A MILLION QUESTIONS
TWO MILLION MYSTERIES
Port Townsend, Washington
Aoi THRU Au
The nighttime photo of the new
in Seattle was taken by my
friend Ben P. It
was used to mark additions
thru December 2012.
TERMS FOUND ON THIS
Aragoto, Arashi Kitsusaburō II,Aratame, Araumi,
andon, Asagao, Asanoha, Asanohamon,
Ashigaru, Ashikaga Yorikane,
Atozuriand Augustus the Strong,
葵, 荒事, 嵐橘三郎,
改, 荒海, 有明行灯, 朝顔, 麻の葉,
麻の葉文, 足軽, 足利頼錦,
当て紙 and 後摺
あおい, あらごと, あらし.きつさぶろう,
あらため, あらうみ, ありあけあんどん, あさがお, あさのは,
One more note about this
page and all of the others on this site:
If two or more sources are
cited they may be completely contradictory.
I have made no attempt to
referee these differences, but have simply
repeated them for your
edification or use. Quote anything you find here
at your own risk and with a
whole lot of salt.
Click on the yellow
to go to linked
Hollyhock - often used
as a decorative motif or as a family crest or mon. The hollyhock is a native
Japanese plant which came to be associated with the Kamo Shrine in Kyōto and
through that connection it acquired a sacred significance. Because of that
quite a few families devoted to that shrine adapted the motif as their own
Elements of Japanese Design by John Dower (pp. 58-59)
and semiotics are all concepts I have trouble grasping - among a whole host
of others. That is why I struggle over almost each and every entry I have
made on these pages. For what seems like ages I have accepted that aoi
(葵) is as Dower states the simple hollyhock. In this case the Alcea
rosea. However, as I started to dig deeper I found that the hollyhock is
often referred more specifically to as the tachiaoi (立葵 or たちあおい) and
no matter how much I looked I couldn't find leaves which looked enough like
the ones in the crests to the left. That is until I ran across another
aoi, the futaba aoi (双葉葵 or ふたばあおい) which is the
We know it as wild ginger.
The image of the
plant is from the web site operated by Shu Suehiro at:
The Matsudaira (松平
or まつだいら), a "Patronymic name of a certain number of families, related to
the Tokugawa...[徳川 or とくがわ]" used several variations of this crest as their
Historical and Geographical Dictionary of Japan, by E. Papinot,
published by Tuttle, 1992, p. 355.
In Bamboo in Japan the
authors note that the heavily flower laden umbrellas often shown in pictures
of the Aoi Matsuri actually play a minor role in this procession.
But, damn, they are photogenic.
One source says the Hollyhock
Festival is the world's oldest.
One of the major Shinto
festivals in Japan is the Aoi Matsuri held in Kyoto every May 15th.
It dates back to the at least as early as the sixth century and has
particular significance to the Imperial Court. The procession would first
travel from the Imperial Palace (京都御所 or きょうとごしょ) to the Shimogamo (下鴨 or
しもがも)and then later to the Kamigamo (上賀茂 or かみがも) shrines. "During the Heian
period, hollyhocks were thought to ward off thunderstorms and earthquakes;
thus, the leaves are worn on headgear, are on the carts, and are offered to
the gods as well." Quoted from: Kyoto: A Cultural Guide by John and
Phyllis Martin, p. 333. Originally the festival was held "...in the fourth
month on the second day of the cock." The second day of the cock is
called tori no hi and the ceremony was originally referred to as the
Kamo-sai. "To do justice to the Kamo-sai and what it has meant for
the city of Kyoto, the court, and the Japanese culture in general, one would
need an entire book and several years of meticulous historical research."
(Source: Enduring Identities: The Guise of
Shinto in Contemporary Japan by John K. Nelson.
If you are wondering why the
leaves shown above don't jive with your understanding of what most
hollyhocks look like the answer may lie here: "Aoi is often
mistranslated as 'hollyhock,' but is actually a small plant that grows in
shaded woodlands, known as Asarum or wild ginger." Quoted from: Handmade
Culture: Raku Potters, Patrons, and Tea Practitioners in Japan by Morgan
Pitelka, footnote 79, 184.
Originally the festival was
quite different: "...riders donned masks of wild boar (most likely the outer
hide itself), decorated their horses with suzu bells, then raced them
(often shooting arrows along the way) in honor of the kami. Also,
elaborate food offerings were served to the deities, and aoi flowers
festooned offerings, riders, horses, and temporary buildings." In time the
festival began to attract attention from the surrounding areas and the court
began to think of it as a threat. At one point it was even cancelled. Later
it was made a "court-sponsored festival" and it became more sedate. These
continued until 1502. The Tokugawa revived it in 1694 on a reduced scale.
The festival was again endangered by the move of the capital to Tokyo in
1869. Other restrictions against the old order also made its existence more
tenuous. In 1885 the festival again received state sponsorship and with the
adoption of the Gregorian calendar the whole event was moved from April to
mid-May. The events of World War II caused a cessation in this spectacle,
but it was restarted in 1953. (Enduring Identities) Until the time of
the Meiji Restoration the Aoi Matsuri was made up of four different
There is an unattributed, typed manuscript posted on the Internet from the
University of Delaware that has the most comprehensive information about the
Asarum caulescens which we have yet to find. We wish we knew who
wrote it so we could credit them appropriately. Below a few of the more
There is an early Korean
shamanistic song quoted from a newspaper article from 1981 which mentions
the power of the Asarum among other plants.
Clad in creepers with a belt of
Driving red leopards, followed
by striped civets,
Chariots of magnolia, banners
of cassia wood,
Clad in stone orchid, with a
belt of Asarum...
"During the Heian period the
leaves of the Asarum were thought to deter thunder and earthquakes,
and the plants were hung under the eaves of building for protection. Carved
Asarum designs were eventually substituted for the actual plants, and these
designs can still be seen in Kyoto on the beams of old buildings." (Our
source is referencing Japanese Festivals by Haga and Warner, pp.
"The Matsuo Shrine still
offers charms bearing the early Asarum designs for a wide range of
disorders, including those caused by excessive drinking."
Above is a photo of the
Tokugawa crest at Nikko
taken by Fg2 and posted at
Our unnamed source quotes an
interview they had with a restaurant owner in Japan: "In Japan cucumbers are
not sliced transversely as we normally slice them, but only in longitudinal
strips. The transverse slice of a cucumber bears a pattern which resembles a
design of the Tokugawa Asarum kamon, and for three centuries of
Japanese history it would have been a foolhardy act to be seen munching that
symbol of supreme power."
families other than the Matsudaira used the Asarum as a crest: the
Honda, Ii, Ina and Shimada. "In their drive for power the Tokugawa family, a
provincial family of no particular standing, defeated the Matsudaira and
assumed the use of the Asarum crest as one of the spoils of battle."
"The Asarum crest
underwent countless changes and elaborations during the course of Tokugawa
rule as the family prospered and spread."
"Next morning we crossed
over the mountain. Words cannot express my fear in the midst of it. Clouds
rolled beneath our feet. Halfway over there was an open space with a few
trees. Here we saw a few leaves of aoi (Asarum caulescens).
People praised it and thought strange that in this mountain, so far from the
human world, was growing such a sacred plant." (Quoted from: Diaries of
Court Ladies of Old Japan, published by Houghton Miflin, 1920, pp.
On 4/26/10 a Matsudaira
descendant sent us this information from The Maker of Modern Japan: The
Life of Shogun Tokugawa by A. L. Sadler. Because it was sent in an
e-mail we have edited it somewhat and have corrected any typos we think we
might have found. Other than that we really want to thank our correspondent
for bringing our attention to this passage so we can share it with all of
you. "The Tokugawa crest of three hollyhock leaves (Aoi-no-Go-mon), only
used by the Shogun and the descendants of the sons of Ieyasu (Go-Kamon) and
in a modified form by the various Matsudaira families, is said to have been
adopted by Hirotada, the father of Ieyasu, because cakes were served him on
three of these leaves by one of the Honda houses when he returned after a
victory. The Hondas have for the cognizance [?] the same group of three
hollyhock leaves, but elevated on the stalk. Hence perhaps the punning story
that Ieyasu admired the Honda crest, and when that warrior asked him to take
it as his own crest he replied, "O ha-bakari" ("The leaves only"), an
expresion which divided differently "o habakrai," means "by your leave." And
the hollyhock which bows it head to the sun is regarded as a symbol of the
loyal retainer who dutifully obeys his Lord."
Rough style: "The
expression aragoto is an abbreviation of aramushagoto, which means
litterally "the reckless warrior matter". This is in fact a Kabuki bombastic
style exagerrating all the aspects of the role (acting, wig, make-up (kumadori),
costumes, dialogues, oversized swords) to portray valiant warriors, fierce
gods or demons. This style was created in Edo by Ichikawa Danjûrō I and is
considered a "familly art" for this line of actors. It is the opposite style
of the soft wagoto created by Sakata Tōjûrō I in Kamigata."
This quote is taken
directly from the
Kabuki 21 web site. (Click on the yellow highlighted link to be
taken to their home page. The quote is from their
Kabuki Glossary: A thru C page.) Personally I consider this the
best site in English to be found on the Internet. Maybe the best in any
language. This is a resource which should be used by anyone and everyone
interested in kabuki/theatrical prints/Japanese culture in general. Thanks
The image to the
left is an actor in the role of the priest Narukami by Toyokuni III.
Arashi Kitsusaburō II
(1788-1837). Aka as Arashi Tokusaburō and Arashi Rikan II.
According to Dramatic
Impressions: Japanese Theatre Prints from the Gilbert Luber Collection
(p. 23) there was a major rivalry between Nakamura Utaemon III (1778-1838)
and Arashi Kichisaburō II (二代目嵐吉三郎 or あらしきちさぶろう: 1769-1821) who was better
known as Rikan I. Each actor led their own troupes. "In 1822 Arashi
Tokusaburō, a student of Rikan I's brother Isaburō, assumed the name Arashi
Kitsusaburō II... Kitsusaburō II... became the new leader of Rikan I's
troupe and, in 1828, assumed the name of Rikan II. Utaemon III supported the
young Rikan Il/Kitsusaburō II..... they frequently played opposite one
another on stage."
In an essay by Charles J.
Dunn in A Kabuki Reader: History and Performance (pp. 83-84) the
author discusses the fact that the supporters of Utaemon III and Rikan I
tried to bring about a reconciliation between the two before Rikan died. The
two were brought together in 1821 on a boat where Arashi Kitsusaburō II
played opposite Utaemon. "This new man had been born in Osaka in 1788 and
had spent most of his early career there as a child actor and with the
Takeda no Shibai .His teacher was Arashi Isaburō, and he was in Edo acting
under the name of Arashi Tokusaburō when he was brought to Osaka by Utaemon
and given his new name in the memorial performance. There are hints that
Tokusaburō had inclined to be on Utaemon's side in the now past rivalry, and
he had been playing at the Nakamura-za in Edo, so that any other candidates
for what was now clearly the top position in the Osaka Arashi school would
have failed for lack of Utaemon's support. In any case, the new Kitsusaburō
II was recognized as a good actor, especially in realistic roles. His
dancing was not highly regarded. His looks, however, were characterized by
his large eyes, and he acquired the nickname of Metoku Rikan ("Rikan with
the good eyes," a pun on his earlier name). He was later (1828) to change
his acting name officially to Rikan; he died in 1837."
A seal used on prints published between 1853 and 1857. It means "examined."
Sexton wrote that "...the Aratame round seal, which came into use in
this form during the 11th month of 1853, when the censor seals were
discontinued. [¶] It will be noticed that, from some day in the 11th month
of 1853 till the end of 1857, a round Aratame seal always accompanies
an oval or more rarely a heart-shaped date seal." Sexton noted that in 1858,
the Horse year, only an oval date seal was to be found while in 1859, the
Ram year "...and the subsequent years, Aratame is incorporated with the date
in one round seal. The oval date seal.... makes its first regular appearance
in the Rat year of 1852."
"When a print bears a
date-seal as well as Censors' seals, we can date it with absolute accuracy."
pattern of roiling waves and foam. The image to left has been sent to us by
an anonymous collector in Switzerland. Thanks!
Literally rough seas.
Bashō wrote a haiku rich in meaning using the word araumi. (The
Japanese was provided to us by our great contributor Eikei/英渓.)
Sado ni yokotau
What a rough sea it is!
Over the isle of Sado
Lies the Milky Way
Bashō viewed the island from
the coast. From there it seemed small and insignificant the same way man
seems small and insignificant within the universe. Adding to the poignancy
of the poem is the fact that Sado (佐渡島 or さどがしま) was an island where several famous men had
been exiled including the ex-Emperor Juntoku (1197-1242), Nichiren
(1222-1282) and Zeami (1363-1443)
One commentator on the poem
said: "The word araumi, for instance, does not mean just a sea that has
become wild because of a storm; it implies a sea that has been wild for eons
because of its geographic location. The nuance complements the sense of
permanence evoked by images of Sado Island and the Milky Way." (Quoted from:
Modern Japanese Poets and the Nature of Literature by Makoto Ueda, p.
A morning lantern.
'Ariake' represents the moon left in the sky at dawn.
Literally a dawn lantern.
The photograph of
the white morning glories comes from a web site run by someone who calls
herself Paghat the Rat Girl. It is a wonderful site and I feel a kinship
with her because she marries natural beauty with literary beauty, folklore
and history. This is very much what I am trying to do for Japanese prints.
Click on the photo to go to her specific page on morning glories and then
explore the rest of her site. It is wonderful and who doesn't love nature?
The details above
and below the photograph are from a print by Kuniyoshi. Click on the number
to the right to go to that page.
The morning glory or Ipomoea nil : Supposedly May 1, 1753 Linnaeus
named this genus Ipomoea, but so far I don't know why or how he chose
this name. I say supposedly because the history of plant names has more
twists and turns than the vine itself. Actually it may have been 1763, but
that is not the point of this entry.
Last night, January
29, 2008, I was reading Japanese Tales which was edited and
translated by Royall Tyler. (Pantheon Books, 1987.) He made a reference to
the use of morning glory seeds as a diarrhetic. I slept on that and this
morning I started thinking about that passage. During my younger days I
often heard that morning glory seeds were used as a hallucinogen. The same
was said to be true of the wild woodrose. Carlos Castenada in his
Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge sang the praises of
plants as a vehicle for spiritual expansion. His books were extremely
popular with a large section of the college crowd. Aldous Huxley told us
about The Doors of Perception. Then there was toad licking. Even the
Simpsons had an episode about that. But nowhere, not here, not there, were
morning glories ever referenced as a diarrhetic.
We all know the basis
of folk medicine and how it frequently did the job. Today we live in a
society divided into various factions some of which believe heart-and-soul
in the 'natural path' while others rely completely on chemically engineered
pharmaceuticals. The third way is probably more common. However, despite all
of the marvels of the Internet I could find no direct references to the use
of crushed morning glory seeds as a diarrhetic even though I probed to the
depths and bowels of each and every search engine available to me.
The story which Royall
Tyler translates so capably mentions other ingredients combined with the
crushed morning glory seeds: Salted fish and wine which was made both
"...cloudy and sour." Perhaps that combination was just enough to do its
magic. I remain skeptical and don't plan on performing any experiments on
myself or anyone else for that matter. Maybe it is just a story.
The source of Tyler's
translation is from the Konjaku monogatrishū (今昔物語集 or こんじゃくものがたりしゅう)
or "Tales of Times Now Past" from ca. 1100.
Hemp: A common
stylized motif used in family crests. "Often identified as one of the five
basic crops or 'grains' of ancient China, the hemp or flax plant played both
sacred and profane roles in Japan."(Quoted from: The
Elements of Japanese Design by John Dower, p. 58)
examples I am able to show here look like stars Dower does show a couple of
mons which are far closer to a realistic representation of the plant. Also
note the entry immediately below this one for comparison.
According to Susan Briscoe
in her Japanese Quilt Blocks to Mix & Match: Over 125 Patchwork, Applique,
and Sashiko Designs (published by Kodansha America, 2007, p. 98) the
asanoha/hemp design was "Associated particularly with babies and children...
[and] was stitched for protection."
The Kanji Handbook by
Vee David (p. 331) gives the translation of 麻の葉 as
'hemp leaf'. John Stevenson in his Yoshitoshi's Women (p. 70) says:
"Her bright underrobe and her shawl are both in the popular asanoha 'cotton
flower,' tie-dye design." [Note: Stevenson is the only person we know of who
translates asanoha this way.] Below is a detail from a Yoshitoshi
print showing two variations on this motif - one in light blue near the
bijin's neck and in red in the outer robe. Below that image is a picture of
a pot plant, Cannabis sativa, hemp, from the site operated by Shu Suehiro at
A repetitive 'six
pointed star' decorative pattern based on a stylized hemp plant. The two examples
shown here come from prints by Eizan and Kunichika.
Common foot soldier(s):
Several Japanese-English dictionaries define ashigaharu as "footman,
foot soldier; lowest samurai". 足means 'foot' or 'leg' among other things.
In the World History of Warfare (2002, p. 207) by Christon I. Archer
it says: "...peasant soldiers, the ashigaru, discovered that joining a local
army was more profitable than farming..."
In the Chushigura Hiemon "...at first... is ineligible to join the
avengers because he is only an ashigaru, the lowest rank of samurai.
He is accorded the privilege of dying like a samurai only after Yuranosuke
has discovered the depth of his loyalty." (Quoted from: A History of
Japanese Literature: Japanese Literature from Earliest Times to the Late
Sixteenth Century. Seeds in the Heart, Volume 1, 1999, p. 290)
George Elison wrote the entry on ashigaru for the Kodansha Encyclopedia
of Japan (Vol. 1, pp. 97-8): "Foot soldiers of the Muromachi (1333-1568)
through Edo (1600-1868) periods. Although their origins can be traced back
to the Kamakura period (1185-1333), they first achieved notoriety during the
Ōnin War of 1467-77, when miscellaneous soldiery (zōhyō), variously
called nobushi (armed peasants), akutō (bandits), and hayaashi or
ashigaru (the 'light of foot') ravaged Kyōto. The court aristocrat and
scholar Ichijō Kaneyoshi viewed their emergence as a sign of social
overturning (gekokujō); and they did indeed overturn the traditional
mode of warfare, replacing mounted warriors as the principal force on the
battlefield. ¶ Equipped with little or no armor, they were highly mobile;
their characteristic weapon was the lance or bow. The first to systematize
ashigaru tactics appears to ahve been the 15th-century Ōta Dōkan.
Ashigaru played an increasingly crucial role in warfare after the
introduction of European firearms in 1543; daimyo and such warlike religious
institutions as the temples Negoroji and Honganji organized large units of
musketeers (teppō ashigaru). The hegemon Oda Nobunaga put as many as
3,000 musketeers in the field; they gained him his great victory in the
Battle of Nagashino in 1575. His successor as hegemon, Toyotomi Hideyoshi,
is said to have been the son of an ashigaru." Note: zōhyō
is 雑兵 or ぞうひょう.
Yamagata Aritomo (山縣有朋 or やまがたありとも: 1838-1922) was the "Architect of the
modern Japanese army [who] played a major role in building the political
institutions of Meiji Japan." Some sources say he was descended from members
of the ashigaru. Others have said that he was from the even lower
Ashigaru were not the only lower ranked fighters. There were also
kachi or foot soldier (徒士 or かち), chūgen or an attendant on a samurai
(仲間 or ちゅうげん) and komono or servant or errand boy in a samurai family
(小者 or こもの).
Ashigaru made up the bulk of the armed forces and wore the least
A pseudo-historical figure who
appears in the kabuki play Meiboku sendai hagi or 'Precious Incense
and the Bush Clover of Sendai'. "Ashikaga Yorikane, daimyo of the northern
province of Ōshu, has become infatuated with the courtesan Takao and, as a
result, has neglected affairs of state. There is a plot to usurp his power.
Yorikane is forced to withdraw and he is succeeded by his small son,
Tsurukiyo, but those loyal to him fear for the boy's life."
Above is a detail photo of bush clover posted at
commons.wikimedia.org by H.
Zell. Clearly some genus
of this plant was used for
the decoration on the robe
in the image by Toyokuni III to
Japanese prints have a
visual language which speaks to the viewer whether they can read the text or
not. For example, Yorikane is generally portrayed in robes with either the
hagi motif or in robes with a bamboo motif - with or without sparrows - no
matter how stylized. Of course, this is not always true, but generally so.
Some printed images of Yorikane have neither bush clover nor bamboo nor
sparrows, but they are the exceptions.
Artists who have produced
images of this theatrical character are Toyokuni I, Kunisada in his early
career and as Toyokuni III later, Toyokuni II, Hirosada, Kunikazu, Kunimaru,
Kuniyoshi - one of his figures from 1849 of Yorikane is wearing a robe with
a bamboo, bat and gourd motif, Kunichika, Chikashige, Natori Shunsen, et al.
The play was written by
Chikamatsu with two collaborators and first performed in 1785 according to
Basil Stewart. In the play Yorikane forces Takao overboard from his boat,
while holding onto her hair. He then cuts through her hair with his sword
and then stabs her. In some versions of the story Yorikane doesn't kill his
lover, but his trusted servant does. Takao based on an actual courtesan is
said not to have been murdered at all, but died of tuberculosis instead.
[Keep one thing in mind - no description of any kabuki play or character
seems to be cast in stone. If there is one interpretation there are many.]
Two figures commonly paired
together. Ashinaga of the long legs and Tenaga of the long arms. They are
represented as fishermen who are able to succeed through cooperation, where
alone they would fail.
"ASHINAGA (CHOKYAKU) 脚長 long
legged men generally shown with Tenaga or long arms. These mythical
personages are said to live on the sea shore in north China near Hung Sheung
Tree. They live upon fish which the Tenaga catches with his long arms, being
the while perched on the back of the long-legged Ashinaga who wades into the
sea. They are often met with in various attitudes jointly or separately."
Quoted from: Legend in Japanese Art by Henri Joly, p. 13.
"Tradition asserts that the
average length of arm of these people was nine feet, and that a pair of
sleeves over ten feet long had been once picked up out of the sea, while the
legs of the long-legged folk ran to fifteen feet." Quoted from: Japanese
Treasure Tales by Tomita and Lee, p. 25
The image to the left is our
doctored image from a Kuniyoshi print.
Rebecca Salter in her glossary
at the end of Japanese Woodblock Printing (p. 120) defines ategami
as "a sheet of shiny paper placed between baren and print during
Tōshi Yoshida and Rei Yuki
in their Japanese Print Making: A Handbook of Traditional & Modern
Techniques (pp. 70-71): "The baren should not be moved at once in a single
long stroke - as, for example, from the right to the left end of the sheet -
but with a stroke not longer than nine inches. In moving the baren, care
must be taken that the direction of the fiber of its bamboo-sheath wrapping
is in accordance with that of the fibers in the paper, so that the paper may
not be peeled off in rubbing. Sometimes a sheet of smooth paper, called an
ategami, is placed over the sheet that is being printed in order to
protect it. During the rubbing, any singles area of the paper will be passed
over many times, but this will cause no trouble, for the amount of pigment
on the block is limited, and all of it will be taken up by the paper. While
the work is in progress, the result of the printing may be judged from the
back as the paper absorbs the pigment. Usually the color penetrates about
one-half of the thickness of the paper."
It is claimed that
ategami is stronger than tracing paper, water resistant and that it
doesn't wrinkle or tear during the printing process.
Late edition: Right off, I have
to tell you that I am not completely clear as to the meaning of atozuri.
Of course, in principal it is simple: A late edition is a late edition. But
what exactly does that mean? Does it mean any printing after the first few
editions and if so have where does one draw the line? Almost all posthumous
printings would be considered late - but only if the original blocks had
been printed while the artist was still alive. ¶Early and original printings
- some of them de luxe - are easy to discern - or so one would think.
However, even here it is extremely difficult for the novice or dilettante to
make these distinctions. For example, sometimes the publishers would
strengthen the colors of a print as the blocks were wearing down. They would
overcompensate for the loss of line and in effect would dazzle the untrained
eye. (But even this is not always true.) Earlier printings, by comparison,
would appear 'fainter' while, in fact, they are simply produced more
carefully and delicately. Early editions are called shozuri (初摺 or
しょずり). ¶Perhaps the most irritating problem associated with late editions is
the one of commercial greed, deception or fraud. Artists who are in vogue
fetch higher prices even for late or posthumous printings. If a dealer has
priced a late Hiroshige at X and the buyer is willing to pay the price then
that is between them. But if the buyer is a greenhorn and X is, frankly
speaking, way overpriced then I wish someone could have stepped in and
stopped the deal. But that is my opinion.
In 1978 there was a publication
from Nara University which defined an atozuri as a printing
from a block which has been changed slightly. That seems fair enough because
the shozuri would have been printed from the original block.
Another caveat: There seems to
be a lot of contradictory information out there on the Internet. Hopefully a
highly respected scholar will clear this up for all of us.
Roger Keyes in Japanese
Woodblock Prints: A Catalogue of the Mary A. Ainsworth Collection (p.
107) deals directly with the subject of early and late editions mainly
through the use of Hiroshige examples. "The earliest impressions of
HIroshige's Shōno, for example, have very light grey rain, and the
distant row of bamboo is much lighter than the nearer row."
Below is probably a slightly
later example, but still one which could be called early.
Keyes continued: "In later
impressions this distinction is lost. The prints of both rows are printed
with dark grey and the effect is more violent and stormy."
"Early impressions of Shōno
have the name of the publisher and the name of the series on the umbrella at
"Many late impressions lack
this writing, although in some impressions it is clear that the letters were
not removed, they were simply not inked;
the second late impression of
the print in the Ainsworth collection shows faint traces of the letters
accidentally embossed on the umbrella."
[The detail below is not from
Keyes cites several other
example, but remarkably striking is the one of "Fireworks at Ryōgoku
"Some effects in landscape
prints were achieved mainly by the application and wiping of colors on the
The earliest impression of
Hiroshige's Fireworks at Ryōgoku Bridge have light around the
while later impressions are
printed with a uniformly dark sky as though the fireworks had just burst and
A few more thoughts: There are
quite a few popular 20th century print artists where it would behoove the
buyer to know what is an early and original printing and what is late. The
cues are not always as obvious as they are between early and late
Hiroshige editions. For example, titles, signatures and publisher's marks
may differ considerably and sometimes be omitted altogether. Keep that in
mind. Whether shopping in a store or flea market or similar location don't trust
your eyes if you are looking at a print which is framed. The image might be
right, but often it is what you can't see that counts. The matting may cover
a title or lack thereof and that should be one of the factors which would make all the difference
Many 20th century artists'
woodblocks still exist and might still be in the possession of heirs or with the
original publisher. That means that any time they want to they can run off a
new edition. How much would those prints be worth vis a vis the originals?
The issue of late versus early
editions is not a problem restricted to Japanese prints. Most of the Rodin
sculptures one sees today - even in prominent museums -
are from posthumous and possibly contemporary castings. Rodin died in 1917
and they are still cranking them out. Henry Moore on the other hand
stipulated that all of the molds be destroyed either before or at the time
of his death. There are no posthumous editions of his sculpture.
Years ago I knew a young man
from a very wealthy family. He invited me over to see his newest acquisition
- a Renoir bronze plaque of naked, female bathers. He had mounted it outside
by his swimming pool. However, after a couple of drinks he fessed up that he
had taken an original plaque on approval for a weekend from a legitimate art
gallery, returned it on Monday and said it just wasn't right for what he
wanted. What he didn't tell the dealer/owner was that he had made a mold of
the plaque and then had his own bronze cast of the original made from that.
That's what he had so proudly shown me. His very own Renoir bronze. You
never really know, do you?
Augustus the Strong
Elector of Saxony and
King of Poland (1670-1733).
Augustus had a passion for Chinese and Japanese porcelains, but was spending
enormous sums on acquiring them. In fact they were worth more than their
weight in gold. As a result he imprisoned the alchemist Johann Friedrich
Böttger who had escaped from Friedrich Wilhelm I of Prussia (普魯西 or ぷろしゃ). Böttger (ベトガー) was ordered to
create gold to pay for Augustus's lavish lifestyle. However, in time it
occurred to the Elector that it might be better if Böttger worked on
re-creating hard paste porcelain. After years of trial and error he
succeeded and the manufacture of 'true' porcelain was off and running at
Meissen (マイセン). Although the secret of this product was referred to the arcanum and
revealing it could mean a death sentence the news spread quickly and
porcelain factories popped up in numerous competitive duchies and
Tree years after Augustus died
a statue was dedicated to him. He is shown in an idealized pose astride a
rearing horse. By 2006 the Golden Rider was freshly gilded in time for the
800th anniversary of the founding of the Dresden. It seems particularly
appropriate that this statue should be so flashy considering the fact that
Augustus was originally spending much of his gold reserves to purchase
Chinese and Japanese porcelains. It could even be said that fine East Asian
porcelains were pound for pound more expensive than gold itself. The elector
even had a special building constructed to house his ever-growing collection
which by 1719 included more than 19,000 fine ceramic pieces from the Far
East. He called this his Japanese Palace although it was a thoroughly
baroque European structure. Augustus's son and successor stopped the grand
plans for the use of the Japanese Palace However, the new elector did make
two of his most distinguished ministers overseers of the Meissen factory and
they dispensed exquisite local porcelains to foreign heads of state and
their coteries as gift which have been termed "white gold."
The image above is a cropped
detail of a photograph placed in the
public domain by Kolossus.
The full shot can be found at
We would like to thank
Kolossus for generously placing this in the public domain.
While Augustus may have no
link to the world of ukiyo-e he does exemplify the European fascination for
things both Chinese and Japanes. For example, in the 13th century when Marco
Polo returned to Venicehe referred to certain Chinese ceramics
as porcellana because they were reminiscent of the Italian word for
cowrie shell which had a similar luminescence. It is the French who gave us
the word 'porcelain'.