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The Journal of Japanese Studies 32.2 (2006) 494-498



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The Commercial and Cultural Climate of Japanese Printmaking. Edited by Amy Reigle Newland. Hotei Publishing, Amsterdam, 2004. 256 pages. $78.50. Reviewed by

This collection of nine essays originated at the Hotei Publishing First International Conference on Ukiyo-e at Leiden University in January 2000. The volume features 48 black-and-white illustrations and back matter including a list of era names, a glossary of terms, a detailed index, and 18 color plates. The inclusion of Sino-Japanese orthography, at least in a glossary if not in the text proper, would have been helpful, especially in the case of obscure names and technical terms.

The essays break new ground in our understanding of the complex and shifting relationships within Tijs Volker's "Ukiyo-e quartet"— the publisher, the print designer, the blockcutter, and the printer (pp. 7, 11)— to which we might add the consumers, both those of the time of production as well as later collectors and dealers. By placing woodblock prints and blockprinted books in historical context as commodities, and then focusing their essays on the socioeconomic factors involved in conceiving, producing, and marketing them, the contributors avoid making claims about aesthetic value without fully understanding the circumstances of the works' production and consumption. In his foreword, conference co-organizer Chris Uhlenbeck recognizes the development of the field of Japanese print studies over the last quarter century, praises the work of scholars such as Jack Hillier in encouraging new approaches to the field, and lauds the contributions of knowledgeable and open-minded art dealers who explored previously ignored genres, such as Osaka prints and surimono (pp. 7–8). "One of the additional aims of the Hotei symposium was also to raise the question of whether the same degree of attention has been paid to the commercial context of prints and printmaking" (p. 8), while the other object of concern in the symposium was considering prints and their designers from a broader "cultural context." Uhlenbeck correctly states that the "seemingly compartmentalized view of the Japanese arts has in the past proved an impediment to a total awareness of Edo- and Meiji-period cultural life. The need to look beyond the arena of printmaking to the wider socio-cultural and artistic place of artists and their work is clearly a key to our complete understanding of these artists" (p. 8). Thus we have the "commercial and cultural" dichotomy found in the col-lection's title.

Coming from a background more focused on the history of book publishing (especially illustrated fiction, poetry, and ehon), this reviewer found [End Page 494] most fascinating the only essay that did not come with any illustrations, Matthi Forrer's "The Relationship Between Publishers and Print Formats in the Edo Period." Forrer's essay focuses on facts, such as the specific locations of publisher/booksellers in Edo, and how a particular location not only influenced what sort of books and prints would sell, but also determined the likely print designer who would work with that publisher. With regard to Kitagawa Utamaro (1753–1806), for example, Forrer states:

from Kansei onwards, a number of publishers seem to have evolved a clear notion of what areas they wished to be involved in. Consequently, there were basically two options open to Utamaro when the publisher Tsutaya Jūzaburō died in the 5th month of 1797: either to join the firm of Yamaguchiya Chūsuke or that of Tsuruya Kiemon. Ultimately Utamaro chose Tsuruya Kiemon.
(p. 188)

To arrive at this conclusion, Forrer employs a highly empirical methodology that traces the format of each of Utamaro's prints over time with the publisher of that particular print (pp. 196–99). Forrer supplies information on the print formats and publishers for five print designers, Suzuki Harunobu (1725?–70), Torii Kiyonaga (1752–1815), Utamaro, Keisai Eisen (1791– 1848), and Utagawa Hiroshige (1797–1858). Among other things, we learn that Kiyonaga worked mainly in the chūban (265 3 195 mm.) format, while Utamaro worked with ōban (390 3 265...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1549-4721
Print ISSN
0095-6848
Pages
pp. 494-498
Launched on MUSE
2006-07-13
Open Access
No
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