Ukiyo-e caricatures 1842-1905
15 March 2004
The Tenpō reforms during the 1840s close to the end of the Japanese seclusion period
imposed various restrictions and prohibitions addressing the ukiyo-e world. The reforms had a
major impact on the production of woodblock prints. The popularity of the prevailing subject
matters until the reform period like courtesans and actors gradually faded and a new genre
of caricature ranging from political satire (fūshiga) to simple comic prints (giga) without
hidden messages behind the work emerged.
This genre has remained outside the major scope of ukiyo-e research mainly due to the rare accessibility of the prints. A majority of the prints in question are containing text and inscriptions that are difficult to read. The texts as well as the illustrations are encoded in a way which makes the interpretation of the prints particularly demanding. Former studies on ukiyo-e have focused on the aesthetic qualities of the objects and therefore caricatures have long been neglected by scholars but are now undergoing reappraisal. During the last two decades research on subgenres such as earthquake-pictures, measles-pictures, Yokohama-pictures or ken-pictures, as well as work on caricatures by single artists like Kuniyoshi, Kyōsai or Kiyochika was carried out.
The project funded by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) aims at compiling a database encompassing woodblock print caricatures which were commercially published between the Tenpō reforms (1842) and the Russo-Japanese War (1905). The trilingual database (in German, English and Japanese) is available online in order to make an important genre in ukiyo-e readily accessible to the public as well as to scholars around the world.
Department of East Asian Studies - Japanese Studies, University of Vienna
Mag. Noriko Brandl
Mag. Nora Gesellmann
Mag. Maria Heppner
Dr. Susanne Formanek
Dr. Takahashi Noriko
Prof. Isao Shimizu