Outline of Exhibition

The How and Why of Nishiki-e Production
Period Feb 24 (Tue) - May 6 (Wed), 2009
Venue Special Exhibition Galleries, National Museum of Japanese History
Admissions

Adults: ¥830 (¥560)
Senior high school & college students: ¥450 (¥250)
* Fees in parentheses apply to groups of 20 or more
* Admission to permanent collection included
* Free admission for elementary & junior high school students
* Free admission for senior high school students every Saturday

Hours Until February 28: 9:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. (no entrance after 4:00 p.m.)
From March 1:9:30 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. (no entrance after 4:30 p.m.)
Closed

Mar 2 (Mon), 9 (Mon), 16 (Mon), 23 (Mon), 30 (Mon), Apr 6 (Mon), Apr 13 (Mon), and 20 (Mon)

Sponsor National Museum of Japanese History

Merchants (segment) from Views of Warriors, Peasants, Artisans and Merchants in the Present Day

In this special exhibit we approach how nishiki-e — a type of full color woodblock print in the ukiyo-e style and the most familiar to Japanese people — came about by looking at the social conditions and world that surrounded them, as well as by examining their technical side through scientific analysis of carving and printing methods and paints based on the woodblocks purchased by the National Museum of Japanese History (Rekihaku) in the previous fiscal year. That is to say, rather than being an art exhibition that emphasizes an aesthetic appreciation of nishiki-e, we look at nishiki-e from the Late-Edo period by focusing on "distribution," "society" and "techniques."

Exhibition Lineup

Part One: Ezoshiya

We examine how nishiki-e were sold and distributed at the end of the Edo period through a multifaceted display that includes descriptions of ezoshiya, publishers in nishiki-e and books, as well as circulars put out by these publishers.

1. From the storefronts of ezoshiya

Nishiki-e were sold at stores called ezoshiya. In this section we investigate trends in goods and sales at the storefronts of ezoshiya at the end of the Edo period with a focus on the nishiki-e "Views of Warriors, Peasants, Artisans and Merchants in the Present Day—Merchants" by Utagawa Toyokuni III, which depicts detailed scenes of the sale of nishiki-e during this period.

2. In front of Shiba Shinmei Shrine

The area in front of Shiba Shinmei Shrine (also known as "Iikura Shinmeigu") was a most popular spot in Edo and is particularly famous for its row ezoshiya that sold nishiki-e. In this section of the exhibition, we focus on this center for ezoshiya using a variety of images, including illustrated topographies of famous places and nishiki-e.

Part Two: The Publishing of Nishiki-e

The "Fujiokaya Diaries," letters by Kyokutei Bakin and other sources contain a mine of information on Late-Edo society and the publishing of nishiki-e. Here we take a look at the social conditions under which nishiki-e were created by highlighting items from the Museum's nishiki-e collection that correspond to the descriptions contained in these sources.

1. Society and nishiki-e

Nishiki-e are mirrors that reflect the trends of the city of Edo. Events and trends such as kabuki, entertainment and the unveiling of Buddhist images not normally on public view provided commercial opportunities for publishers to put out nishiki-e. In this section we show how fame and fashion in the city of Edo contributed to the creation of nishiki-e. The display includes shini-e, or obituary pictures, which were produced upon the death of a famous actor, and nishiki-e depicting members of the bakufu hunting deer in Koganehara, a pastime that attracted much public attention.

2. The fad for satirical pictures

Utagawa Kuniyoshi's triptych nishiki-e "Picture of the Ground Spider Manifesting Demons in the Mansion of Minamoto no Yorimitsu" sold during the Tempo Reforms (1841-1843) was rumored to be a satire of the reforms and became a huge sensation. This nishiki-e sparked a trend for satirical pictures called fushiga, of which many were produced up until the end of the Edo period. Here we present the Late-Edo fad of satirical pictures and the effect that "Picture of the Ground Spider Manifesting Demons in the Mansion of Minamoto no Yorimitsu" had on the composition of Late-Edo nishiki-e.

Part Three: Nishiki-e from the Perspective of Woodblocks

In the previous financial year, Rekihaku acquired a large quantity of woodblocks for the nishiki-e works of Utagawa Kuniyoshi, Utagawa Toyokuni III and Utagawa Hiroshige, which we have called "Woodblocks of the Utagawa School of Nishiki-e." This collection of 345 nishiki-e woodblocks is the largest collection of its kind in the world. It is an extremely precious resource, as it includes not only black ink blocks, called omohan or sumihan, that have thin black outlines, but also color blocks, called irohan, used to print areas of color and which are normally exceedingly rare to find these days. Thanks to this collection of woodblocks, visitors will be able to take a close look at the carving and printing techniques used for Late-Edo nishiki-e. There is also a display that matches woodblocks with printed nishiki-e.

Part Four: A Scientific Look at Nishiki-e

The Museum studies historical materials using methods of analysis adopted from the natural sciences and has previously put together exhibitions based on images made using the latest in information technology. For this exhibition, we have used Raman imaging equipment to analyze pigments and have used digital technology to reproduce nishiki-e.

1. Nishiki-e colors seen through a Raman imaging spectrometer

Raman imaging equipment, which uses the monochromatic light of a laser, is a contactless non-destructive way of identifying the structure of substances. With the support of a grant from the Japan Science and Technology Agency's Research Program on the Development of Innovative Technology ("Research on the Development of a Portable Raman Imaging Microscopic Infrared Spectrometer for Measuring Cultural Properties" FY 2005-2007), together with Saitama University and S.T. Japan, Rekihaku has developed and built a small spectrometer for use when studying cultural properties. Here we present some research on color materials carried out using this spectrometer.

2. Reproduction of a phantom nishiki-e

In our collection of "Woodblocks of the Utagawa School of Nishiki-e" there are completely carved woodblocks for Kuniyoshi's "Pet Garden Birds" that for some reason or other were never printed. By processing the images on the woodblocks for "Pet Garden Birds" digitally using three-dimensional shape measurements, we attempt to reproduce a print of this picture that no one has been able to see until now.

3. Nishiki-e digital gallery

Using our high-precision digital imaging system it is possible to enlarge and reduce the size of most of the items in the Museum's Nishiki-e Collection. We invite you to enjoy these images that reveal interesting details from finely carved lines to paper fissures.

Merchants (segment) from Views of Warriors, Peasants, Artisans and Merchants in the Present Day(Utagawa Toyokuni III: Museum collection)   Picture of the Ground Spider Manifesting Demons in the Residence of Minamoto no Yorimitsu (segment)(Utagawa Kuniyoshi: Museum collection)
Merchants (segment) from Views of Warriors, Peasants, Artisans and Merchants in the Present Day
(Utagawa Toyokuni III: Museum collection)
 
Picture of the Ground Spider Manifesting Demons in the Residence of Minamoto no Yorimitsu (segment)
(Utagawa Kuniyoshi: Museum collection)
Morning Cherry Blossoms of the Present Day(Utagawa Toyokuni III: Rekihaku collection)   Narumi from The Fifty-Three Stations of the Tokaido(Utagawa Toyokuni III: Museum collection)
Morning Cherry Blossoms of the Present Day
(Utagawa Toyokuni III: Rekihaku collection)
 
Narumi from The Fifty-Three Stations of the Tokaido
(Utagawa Toyokuni III: Museum collection)
Woodblocks of Narumi from The Fifty-Three Stations of the Tokaido(Utagawa Toyokuni III: Museum collection)    
Woodblocks of Narumi from The Fifty-Three Stations of the Tokaido
(Utagawa Toyokuni III: Museum collection)
 
 

Note: Please note that items in the exhibition are subject to change.