Do you like Japanese woodblock prints, also known as ukiyo-e?
Then, I want to introduce a book to you that features some of the greatest artworks in the ukiyo-e world. I won’t just review the book, there’s also a giveaway for one of my readers, so read on until the very end!
“This book offers a vivid glimpse into the lifestyle of the Japanese in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and particularly into a burgeoning love of travel, through the predominant visual media of the time, woodblock prints. The prints featured here are not only classical ukiyo-e (…) from the late 17th to the 19th centuries, but also include examples of shin hanga (新版画), literally ‘new prints’, created in the early 20th century, which offer a look at Japan that is somewhat closer to the present day.” (p. 14)
The author of this book is Andreas Marks who is an art historian. He has gathered about 200 Japanese woodblock prints featuring scenic spots and cultural highlights that tourists enjoy even nowadays. You’ll find prints of masters such as Hiroshige Utagawa, Utamaro Kitagawa, and Kunisada Utagawa that currently hang in prestigious galleries and museums worldwide.
Probably the most famous of them all is Hokusai Katsuhika. Many of his prints from the “Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji” series (1829 – 1833), including his world-renowned “Great Wave” print are featured in this book.
You won’t only find typical landscape prints, but also those related to Japanese festivals, blossom viewing, railways, kabuki and even get an insight of what kind of fashion people wore back then.
Women walk in the snow. In the background you can see one of the aqueducts that supplied Edo’s water.
(1853, Utagawa Hiroshige, Ochanomizu from the series “Famous Places in Edo”)
What exactly is in the book?
The book splits up the prints by region which makes it very easy to navigate, even for people who don’t know Japan’s geography well:
- Sights of Tokyo (e.g. Asakusa, Nihonbashi, Ginza)
- Sights around Tokyo (e.g. Nikko, Hakone, Kamakura)
- Sights of Kyoto (e.g. Gion, Arashiyama, Heian Shrine)
- Sights of Japan (e.g. Nara, Osaka, Miyajima)
A steep slope leads up to the mountain top. You’ll find a shrine there dedicated to Akiba Gongen, a deity that controls fire. (~ 1837, Utagawa Hiroshige, Mt. Akiba in Totomi Province from the series “Famous Places of Our Country”)
Left: Niemonjima is a small island that is today a Chiba Prefecture Designated Place of Scenic Beauty. (1933, Kawase Hasui, Futomi in Boshu, from the series “Souvenirs of Travel, Third Collection”)
Right: Bandai Temple (founded in 992) is on a cliff overlooking the ocean around Fukuyama, Hiroshima Prefecture. (1939, Kawase Hasui, Abuto Kannon in Bingo)
Located on Mt. Nantai is Futarasan which consists of three shrine buildings. (Early 1930s, Tsuchiya Koitsu, Futarasan Shrine in Nikko)
Left: The stone bridge in this print was built in 1887. It replaced a wooden bridge that used to be the access point to the old Edo Castle. (1920, Kawase Hasui, Morning at Niju Bridge)
Right: Across the moat is the gate that leads to the East Garden of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. It’s open to the public even nowadays. (1952, Kawase Hasui, Springtime Evening, Ote Gate)
Left: Pilgrims rest in front of a small shrine on a misty day. (1937, Yoshida Hiroshi, Misty Day in Nikko)
Right: This is a best-selling print. It shows Sangedatsu Gate of Zozoji Temple which is designated an Important Cultural Property. (1925, Kawase Hasui, Zoji Temple in Shiba, from the series “Twenty Views of Tokyo”)
How did I like the book?
I have to admit I’m a visual type, so when it comes to books I prefer the ones with lots of photos and pictures in it. I’ve always been interested in woodblock prints and I bought a few copies (posters) to hang up in my apartment as well.
So, this book was a great opportunity to learn more about the ones I already have, but also to get to know new ones. It was also fun guessing what place in Japan is being displayed in the print. I did that before reading the description. Yes, I’m geeky like that.
On top of that you get a bit of background information and get to see some of Japan’s favorite tourist spots from a different century.
The book focuses on the pictures, so you won’t be overwhelmed by too much text.
The only drawback of this book is that towards the end you think: “That’s it? Gimme more!”
I wish there were even more pictures in it, but then it would probably become too bulky.
Something else I also want to mention is the format of the book. Some prints go over two pages and it just looks strange. I understand that it’s impossible to do it any other way unless you want to have super tiny pictures where you cannot recognize the details anymore. The only other alternative would be to make the book a lot bigger, but then it wouldn’t fit into a common bookshelf.
I recommend this book to anyone who’s interested in ukiyo-e or to people who want to enjoy beautiful traditional Japanese pictures from the past few centuries. If you’re a fan of traditional Japanese woodblock prints, I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.
Giveaway: Your Chance to win this book!
And guess what?
One of my readers has the chance to get this book for free!
That’s right. I’m hosting my first giveaway.
It’s pretty simple. Here’s what you gotta do:
Just share this article (e.g. on social media or your blog) and then leave a comment here telling me why you want the book.
The giveaway contest is over!
We have a lucky winner determined by a random number generator:
If you didn’t win the book, don’t be sad. You can buy it here.
Good luck for the next giveaway!