7, 8, 9)

Yusuke Asai mainly collected not such as beautiful women painting, Sharaku’s actor picture nor landscape paintings by Hokusai collected by other collectors, but historical pictures and satires which is valuable as a historical material, and a state of the time at Meiji painting.

Yusuke Asai's book "The Early Modern History of Nishikie" was evaluated after the world war II, and then historical Nishikie came to be used as a historical material in school history textbooks, teaching materials and history books, and historical TV programs.