Hokusai - Ehon Sumida Gawa - Prints 2-9 and 2-10

SumidaGawa2-10 SumidaGawa2-9
2-10 The ferry from the shore
of Onmaya
2-9 The high votive lantern
of the Kaya temple

In the foreground the votive lantern of Kayadera temple (榧寺, which translates into “Japanese nutmeg temple”) is extending outside the frame of the image. A ferry with seven passengers has just left the Onmaya west bank (御馬屋, meaning “horse stable” - referring to the fact that the shōgun once had horse stables here) of the Sumida river at the quarter of Miyoshichō (三好丁), and is heading for the quarter of Ishiwarachō (石原丁) in Honjo on the east bank of the river. One of the passengers on this ferry boat is a bird-catcher with his long, lime-covered pole also extending outside the frame of the image.

In the further distance another ferry with ten passengers is seen making the reverse trip from the quarter of Ishiwarachō on the east bank to the quarter of Miyoshichō on the west bank of the river.

Some thirty years later Hokusai designed this second print of the Onmaya ferry (click to enlarge):


Sunset across the Ryōgoku bridge from the bank of the
Sumida river at Onmayagashi,
from the “Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji” series
designed by Hokusai (ca. 1830)

This time the view is from the east bank of the Sumida river, displaying Ryōgoku bridge in the mid distance and Mount Fuji in the far distance. Compared to Hokusai’s earlier Onmaya ferry print, in this view there is a definite added sense of depth to the whole scenery. Hokusai was about 43 years old when he designed the Ehon Sumida Gawa prints, and 70 years old when he designed the “Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji” series. About these significant differences in the quality of his prints, at the age of 73 Hokusai wrote the following quite revealing short autobiography as a postscript to the first volume of his three famous “One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji” picture books:

“From the age of six I was in the habit of drawing all kinds of things. Although I had produced numerous designs by my fiftieth year, none of my works done before my seventieth is really worth counting. At the age of seventy-three I have come to understand the true form of animals, insects and fish and the nature of plants and trees. Consequently, by the age of eighty-six I will have made more and more progress, and at ninety I will have got closer to the essence of art. At the age of one hundred I will have reached a magnificant level and at one hundred and ten each dot and each line will be alive. I would like to ask those who outlive me to observe that I have not spoken without reason.”

In the end, Hokusai “only” made it to the age of 89, and passed away in 1849.

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