Sugiura Hinako, O Edo de gozaru, Shinkōbunko, Tokyo, 2003
Ukiyoe – The word Ukiyoe first made its appearance around the eighth year of Enpō (1680). Those who drew such pictures were known as “artisans, or eshi”, however they were quite different to modern artists. Up until this time, artisans of such styles as the “kanōha” or “yamatoe” were responsible for depicting castle scenes on folding screens and the like. These artists did not sell their works to bidders, but were paid a wage. Ukiyoe were “works for sale”. They weren`t art per se, but rather a form of entertainment.
The beginnings of Ukiyoe were found in the depiction of the actors and prostitutes of Yūri and Shibaichō. They were the `star pictures` of Edo. As they incorporated a meaning of `playful`, `delightful`, and `wordly`, the word `ukiyo` (floating world) came to be used in relation to them. Although Ukiyoe would later earn fame for their depiction of scenery and animal/plant life, there was no change in the basic challenge of whether the painting would `sell well or not`.
Meiwa, which were popular for their use of many colours, would come to be called “Edo nishikie”, and would develop as a special characteristic of Edo.
Ukiyoe themselves were made by a `project team`. The artist himself was responsible for the block copy or framepiece. Gradually the name `artist` began to be replaced by the title of `picture technician` (gakō). First there was the `printer ` (or publisher known as the hanmoto), then came the advisor (anjiyaku) who would produce the picture, then followed the picture technicians, who would be divided into carvers and painters. This combined effort would then result in a Ukiyoe.
A decision first had to be made on what would be used for a subject and what colours would be used.
For artists such as Hokusai, Sharaku, and Utamaro, though they might lead a team, they were not confined to using just one name. For artists, they were often called by their real name, hence Hokusai was usually called “Tetsuzo Sanyai”. There was hardly anyone who would call him `Hokusai Sensei`. Ukiyoe artists, in contrast to picture painters, were closer in essence to set makers for T.V and film.
Reading certainly became a popular pastime for commoners during the Genroku era of the 5th Shōgun Tsunayoshi, hence publishing took off during this time. Up until this time, although sutras may have been published for consumption, there were no books printed purely for entertainment purposes.
There were various measures needed in order to sell a book. Works which were brought to the printers would first be taken to a publishing cooperative group that functioned as an officiary, who would then check to ensure that no plagiarism or potentially scandalous materials were present. For example, any book with a title that included the word `sympathy` was not given permission for printing. The reason for this was `Sympathy itself is unforgivable. It is the inverse (in kanji) of the character `chū` (loyal) from the word loyalty. Hence a book cannot use the title `sympathy` - or so the 8th Shōgun, Yoshimune, is supposed to have said. Afterwards, `sympathy` came to be expressed through the word “aitaiji ni” or (literally) `mutual annihilation/death`.
Once permission had been received, the work would go back to the printers. From there, a copyist known as a `hikkō` would produce a clean version, the printer (or “hangiya”) would produce a print, the finished product would be piled up, mimeographed, and then distributed. It would take around 1 to 2 months before the prints were sold.
Amidst the many printed materials, the number 1 seller was known as the “bukan, or military record”. Much like a modern gentleman`s record, it would note the names of daimyo councilors, what their family crest was, what their lineage was, and how much they earned. As the type of spear head used by each family was illustrated in the book, when a daimyo procession passed, one could tell at a glance which daimyo from what province was passing by if one remembered the illustration. It also noted what positions were found within Edo castle. For tailors, it included marks indicating which residence would be best to visit when the time came to sell their wares. Hence it was a must-have item for merchants.
Maps and guidebooks for travel were also popular. There was a `outline of famous places` which, rather than being used for travel, was more aimed at educating the reader on local history and folklore. It noted famous ruins, temples and shrines, the naming origins of scenic spots and the like. It also included a large amount of information on stories and folk arts related to famous places. The `Map of Famous Places in the Capital (Miyako)` dealt with Kyoto and ran to a length of 6 scrolls and 11 volumes. The `Map of Famous Places in Edo` ran to a length of 7 scrolls.
Particularly expensive works would be bought up by prosperous merchants and samurai of repute to be used as status symbols of their wealth. It was the same type of activity as the modern practice of decorating a waiting room with encyclopedia volumes.
The literacy rate of Edo was, if compared to that of other countries, particularly high. If one includes just the ability to read hiragana, then literacy was almost 100%, which far surpassed that of contemporary London and Paris. Even within picture books, furigana would be included next to kanji so they could be read. However, silent reading wouldn`t be possible in such circumstances, hence if one didn`t read out loud then one wouldn`t remember the content of the book. When an official notice regarding punishment or execution was put up, everyone who gathered to read the sentence would mouth out the words, hence the assembled people would resemble a chorus. As for borrowed books, when one was reading alone, when a woman`s part came up in the story the head of the household might say `Sorry dear, but could you read this part?` whereupon the wife would take up the story. In this way 4 to 5 people could enjoy the same story at once. (pp.20-24)