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Lecture | Leiden Lecture Series in Japanese Studies

Localism in Early 19th-century Japan: Literature, Book Illustrations and Prints

  • Prof. dr. Kobayashi Fumiko (Hosei University)
Friday 11 November 2016
Leiden Lecture Series in Japanese Studies
Matthias de Vrieshof
Matthias de Vrieshof 4
2311 BZ Leiden
Fumiko Kobayashi

Hearing the word “ukiyo-e”, you may be reminded of The Great Wave by Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849). It was commercially published as one of a series of thirty-six prints (which eventually exceeded this number) illustrating Mt. Fuji from different angles in the 1830s. This was a time when various landscape prints by many artists acquired popularity, to be established as one of the genres of ukiyo-e prints. Already indicated as a background to this phenomenon is the custom of traveling to distant shrines or temples that became more common among the general public than before, so that people were more curious about landscapes which they had never seen. In this talk, however, their contexts, or the demand for these prints as commercial products are examined more broadly in relation to their audiences.

Firstly, in the aftermath of the Kansei Reforms (1787-93) of the Shogunate, the readership of books in general increased remarkably not only in Edo (now Tokyo) and other big cities, but also in the provinces. Accordingly, publications from Edo including ukiyo-e prints were required to be understandable and appreciated by anyone, even those who were not familiar with Edo. Secondly, as the population of kyôka (comic verse) poets grew not only in Edo but also in the provinces, communication between those poets across the whole country helped to spread interest from one province to another. Thirdly, bunjin (wenren in Chinese) literati values, which had permeated scholars, poets and artists of the Chinese style since the 18th century, included appreciation of beautiful landscapes of the provinces, especially mountains. These values were also accepted more by the general public in the 19th century along with paintings in their specific style, and sometimes the custom of composing poems in Chinese style. They also had an effect upon other genres of literature, e.g. haikai and kyōka.

Under those conditions, local landscapes from the provinces emerged as a universal subject backed with aesthetic values from China, which could attract anyone, regardless of lack of knowledge of other than one’s own locality.

About the speaker

Dr. Fumiko Kobayashi is a Professor of Japanese literature at the Hosei University in Tokyo. Her research focuses on literature and arts, especially Japanese printed books and single prints produced in the 18th-19th c. She completed her undergraduate and postgraduate courses at the University of Tokyo, and received her doctorate in Japanese literature in 2003. Meanwhile, she studied at SOAS as a visiting scholar in 2002, when she was a fellow of Japan Society for the Promotion of Science. Her research interest focuses on literature and arts, especially printed books and prints in 18th-19th-century Japan. Her recent publications include Ôta Nanpo Edo ni Kyōka no Hana Sakasu (Ōta Nanpo: His Role in the Blossoming of Comic Verse in Edo) from Iwanami Shoten in 2014, and “Santō Kyōden no Chihō-dokusha eno Manazashi (Santō Kyōden’s Gaze Cast at Readership in the Provinces)” in Bungaku Bimonthly, in 2016. In English, she has published “Surimono to Publicize Poetic Authority: Yomo no Magao and His Pupils” in Reading Surimono: The Interplay of Text and Image in Japanese Prints, edited by John T. Carpenter issued by the Rietberg Museum /Hotei Publishing in 2008.

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