Well-selected Collection

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  • Sumida River Scenes Picture Scroll (detail)
    1680-1745

    These paintings trace the Nihonbashi River from in front of Edo Castle downstream to its confluence with the Sumida River and upstream on the Sumida River as far as Mokuboji temple.
    All the scrolls in this set of picture scrolls are highly unusual gshadow trick picturesh (kage karakuri-e). Parts of of the base paper for each scroll has been cut out and thinner paper pasted on it from behind. When the front of the scroll is dark and light is shone on it from behind, the cut out areas glow brightly. The depiction of the fireworks at Ryogoku may be the most striking scene in these scrolls, but as a whole, the scenes from Nihonbashi to the Sensoji temple area are depicted with overwhelmingly detailed craftsmanship, with cutouts of the windows along the river, lanterns on boats, and other sources of light. In addition, the names of each famous location have been written on slips of paper and glued to the backs of the scrolls, so that they can be explained from the back. One imagines them being displayed in a misemono koya, a stall displaying spectacles, the light carefully adjusted, and the presenter describing them, from behind the scrolls, as he showed scrolled through them and showed his audience the scenes in much the manner of viewing the area from a boat.
    (No. 93202341)

  • Boating on the Sumida River
    Artist: Chobunsai Eishi
    Late 18th to early 19th century

    This landscape-format print, consisting of five continuous sheets, depicts people enjoying boating on a yakata-bune, a roofed party boat. The pillar-like structure on the far right and what appears to be a bucket in the second sheet from the right are both parts of bridge piers. They are probably part of Ryogoku Bridge, in the core area for recreational boating.
    The women seated at the center, holding a pipe in one hand, is hosting this event. In front of her are young women playing musical instruments; behind her, others are preparing to dance. The prow of the boat is decorated with a large floral arrangement.
    The handsome women in beautiful kimono on the boat, filling the picture plane, make this print gorgeous and compelling.
    (No. 94202673-94202677)

  • Both Banks of the Sumida River at a Glance (detail)
    Artist: Katsushika Hokusai
    Early 19th century

    This book is a book of kyoka or satirical verses illustrated by Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849), the preeminent ukiyo-e artist of the late Edo period.
    The book is designed so that the picture on each two-page spread connects to the one on the next pair of pages, moving upstream on the Sumida River. The east bank is view in the distance and the west bank is shown in large scale, close up.
    In the two-page spreads shown here, the lively depiction of the people on the west bank, in the foreground, is fascinating. These are utterly enjoyable genre pictures in which Hokusai has included elements of the changing seasons. They begin with kite flying, a New Yearfs custom, and conclude with year-end and New Yearfs customs.
    (No. 13200063-13200065)

  • Grand Fireworks at Ryogoku Bridge in Tokyo for the Sumida River Festival
    Artist: Nagashima Shungyo
    1890

    This triptych polychrome print stands out among Meiji era depictions of Ryogoku Bridge for its overwhelming sense of presence. The basis of the composition is a view from the west end of the modern steel bridge, which sets the stage for the profusion of information about matters new and old with which the picture plane is filled. Lanterns of shops selling shaved ice, the banner of a butcher shop offering beef, Western-style buildings, the traditional restaurants along the riverside, people in Western clothing riding in rickshaws or horse-drawn omnibuses: the new dominates. Even on the river, the traditional pleasure boats mingle with small steam boats.
    Setting aside from the those detailed depictions and the vivid color scheme, which uses bright chemical pigments, however, we realize that the composition is unchanged from that of polychrome prints of the Ryogoku area produced in the Edo period. While the arrival in Ryogoku of bunmei kaika, gcivilization and enlightenment,h or rapid modernization, is on parade here, this intense world unquestionably carries on Edo-period traditions. This print is, without a doubt, a glorious last gasp in the tradition of polychrome prints of the Sumida River and Ryogoku.
    (No. 91220264-91220266)

  • Cosmetics Chest with Candle Stand
    1746-1841

    Today, thanks to electricity, we take for granted a life filled with light. Day or night, the lights are on in our rooms, and the streets are filled with dazzling illumination at night.
    That lifestyle has only been commonplace, however, for some decades. In the Meiji and Taisho periods, until about the 1920s, most people in Japan lit their homes with oil-burning lamps. Before then, a lifestyle with light was itself extremely rare and precious.
    In the Edo period, lighting became more widespread, particularly in Edo and other major cities, and a great variety of lighting implements were created. The emergence of means to bright light to the dark of night was a major event that transformed peoplefs lifestyles.
    In the Edo period, rapeseed oil was the main oil used for lighting. New oil-burning lighting devices, including paper-enclosed lanterns (andon) and open stand lamps with a saucer and wick (hyosoku), were devised. Candles were also used in many ways with candle stands, portable candle holders, and hanging lanterns. Cleverly designed lighting emerged in lavish variety. For the common people, however, both lamp oil and candles were very expensive and used frugally.
    This cosmetics chest with a candle stand includes a flint and striker, for lighting the candle, as well as a box for eyebrow blackener, a tortoiseshell comb, and containers for white foundation (oshiroi) and other cosmetics and the implements used with them, all neatly stored in a compact chest. If its owner brought a mirror as well, the chest may also have been used when traveling.
    What makes this chest special is that it includes a candle stand. Place the candle on the stand, light it with the flint and striker, and it would be possible to groom oneself and apply makeup, even in an otherwise dark place. Women, whatever the age, have had a changeless desire to make themselves beautiful. This cosmetics chest was created in answer to that prayer.
    (No. 89208025)

  • Views of Tokyo: Complete View of the Steam Engine Railway at Takanawa
    Artist: Utagawa Hiroshige III
    1871

    In 1871, Shimbashi Station was built in what is now Shiodome, Tokyo. The following year, the railway line connecting it with Yokohama, whose port was open to international trade, went into operation. This polychrome print shows a steam engine passing by Takanawa on that line. What is particularly notable here is the long, narrow embankment along which the rails have been laid.
    The route between Shimbashi and Yokohama was about 29 kilometers long. Opposition by the Military Ministry and others made it impossible to secure land for its construction in the section along the Takanawa shore, from Honshiba to Shinagawa, in Tokyo. Instead, an embankment was built offshore and the rails laid there. The embankment was 2.7 kilometers long and 6.4 meters wide. The earth to build it was provided by leveling Gotenyama and Yatsuyama, two hills near what is now Kita Shinagawa.
    This print shows that the side of the embankment are walls of stone. Originally part of Shinagawa Daiba, a battery built in the closing years of the Tokugawa shogunate to help defend Edo, the stone walls were repurposed in building the railway. Since this print was created the year before the railway opened, this embankment built out in the bay was, from the very start, regarded as an archetypical railway scene.
    The train shown here, traveling along the rails laid on the route over the water, would soon reach Shimbashi Station. The site of the original station was discovered at the Shiodome site, where archaeological studies were carried out as part of the redevelopment of the former Japanese National Railways Shiodome freight terminal.
    (No. 07200611-07200613)

  • Opening of the Odawara Express Electric Train
    Artist: Yoshida Hatsusaburo
    1927

    Today, a well developed network of private railway lines extends from multiple terminals in Tokyo, Osaka, and other major cities to their suburbs. Most of those lines were built between the 1900s and 1930s. This image is a poster announcing the opening of the Odawara Express Electric Train (now the Odakyu Electric Railway), a suburban line built in response to the growth of Tokyofs suburban population after the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923.
    The poster presents Oyama, a peak in Kanagawa Prefecture that is 1,251 meters high, as nearly rivaling Mt. Fuji, which is 3,776 meters tall. In the foreground, we see a two-car train. In the background, labels indicate far-distant places: Hokkaido, Sakhalin, Taiwan, Shanghai, and Busan.
    The map of the new linefs route is indicated by the thick red line from the lower right and moving up towards the left. Places of interest--spots famed for their cherry blossoms, old battlegrounds, amusement parks, hot springs--along the line are indicated with rectangualr labels outlined in red. The red dotted line indicates the gline for the second phase of construction,h which is Enoshima line. Along it are depictions of scenes of ggarden cities,h the suburban paradises after which people then yearned.
    The development of residential areas along the train lines as the lines were being built was a strategy initiated by Kobayashi Ichizo, founder of the Hankyu Group. Other railroad companies adopted that model, working hard to attract passengers. The indication of attractive facilities along the railroad lines in this poster demonstrate that the Odawara Electric Express Railway was also using that strategy.
    The artist, Yoshida Hatsusaburo (1884-1955), painted railway routes and tourist destinations all over Japan. His deforme birdfs-eye view paintings, with their radical foreshortening, were extraordinarily popular.
    (No. 95202641)

  • Guide to Subway Routes
    Publisher: Tokyo Underground Railway Company
    ca. 1934

    Japanfs first subway line, connecting Asakusa and Ueno in Tokyo, opened in 1927. The first section of todayfs Ginza Line, it was built by the Tokyo Underground Railway Company, predecessor of Tokyo Metro Co., Ltd. The idea of trains running underground was utterly novel. The facilities were also full of innovations: indirect lighting inside the cars, automatic doors (then still at the experimental stage), the use of turnstiles at the wickets so that the passenger just inserted a ten-sen coin and pushed a bar to enter. This new means of transportation was modernity itself.
    In the period before World War II, it was that modernness that saved the subways.
    After opening the first line, the Tokyo Underground Railway Company found itself in severe financial difficulties. Construction costs had been high and somehow had to be recouped from the fares received by operating that short, 2 kilometer, line. Moreover, not long after it opened, the Great Depression struck. But someone extended a helpful hand amidst that calamity: major department stores, which had also hard hit by the economic downturn.
    The department stores wished to make use of the subwayfs modern image to attract customers. Thus, they actively assisted in the extension of the subway line on the condition that the stations and the department stores would be directly connected. As a result, in 1934, the subway was extended as far as Shimbashi. Given that context, this birdfs-eye view map introducing the route not surprisingly emphases access to the department stores and other stores directly managed by them (indicated by bright yellow labels) over recreational or scenic areas. The other side of this map reinforces that marketing effort by introducing what it called gdepartment store tour tickets,h discount tickets for up to three trips to the stations with department stores between the Ueno Hirokoji and Ginza stations. This document thus accurately expresses the nature of this route, which developed thanks to its tie-up with the retail business world.
    (No. 89211210)

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