Rare Artisan Professions Beautifully Illustrated

Haikai shokugyo zukushi [Catalogue of Artisan Haiku Poetry].

Many full-page woodcuts in the text, all color-printed with gray ink. 70; 74 folding leaves. Two vols. 8vo, orig. green wrappers, orig. block-printed title labels on upper covers, new stitching. [Japan]: 1842.

First edition of this wonderfully illustrated collection of artisan-themed haiku poetry competitions. There are nine matches for each of the four seasons, with two teams participating in each match. The teams, whose participants are named, contribute many haiku for the individual matches. For the matches, the teams are given different topics to compose haiku. The themes for the haiku are all quite varied but are related in some way to the relevant season.

We learn from the Preface that the professions illustrated were deliberately selected to be some of the most unusual found in Japan. The fine color-printed full-page woodcuts, all using various delicate pale shades of gray ink (usuzumi), by Shozan Tachibana, are akin to the best of black & white movies: rich, alive, and incredibly nuanced. The illustrations are quite remarkable for their vividness and humor; for instance, the fox hunter, by putting meat into hollowed gourds, traps the heads of the foxes in the gourds.

The first volume shows artisan professions related to the spring and summer. For spring, they include a straw-mat weaver, a man sowing eggplant sprouts, a cow herder, a sparrow catcher, a shell picker at low tide, deer antler gatherers (five pages long), a collector of China root, a net weaver (three pages), a sea snail catcher, a catfish catcher (with a fox hiding in the bushes, waiting to steal a fish), a carp fisherman (a rather extraordinary image), irrigation dike builders, a sea turtle catcher, a pond loach fisherman, a heat-cured bamboo-stick preparer, an ice seller, a Chinese salamander hunter, and a snake hunter.

Vol. II covers the autumn and winter professions; they include a flathead gray mullet fisherman (four pages), a sandpiper catcher, a tobacco harvester, a thrush catcher, a bird catcher using large and elaborate nets, a stone mill manufacturer, wild horse catchers, a salmon fisherman, an edible-lichen harvester who is hanging by a rope on the face of a cliff, an incense stick manufacturer, a fox catcher, a scraper of resin from the urushi tree for lacquer, a rabbit hunter, a plover catcher, crushers of sugarcane, bear hunters, a signal sender using a torch, and men crushing seeds to render oil.

Following each illustration, many of which are double-page or more, there is a detailed description of each profession with information on the region where it was found, the “tricks of the trade,” etc.

Fine copy of an utterly charming book.

Price: $4,750.00

Item ID: 6910