Ukiyoe and Nishiki-e

The roots of Ukiyoe Prints and the Birth of Nishikie

In the early Edo period, as representative of town culture, it is possible to mention Ukiyo-zoshi in literary, Joruri and Kabuki in the field of performing arts, and Ukiyoe prints in paintings.

The origin of Ukiyoe is thought to be a genre painting that appeared in the late Muromachi period.

Prior to that, there were Japanese paintings by imperial courts, noble families, or artists who served to noble, but those paintings were unrelated to commoners.

Ukiyoe is a picture depicting the lives of ordinary people in present life.

Regarding the founder of Ukiyoe, there are Matabei Iwasa or Moronobu Hishikawa.

Ukiyoe has physical painting and woodcut print, but it seems that the work of Matabei Iwasa was only physical painting and did not produce a copy-for-physical painting which becomes the basis of woodcut prints.

The first person of a painter who handled both physical painting and woodcut printmaking would be Moronobu Hishikawa. Ukiyoe prints are commonly said that it was produced to mass by using woodcut printing from only one physical painting product. However, according to Yusuke Asai's research, Ukiyoe printmaking is based on the so-called "Kawasaki-ban" like newspaper as a roots, it is not made for mass production of Ukiyoe paintings.

"Kawara-ban" seems to have been made by ordinary people who were considered not high society at the time in early 1680s.

The subjects were fire, injuries, couple suicide and other incidents, natural disasters, etc. When there was no topics, there were selling about town girls reputation note. (* 10, 11)

In addition, the name "Kawara-ban" came out at the end of the Edo period, and until then it was called "Yomiuri" or "Tsuji selling picturesque". As you can see from the name of "Tsuji selling picturesque", a picture is drawn in "Kawara-ban". At that time in Japan there was a tradition that allowed people who could not read letters to understand things with pictures, like the auspicious scrolls of temples. Therefore, drawing was playing an important role also in the class of "Kawasaki-ban".

However, it can not be sold if characters and drawing are not good. When "Kawasaki-ban business" became popular, it seems that the character began to ask for a good writing hand and the drawing was asked to a skillful artist. In this way, it is thought that Ukiyoe artist who had drawn only physical painting until then, got to take drawing paint for woodcut print.

Such as “Kasamori Osen” painted by Harunobu Suzuki and many of the beautiful women paintings by Kiyonaga and Utamaro were on the extension line of the town girls reputation note of "Kawara-ban".

Ukiyoe prints were initially only black inked like "Kawara-ban ".

Since it is not so tasty, it began to color paint with brushes one by one.

Initial coloring Ukiyoe printmaking was called Tan painting, using tetrachloride lead, but in the meantime thin crimson, yellow and grass color came to be used.

Then in the middle of the 18th century, it is said that Harunobu Suzuki got a hint from the printing of color calendar that was popular at that time and it he made a multicolored woodcut print.

The woodcut print of this multicolored slide had came to be called "East (Azuma) Nishikie" in the sense of "a picture like a brocade made in Edo". After that, "East" was taken off, it was simply called "Nishikie".

Therefore, many of Ukiyoe prints are Nishikie.

There are a lot of Nishikie ones whose contents are in the so-called "Kawara-ban" state. (* 12, 13, 14)

This fact supports the theory of Yusuke Asai that Nishikie had evolved from "Kawara-ban ".


Nishikie in Meiji period

Even in the Meiji era, same as in the Edo period, Nishikie performed political reports pretending to be historical paintings and conveyed the appearance of the turbulent era to the people. There are quite a lot of caricatures concerning Boshin war. (* 15, 16, 17)

When Tokugawa shogunate collapsed and Meiji New Government was established, as a result of modernization policy such as civilization opening, fostering industries and reinforced Army, steam locomotive, Western style building, modernized spinning factory, military training, Southwest war, Rokumeikan pictures were drawn, and it spread all over the country as a Tokyo souvenir. (* 18, 19, 20, 21, 22)

Historical paintings were published in large numbers since the Edo era and played an important role as historical teaching material, and Meiji government came to adopt as a part of formal educational material of the Ministry of Education. (* 23, 24, 25)

When Yokohama opened in 1858, various products in Europe and the United States were imported, but it was aniline dye which greatly influenced to Nishikie.

The aniline dye developed by William Perkin of the UK was a vivid color that was not found in Japan and was inexpensive, so it began to appear in Nishikie since around 1864.

In the early Meiji Nishikie, this vibrant red and purple was abundantly used, so it was also called red picture. The people at the time seemed to have liked this red picture favorably. From the red picture, we can sense the fresh breath of the new era.

Nishikie had been overwhelmingly endorsed by the people since the late Edo era, in the latter half of the Meiji era it became a crossroad due to the spread of stone prints and photographs.

In the Meiji era there were two peaks of Nishikie. There were the time of the Southwest War and the Sino-Japanese War. At the time of the Russo-Japan War, photographs and silent films called activity photos conveyed the state of war, so Nishikie showed the last shine like afterglow.

About the end of Meiji era, Nishikie painter found a way of life as a literary magazine's depiction. These oral pictures were forgotten in Japan, but recently it has been evaluated in the USA.

Since Taisho era, the tradition of Nishikie has been revived as a new printmakings by Hiroshi Yoshida, Hasui Kawase and others.

This fact shows that woodcut prints have elements that are by far as good as those of the paintings, photographs, stone prints, and copperplate prints.