To distinguish themselves in battle, Japanese warriors (bushi) paid extraordinary attention to their equipment. Of course, they treated their spears and swords, the weapons they would actually use in fighting, with great care. They also spared no effort in costuming themselves to make their efforts conspicuous to the lords they served. The crests attached to helmets, at the front, are a famous example; they were often strikingly unusual in form. Warriors also made use of a variety of other devices to showcase their performance. One of these was the horo.
The horo was a cloak that armored warriors wore on their backs to deflect arrows. In ancient times, a broad piece of cloth was attached at the shoulders and hips by ties; it would fill with air when the warriorfs horse was galloping. Over time, the horo grew longer, with a basketwork frame of bamboo poles curving out and downward from the top. Thanks to the frame, the horo would swell even when the wearerfs horse was not in motion.
The odd appearance of the warrior wearing a horo was quite striking, and on the battlefield, only the messengers charged with conveying the lordfs orders and certain other warriors were permitted to wear them. That was the case, for example, for warriors serving the shogun under the Tokugawa shogunate.
The origins of the horo in this photograph are uncertain. Mounted warriors are often depicted with large, balloon-like horo on their backs in military picture scrolls and other source materials, but examples of actual horo are extremely rare.
The Process of Donning Armor Sugoroku Board
The illustrated sugoroku board, used for playing a game similar to Parcheesi, is thought to have originated in Pure Land sugoroku boards that depicted the Buddhist worldview, in the Muromachi-period (1336-1573). In the Edo period, illustrated versions of the game became popular, and sugoroku boards, with pictorial themes ranging from travel and the theater and its actors to the course of the human lifetime, were created in great profusion.
The print shown here is one example dating from 1858, near the end of the Edo period. It illustrates the order in which armor is to be put on, starting with donning a loincloth. After other layers of clothing and the suit of armor, the warrior proceeds to arm himself with a sword, firearm, and other weapons, and finally, winning the game, becomes a victorious general.
The Edo period is known as an age of peace remarkable in world history. For its warrior class, however, peace meant that opportunities to don armor diminished radically, and armor itself ceased to have much connection with battle; it became a richly decorative symbol of authority instead. Towards the end of that period, however, opportunities for wearing armor increased, as warriors were mobilized to defend Japanfs coasts, and, being out of practice, they may have struggled to cope with putting on all those pieces properly.
This print shows a warrior who is quite out of practice clumsily putting on his gear. It presents the proper order for donning armor in an amusing way, and, in the process, reflects the state of society near the end of the Edo period, when a warriorfs basic knowledge had faded away.
Newly Published Perspective Picture of the Treasury of Loyal Retainers, Act 11
Early 19th century
On the fourteenth day of the third month of Genroku 14 (1701), Asano Takumi-no-kami Naganori, the daimyo of Ako, drew his sword and slightly wounded Kira Kozuke-no-suke Yoshihisa, the shogunfs protocol officer, in the Corridor of the Pines in the inner citadel of Edo Castle. On the same day, he was ordered to commit suicide by seppuku. The Ako domain was immediately abolished, and its retainers were made ronin (masterless samurai). On the fourteenth of the twelfth month of the following year, forty-seven Ako ronin took their revenge, breaking into Kirafs mansion and killing him. That event, known as the Ako Incident, was dramatized in a fictionalized version, set centuries earlier and with the characters renamed: the well-known tale of the Chushingura (Treasury of Loyal Retainers, also known as the Forty-Seven Ronin).
The print shown here is an ukie or perspective picture, created using a method that emphasizes linear perspective. It depicts the scene in which the retainers are raiding the Kira mansion and taking their revenge.
A great many polychrome prints of the Treasury of Loyal Retainers have been produced. What make this series by Hokusai distinctive is that, while depicting the story faithfully, it does not focus on the ronin who are the main characters. In the center of this print, we see Kobayashi Heihachiro, a vassal on the side being attacked, engaged in a desperate battle with the ronin attackers. Though struck by an arrow shot by one of them, he is fighting on with great resolution. The ronin depicted around him are clearly secondary characters.
According to a biography of Hokusai written in the Meiji period, based on interviews with people who knew him, the artist was said to be Kobayashi Heihachirofs great-grandson. Whether that is true remains unknown. To Hokusai, however, Heihachirofs final battle was apparently more worthy of praise than the Ako roninfs vengeful raid.
Hayano Kanpei Tsuneyo, from the series Biographies of Loyal and Righteous Samurai
This polychrome print is an example of what are known as Treasury of Loyal Retainers prints; it depicts Hayano Kanpei, a major figure in that famous play (also known as the Forty-Seven Ronin). Kanpei is a tragic character who elopes with Okaru, a lady-in-waiting, and ultimately commits suicide before his fellow ronin (masterless samurai) can avenge their lord. In this print, Kanpeifs feet are drawn in pale lines; that device indicates that it was as a ghost that he took part in the raid.
The text in the background introduces not Kanpei but Kayano Sanpei Shigezane, the actual samurai in the Ako Incident on whom he was modeled. Kayanofs father opposed his participating in the plot to take revenge against Kira. Trapped between loyalty to his lord, Asano Takumi-no-kami Naganori, and filial piety, Kayano committed suicide before the raid on Kira, as the text in the print explains.
Utagawa Kuniyoshifs Biographies of Loyal and Righteous Samurai series was a huge hit, with a print run of over 408,000. They were sold as sets of fifty prints, each a full-length portrait of one character, including the forty-seven ronin plus Kanpei, Enya Hangan (Asano Takumi-no-kami), and Kono Moronao (Kira Kozuke-no-suke).
While the title of each print uses the name of a character from the Treasury of Loyal Retainers play, each of the brief explanations introduces the actual person in the Ako Incident who was the model for the character. Kuniyoshi, for whom warrior prints was a forte, depicts each of them with magnificent gallantry. At the time, explicitly publishing or dramatizing anything about the Ako Incident was still forbidden. Yet this series by a popular ukiyo-e artist that does give us glimpses of the actual forty-seven ronin and other characters was published. Perhaps its daring testing of the prohibition was part of the reason for its unprecedented popularity.
Cholera Epidemic in Autumn of the Ansei Year of the Horse
Kanagaki Robun, text; Hakubai Dojin, illustrations
Itfs influenza season.
People living in Edo suffered from epidemics, too. A great many people fell victim to measles, smallpox, tuberculosis, and what were described as colds (probably influenza). In the closing years of the Tokugawa shogunate, cholera joined the ranks of epidemic diseases reaching Japan. Cholera is accompanied by horrendous diarrhea, with patients typically dying three days after falling ill. Given how swiftly the sickness progressed, it was commonly called korori, gsuddenly,h a sad bit of wordplay on korera, the Japanese pronunciation of cholera.
The first cholera epidemic in Edo broke out in 1858 and caused many deaths. The book from which this illustration is taken records the situation in Edo during the epidemic. According to the author, cholera broke out in Edo early in the seventh month. The epidemic peaked in the early to mid eighth month, with a rapidly rising death toll. Those in charge of cremating the dead could barely keep up.
This illustration from the book vividly depicts a crematorium during the epidemic. The priest standing in the center, holding an inkstone and brush, is writing a number on each of the caskets being brought there. Those numbers indicated the order in which the bodies were to be cremated. Behind the priest are stacks of caskets, each with a number, waiting its turn.
Tokyo Nichinichi Newspaper (Polychrome Print News Sheet), no. 322
Ochiai Yoshiiku, design; Tentendo Dondon, text
Newspapers were a new medium introduced to Japan early in the Meiji period. For events that would attract special attention, the early newspapers used nishiki-e shimbun (polychrome print news sheets): single sheets that combined a graphic illustration and text, to tell the story in a realistic manner. The topics of nishiki-e news sheets included morally uplifting stories, extraordinary events, murders, and love stories.
This example reports a story having to do with filial piety, for which the original article was published in the Tokyo Nichinichi Newspaper on March 22, 1873. The nishiki-e version was published in October of 1874. The story it covers concerns a man who ventured deep into the mountains in autumn in search of a small amount of ice for his aged mother. The print has the distinctive air of bunmei kaika (gcivilization and enlightenment,h an early Meiji catchphrase), with the bright red frame around it and the cherub holding the title ribbon. What draws the eye, however, are the black used for the mountain and trees and the green of the plants: the vivid colors characteristic of polychrome ukiyo-e prints.
In the text, the pronunciations, in kana syllabary, are provided for almost all the kanji characters, and sentences that were difficult to understand in the original article have been rewritten in a plainer style. The story itself also contains gossip of a sort that would attract the interest of ordinary people. The story, combined with the striking image, was clearly designed to appeal to the masses. The approachability of nishiki-e news sheets like this led to their being published in increasingly large print runs and contributed to the spread of newspapers in general.
The nishiki-e news sheet had a very short life as a news medium, but its circulating information on current events, which had until then been exclusively available to the educated classes, to the general public was a media revolution.
Snow at Kiba
The sun has set. Snow is steadily piling up on the row of black buildings in the darkness. Logs floating in the river are also covered in snow. Looking up at the sky, lit faintly by the brightness of the snow, we see that those white crystals show no sign of ceasing to fall. We feel the painfully chilly air, yet, somehow, sense something heartwarming. Could it be because of the bright yellow light spilling from the windows?
The subject depicted in this print is the Fukagawa Kiba or lumberyard, during the early Showa period. The artist, Kawase Hasui, created many prints capturing scenes in Tokyo still faintly redolent of Edo, depicting them with a rich emotional ambience.
The lumberyard district that is the setting for this print had done a thriving business from the Edo period on. When the Tokugawa shogunate was established in Edo, lumber wholesalers set up shop near the Nihonbashi bridge. Edo, however, was a city that suffered many fires. Having large amounts of flammable lumber concentrated in its center meant that they burned every time a fire broke out. Thus, in 1701, most of the lumber wholesalers moved to Fukagawa, in what is now the area around Kiba Park in Koto Ward, and a new famous place in Edo was born. The Kiba lumberyard supported the development of Edo and Tokyo until the wholesalersf relocation to Shin Kiba (gnew lumberyardh), also in Koto Ward.
Today dumbbells are usually made of iron or of plastic and filled with water. In the Meiji period, however, wooden ones such as those in this photograph were in common use. They had been introduced from the West as equipment for physical education.
New systems, including education, were being adopted throughout government and society, after the Meiji Restoration; knowledge was eagerly introduced from Europe and America. The result, in the view of the Ministry of Education, was an overemphasis in the school curriculum on absorbing knowledge; to correct that problem, the ministry proclaimed the necessity of balancing the curriculum with physical education as well.
But what sort of physical activity should be adopted? Tanaka Fujimaro, who had made a tour of inspection in the United States in 1876, and Dr. George Adams Leland, who was invited by the ministry to instruct in gymnastics, were assigned to provide guidance at the Physical Education Teaching Center in 1878. They proposed two gymnastics programs, a heavy and a light course; the light course was implemented first. In contrast to the heavy course, which involved track-and-field athletics, the light course consisted of exercises using simple equipment, with the purpose of building bodies suitable for healthy lifestyles. These wooden dumbbells were used in the light course.
The dumbbell exercises using these wooden implements involved holding one in each hand and stretching the arms to the front and sides and rotating them. For Meiji schools, which were cramped and lacked the playgrounds now standard in todayfs schools, such exercises worked well.