REPOSTING OF DELETED MSG: J Prints in City & Countryside

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Posted by John Fiorillo on March 11, 2003 at 18:00:04:

In Reply to: Japanese Prints in City and Countryside posted by The Shade of Sharaku on February 23, 2003 at 04:40:02:


(I have reposted my deleted responses in the long text below. Unfortunately, I retained only my responses, not all of the original messages. Hopefully, they will still be helpful and also give a chance for others to continue the discussion if they care to do so.)


MESSAGE #1 (March 7, 2003)


Your questions involve an area of research that is still poorly documented, although some research has been published. One useful publication (Peter Kornicki: The Book in Japan: A Cultural History from the Beginnings to the Nineteenth Century) offers insights into book publishing, but some of his ideas can be applied to single-sheet prints (ichimai-e).

Here are a few informal comments (a mixture of my own and Kornicki's) that might help answer your questions:

(1) Yes, independent peddlers are certainly known to have sold various wares, including ukiyo-e prints and picture books (as well as books for reading), on city streets, in markets, at shrines, and so on, not only in the major urban centers but in outlying areas. Some, perhaps most, publishers also employed peddlers to sell books and prints in areas both locally and away from their retail sites (most booksellers also sold prints as well as books from their own premises, and sometimes other goods as well.)

(2) Very little is known about how publishing was organized outside Santo (the 'three capitals' of Kyoto, Osaka, and Edo). It seems likely, however, that most of the large castle towns had their own printing and publishing industries, possibly substantial ones in Nagoya, Wakayama, Sendai, and Hiroshima. Note, for example, that the first Hokusai manga volume was published by Eirakuya T˘shir˘ of Nagoya in 1814, based on sketches done by Hokusai during his visit to Nagoya in 1812, and 14 more volumes were published up to 1878, mostly in collaboration with Kadomaruya Jinsuke of Edo.

(3) We know that secondary publishers sometimes purchased existing blocks and acquired the hankabu [the legal right to print from the blocks]. Thus there should have been instances in which provincial publishers used kyűhan or guhan [acquired blocks] to produce later editions of ukiyo-e prints and books. If the enterprise failed, it would have presumably been the secondary publishers whose investments failed, not the original publisher who had already sold the rights to the blocks.

(4) When an edition failed, marketing losses were suffered by the publisher. We may also assume that retailers who had acquired these prints would also lose their investments in unpopular editions.

(5) The overall marketing of prints and books is not fully understood, but clearly there must have been extensive networks of financing and distribution. Kornicki mentions one amazing collaborative effort as follows: "it is clear that sales networks encompassed all three cities and at least some of the larger castle towns as well. ... such as Nagoya, Hiroshima, Wakayama, and Okayama. Take, for example, the colophon found in some copies of Ehon toyotomi kunk˘ki: it lists 19 publishers and booksellers from Edo, 3 from Aizu Wakamatsu, 2 each from Yonezawa, Kanazawa, and Nagoya, and 1 each from Osaka, Kyoyo, Fukushima, Takasaki, Ustunomiya, Tochigi, Sano, Sanj˘, Nishiuraga, Zenk˘ji, Mito, Sahara, K˘fu, and Sendai. This phenomenon not only bespeaks a greater density of circulation within the 'three capitals' but also the extension of circulation to major provincial towns, where these works were presumably available. Rural areas were for the most part dependent on their local castle towns. ..." Now Kornicki is speaking of a picture book, but certainly some of this networking applied to ichimai-e. In this specific case, such a long list would not indicate that every name represented a "publisher"; rather, many were distributors who had entered into some sort of financial collaboration. Thus provincial publishers probably struck agreements with publishers from Santo, but little is known about the financial nature of these enterprises. In cases where multiple publishers were involved, it is likely that there were one or two "main" publishers while the remainder acted as distributors.

(6) It is common to find single sheets and polyptychs issued jointly by two or more publishers. One assumes the reasons were, generally, a sharing of the costs of production and limiting the financial risks. Such joint publishing ventures probably made the distribution more complicated, at least in some cases.

(7) There was little to stop enterprising individuals from acquiring prints in Edo or Osaka and then selling them elsewhere, as long as there were buyers to make the effort worth the risk.

(8) Yakusha-e (actor prints) were indeed sold at theaters, as well as in shops, by peddlers, etc. Another interesting aspect was the production of yakusha-e for performances of the superstars from Edo and Osaka who were traveling in the provinces and performing elsewhere. Such prints were often produced in their "home cities" but distributed there and in the provinces. Yet in some instances a provincial publisher actually produced the print. I was recently examining a design depicting the popular Osaka actor Arashi Rikan II in a performance near the shrine at Ise, with an inscription reading "A great hit at the big theater, Naka no Jiz˘, in Ise," and with the publisher identified as Hanmoto Yamada Ichi Shimachi Emura. We also know that Edo and Osaka prints freely moved between the two cities. Many albums have survived in Kamigata (Kyoto/Osaka) with both Edo and Osaka prints mounted together within the covers.



MESSAGE #2 (March 8, 2003)


We need to be cautious about making generalizations regarding prints in the provinces, as too little is known. I did not say that prints made in the provinces were "often of lesser quality" because they were made from acquired blocks. Kyűhan were used by publishers in the major urban centers as well, and I don't know of any statistics indicating the percentages of usage of kyűhan compared to newly made blocks in any area. I only meant that printing from kyűhan was one method by which secondary publishers, some of them in the provinces, could market prints. We can only hope that one day a persistent researcher will provide more information on this topic.

Caution is also needed when making assumptions about the source of prints in the provinces. For example, actor prints commemorating performances in outlying areas (e.g., Nagoya, Kanazawa, Ise, Hagi) might have actually been made in Osaka, but with the name of the distant location cut in the block. Some or many of these prints are quite well made, probably because there were at least two markets for them, the provincial one and the one in Osaka (presumably because the actor, not the venue, would have appealed to Osaka buyers). The same applies to actor prints celebrating performances in Kyoto. Researchers hope to find the names or seals of the publishers on prints to help identify the location of production in such cases, although it gets complicated here, too, because a provincial publisher could have commissioned Osaka block-cutters and printers to make the prints, and then acquired them for sale or distribution. There is no easy answer.

If it is indeed true (is it?) that single-sheet prints made in the provinces were generally of lesser quality, it is more likely, in my opinion, to be the result of much smaller and different markets. Depending on the intent of the enterprise, provincial publishers could not always afford to invest too much in printmaking ventures with so few buyers. They were not likely to have recourse to selling large quantities far outside their environs (i.e., in Santo), where there were larger and usually wealthier consumer populations. One might think, for example, about the occasionally encountered, crudely made souvenir prints (often these were kappazuri-e or stencil prints) from shrines around provincial Japan, whose purpose was not to produce high-quality art works. Other kinds of kappazuri-e were produced by a large number of publishers in Kansai (western Japan); these were less expensive to produce than nishiki-e (brocade or full-color prints) and of variable quality, ranging from the rather crude to the surprisingly elegant (the latter are known in deluxe editions with beautiful pigments and metallics). Provincial nishiki-e were also made in a wide range of quality, though in fairly small numbers compared to those from Santo.

As for your question about publishers taking losses because retailers wouldn't buy more than a limited number of prints of a given edition at one time, I suppose that's possible. Businessmen are businessmen all over the world, and capitalism, even of the kind thriving in Tokugawa Japan, requires more or less the same strategies for success. It's possible that primary source materials may provide an answer, such as 18th-19th century publishing / retail inventories or ledgers (another job for an intrepid researcher).



MESSAGE #3 (March 9, 2003)


I would qualify your statement by saying that publishers were merchants themselves, and some were wealthy, so your distinction would not always be useful. However, if you mean to say that wealthy merchants operating in other areas of the Tokugawa economy (i.e., not directly in publishing) subsidized certain publishing projects, then I would agree that such arrangements did occur. Just how extensive an effect they had on overall publishing ventures is unclear, and special patronage may have played only a relatively small part compared to the normal routine of print and book publishing. I suspect that the wealthy provided support in a manner like venture capitalists do today, but that tells us little about the distribution of prints, especially in the provinces. It simply suggests one source of capital for publishing enterprises.

We surely know that there were wealthy patrons of actors. It is generally accepted that the deluxe or privately issued, earliest editions of some actor prints (typically without publishers seals and printed with deluxe pigments and techniques) were often supported by actor fan clubs and poetry clubs, composed of various citizens of Tokugawa society, including wealthy merchants. (The wealthy also commissioned paintings of actors for private consumption.) Actors themselves were known to commission prints as tokens for their fans. So the impetus for actor print production was varied. However, it gets complicated when attempting to identify the avenues of distribution and how prints were delivered to and sold in the provinces. With respect to local consumption, one assumes, for example, that privately issued prints were handed out to fan club members or at invitation-only poetry gatherings, but were any of these deluxe impressions also sold routinely by retail outlets? Possibly. Then we frequently have the same designs reissued in less elaborate or non-deluxe versions, often with publishers' marks added. These would not necessarily have been directly supported by the wealthy patrons, but rather would have been the result of a secondary venture on the part of the publishers who already owned the blocks. The cost of reissuing the designs in non-deluxe versions would have been more economical and would usually require only minimal or no additional block cutting, keeping investment costs down.

Newspapers played a fairly minor and limited role in the dissemination woodblock prints, and this happened rather late in the history of ukiyo-e. For example, Yoshitoshi's Meiji-period designs in this area are well documented, as in Yűbin h˘chi shinbun, the "Postal News" series of 1875 for which woodblock print supplements were given to subscribers. By the way, one venue for 19th-century Japanese to see these early newspapers was through shinbun jűransho (newspaper reading rooms), which were popular in the 1870s, but then began to fail in the 1880s, partly for political reasons, and partly because the cost of newspapers in Japan had decreased.


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