Many finely drawn illustrations in brush, ink, & colors. Scroll (285 x 9310 mm.), 23 joined sheets (some inoffensive worming, carefully repaired). Japan: copied before 1857.
A finely illustrated scroll, created in the witty and refined realistic style of Yamato-e and Ukiyo-e brush work, depicting the route taken — a distance of about 4 km. — by pleasure-seekers from Ryogoku Bridge to Shin Yoshiwara, the center of prostitution in the city of Edo. By the 18th century, it was the home to some 1750 women. This was an extremely busy section with a strong commercial tradition in what is today’s central Tokyo.
Our scroll is an early copy of the original scroll; we do not know if that earlier scroll still exists. It was created by Bunyo Tozaka (1783-1852), a prominent Nanga-style artist who studied with Buncho Tani and specialized in kachoga (pictures of flowers and butterflies). The author of the notes was Hirokata Yashiro (1758-1841), the influential historian of Japan and great book collector (he had more than 50,000 Chinese and Japanese books housed in a series of three buildings in Ueno, known at the Shinobazu Bunko). The beginning of our copied scroll depicts several boats holding men (including samurai) and women making their way along the Sumida River from Ryogoku Bridge to Shin Yoshiwara. They disembark at Kumagatado, adjacent to Asakusa Bridge. From there, the men — clearly samurai — mount rented horses (Daiden Horse Co., with very inadequate saddles) and continue their journey. There are images of high-ranking men with their faces hidden by large hats in order to conceal themselves. Their family crests on their kimono are also hidden. They pass through Raijin Gate (today’s Kaminarimon) which belongs to Tokyo’s oldest temple, Senso-ji. There is a merchant depicted along the side of the road, selling dumplings (the famous Yone manju). Finally, the samurai dismount and board small boats at an embankment to cross some wetlands at the Nihon zutsumi. They arrive at a commercial area called Doromachi (“Mud Town”) where the travellers wash their feet and tidy themselves before entering Shin Yoshiwara and all its pleasures.
Then we see several samurai “interviewing” prostitutes. Heading north, there is a gate through which the samurai enter Shin Yoshiwara. Women are standing, waiting to meet their customers. Some women are serving tea, there is a man carrying a portable lending library on his back, and we see men with hidden faces entering buildings with women waiting inside. There is another building with women sitting, being “showcased” to passing potential clients. Next we have a scene of women entertaining with musical instruments; men are standing outside, making their selections. The following scene shows men upstairs being entertained by dancers and musicians, with food and drinks being served. A garden is shown. Women are seen on the street, aggressively soliciting men. There are always suggestions of rooms behind rooms, ready for the clients and their women.
The next scene is the kitchen with men preparing octopus, lobsters, and shrimp. Another man is cutting up fish. Women carry the prepared food to another room where men are being served and entertained. At the end, we see a man taking a nap. At the end there are notes — collector’s thoughts — regarding the manuscript: he tells who the original artist and author were and that this is a detailed description of a past time, painted in a style similar to Morunobu Hishikawa and Iccho Hanabusa. The collector considered our scroll to be “finely done” and he has signed his name “Choton [Kishi]” with his seal, which might be painted, not stamped.
Throughout, the artist’s sense of perspective and design is extremely fluid and imaginative. Many of the figures and landscapes have been heightened with lacquer, gold, silver, and mica. As we move through the scroll, there is also a sense of the day passing to evening.
With the seal of the founder of the Kishi Library, Choton Kishi (d. 1857), the distinguished book collector and natural historian. This fine scroll was offered for sale by the great bookseller Shigeo Sorimachi in 1977 in his 50th anniversary catalogue. The scroll has been carefully backed in the past century. Preserved in a box with Mr. Sorimachi’s handwriting on the upper cover.
Item ID: 6222