Meiji prints


The Meiji period in Japan denotes the 45-year reign of the Meiji Emperor running from 23 October 1868 to 30 July 1912. For Japan this was a period of major upheaval. With his naval fleet admiral Perry from the United States had just forced the Japanese people to open up to the outside world. This event resulted in the introduction of Western inventions like photography and bookprint presses in Japan, threatening to put many experienced woodblock print carvers and printers out of business. As a result of all the isolated centuries spent in passing down the crafts of woodblock carving and printing from one generation to the next in a master-pupil relationship, carvers and printers still in business at that time of Japanese history seem to have been at the very top of their craftman abilities.

The prints produced in the Meiji era that I was able to obtain are displayed on this page. Click on any of these images to find out more about their size, publication date, provenance, enlargements, and the English translation of the Japanese texts on each print.

Some of these prints are special in the sense that they were not published separately but as free additions to magazines and novels. These prints called kuchi-e (literally meaning: mouth-pictures) typically have two clearly visible vertical folding lines. Along these lines, kuchi-e prints were folded in order to fit them into the magazines and books - smaller in size than the prints themselves - to which they were added as freebees. This is how a kuchi-e print - in this case ‘The scent of chrysanthemums’ by Kajita Hanko, see below - looks when being folded:

Hanko(2) Folded

Another special type of Japanese woodblock prints from - but certainly not restricted to - the Meiji era are those published in the form of illustrated orihon or folding albums. Prints in illustrated orihon would first be published separately until the time when a designated number of prints for a certain series had been produced. Once the designated number of prints for a certain series was ready, the publisher would bundle and sell them all together in a folding album. These folding albums typically contain an extra title print showing both the series title as well as a list of the names of the individual prints. Well-known examples of orihon published in the Edo period are the ‘One hundred famous views of Edo’ and the ‘Famous places in the 60-odd provinces’ series designed by Hiroshige, as well as the ‘One hundred aspects of the moon’ series designed by Yoshitoshi.

These folding albums all consisted of tate-e (i.e., vertical prints). In contrast, quite a number of orihon published in the Meiji period were based on sets of twelve yoko-e (i.e., horizontal prints). By necessity these yoko-e had to be folded in order to accomodate them into the illustrated orihon book format in which they were issued. Unlike tate-e published in orihon format, these yoko-e are therefore characterized by one clearly visible vertical folding line right down the middle of the print.

This is how one of these horizontal print orihon or folding albums - the Ima Yō Bijin folding album with prints designed by Mizuno Toshikata - looks when closed and seen from the front (left), and when opened to one of its pages (right):

Mizuno Toshikata Ima Yo Bijin front cover Mizuno Toshikata Ima Yo Bijin inside
Front cover of the Ima Yō Bijin orihon album Opened Ima Yō Bijin orihon album displaying one of its prints

As unfortunately often happens with Japanese illustrated books (irrespective of the era in which they were published), dealers and owners tend to take these albums apart, and then sell the prints separately in order to increase profits. However, the vertical folding line as well as the residues found on both the left and right border of the verso of these prints (where the prints were glued together) still identifies them as having originally been part of an album.

Considering all this, it is interesting to note that horizontal prints lacking a central vertical fold (i.e, published separately) are therefore generally older (and therefore potentially more valuable) than those including a central vertical fold (i.e, published later as part of an orihon album).

So far I have been able to obtain yoko-e from six illustrated orihon or folding albums issued in the Meiji era: Ikeda Terukata’s Edo no Nishiki album (11 prints, including its title page/table of contents), Ikeda Terukata’s Senshu no Hana album (6 prints, including its title page/table of contents), Mizuno Toshikata’s complete Ima Yō Bijin album, Yamamoto Shōun’s Shiki no Nagame album (1 print), Bihō’s Azuma Sugata album (7 prints), and Yōshū Chikanobu’s Azuma Fūzoku album (3 prints and its title page/table of contents). Some of these prints are older, not having a vertical fold, while others - clearly containing a vertical fold - were published later as part of an orihon album.



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Yōshū Chikanobu (1838-1912) - Beauty no. 35 in the Shin Bijin (True Beauties) series
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Yōshū Chikanobu (1838-1912) - Beauty no. 18 in the Shin Bijin (True Beauties) series
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Yōshū Chikanobu (1838-1912) - Monday - Autumn moon over the Sumida river (left)
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Yōshū Chikanobu (1838-1912) - Monday - Autumn moon over the Sumida river (middle)
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Yōshū Chikanobu (1838-1912) - Monday - Autumn moon over the Sumida river (right)
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Mizuno Toshikata (1866-1908) - Jakkō-in temple
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Takeuchi Keishū (1861-1943) - New Year’s street musician
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Tomioka Eisen (1864-1905) - Woman with umbrella
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Kajita Hanko (1870-1917) - Plum
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Kajita Hanko (1870-1917) - The scent of chrysanthemums
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Kaburaki Kiyokata (1878-1972) - Light snow
  Kogyo Sea Bathing Beauty thumbnail
Terasaki Kōgyō (1866-1919) - Sea-bathing beauty
 
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Kobayashi Kiyochika (1847-1915) - Distant view of Ryōgoku at Moto Yanagi bridge
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Ogata Gekkō (1859-1920) - Boy on an ox picking blossoms
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Kobayashi Kiyochika (1847-1915) - Sumida river at night
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Ikeda Terukata (1883-1921) - Edo no Nishiki: Title page/Table of contents
 
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Ikeda Terukata (1883-1921) - Edo no Nishiki: Young woman at the sakura bathhouse
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Ikeda Terukata (1883-1921) - Edo no Nishiki: Girl with love letter
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Ikeda Terukata (1883-1921) - Edo no Nishiki: Wisteria blossoms
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Ikeda Terukata (1883-1921) - Edo no Nishiki: Woman smoking at a roadside teashop
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Ikeda Terukata (1883-1921) - Edo no Nishiki: Beauty gazing at the beach
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Ikeda Terukata (1883-1921) - Edo no Nishiki: Woman with an umbrella standing by a palanquin under cherry blossoms
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Ikeda Terukata (1883-1921) - Edo no Nishiki: Geisha and servant
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Ikeda Terukata (1883-1921) - Edo no Nishiki: Young woman with lamp
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Ikeda Terukata (1883-1921) - Edo no Nishiki: Woman holding a maple branch
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Ikeda Terukata (1883-1921) - Edo no Nishiki: Woman on a bridge under a full moon
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Ikeda Terukata (1883-1921) - Edo no Nishiki: Young woman walking in snow
  SenshuNoHanaTableOfContents-thumbnail
Ikeda Terukata (1883-1921) - Senshu no Hana: Title page/Table of contents
 
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Ikeda Terukata (1883-1921) - Senshu no Hana: Lady composing a waka
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Ikeda Terukata (1883-1921) - Senshu no Hana: Two ladies by a river
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Ikeda Terukata (1883-1921) - Senshu no Hana: Firefly hunting
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Ikeda Terukata (1883-1921) - Senshu no Hana: Woman washing her hands at a water fountain
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Ikeda Terukata (1883-1921) - Senshu no Hana: Three girls with a Japanese flag
Terukata(11)-thumbnail
Ikeda Terukata (1883-1921) - Senshu no Hana: The warbler's first call
  ToshikataTitlePage-thumbnail
Mizuno Toshikata (1866-1908) - Ima Yō Bijin: Title page/Table of contents
 
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Mizuno Toshikata (1866-1908) - Ima Yō Bijin: Girl setting up New Year’s decorations
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Mizuno Toshikata (1866-1908) - Ima Yō Bijin: Hanging poems on a plum tree
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Mizuno Toshikata (1866-1908) - Ima Yō Bijin: Waitress at a teahouse in a garden with flowering cherry trees
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Mizuno Toshikata (1866-1908) - Ima Yō Bijin: Feeding the carp, with a wisteria in the background
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Mizuno Toshikata (1866-1908) - Ima Yō Bijin: Girl holding freshly cut irises
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Mizuno Toshikata (1866-1908) - Ima Yō Bijin: Lady watering bonsai in a garden with bamboo in the background
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Mizuno Toshikata (1866-1908) - Ima Yō Bijin: Lighting a lantern for a party
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Mizuno Toshikata (1866-1908) - Ima Yō Bijin: Viewing the full moon from a balcony
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Mizuno Toshikata (1866-1908) - Ima Yō Bijin: Girl seated on a riverbank, the full moon reflected in the water
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Mizuno Toshikata (1866-1908) - Ima Yō Bijin: Fisherman’s tent on the beach
Toshikata(11)-thumbnail
Mizuno Toshikata (1866-1908) - Ima Yō Bijin: Feeding the pigeons
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Mizuno Toshikata (1866-1908) - Ima Yō Bijin: Admiring the snow
  YamamotoShoun-thumbnail
Yamamoto Shōun (1870-1965) - Shiki no Nagame: Ferry in snow
 
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Bihō (?-?) - Azuma Sugata: A mother and a daughter watching the fireworks
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Bihō (?-?) - Azuma Sugata: Two young ladies enjoying the cool evening by the water at full moon
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Bihō (?-?) - Azuma Sugata: Visitor
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Bihō (?-?) - Azuma Sugata: At the tea ceremony
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Bihō (?-?) - Azuma Sugata: New Year’s visit
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Bihō (?-?) - Azuma Sugata: A young lady getting ready in front of the mirror
  Biho(7)-thumbnail
Bihō (?-?) - Azuma Sugata: A young lady reading by the window
 
  Chikanobu Azuma Fuzoku Title page Table Of Contents thumbnail
Yōshū Chikanobu (1838-1912) - Azuma Fūzoku: Title page/Table of contents
 
Chikanobu Azuma Fuzoku Playing cards thumbnail
Yōshū Chikanobu (1838-1912) - Azuma Fūzoku: Playing cards
Chikanobu Azuma Fuzoku Backyard cherry tree thumbnail
Yōshū Chikanobu (1838-1912) - Azuma Fūzoku: Backyard cherry tree
Chikanobu Azuma Fuzoku Visiting a shrine thumbnail
Yōshū Chikanobu (1838-1912) - Azuma Fūzoku: Visiting a shrine


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