Category Archive 'Ukiyoe'

01 Jan 2017

Choki: Sunrise at New Year

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Eishosai Choki (fl. 1780s-1800s), Sunrise at New Year

A bijin (beautiful woman), presumably a courtesan, has risen early to greet the rising sun of the New Year at the waterfront at Fukagawa in Edo. The woman is adjusting the top of her kimono to protect against the chill of the early morning. In the lower-left is a blossoming fukujuso plant, emblematic of the New Year.

28 Aug 2014


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Hiroshige 1797-1858, Wind-Blown Grass Across Moon

Via Ratak Monodosico.

22 Mar 2011

Reactor Containment Chambers and Samurai Swords

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Ogata Gekkō, Heian swordsmith Munechika, aided by the kami Inari, forging the blade Ko-Gitsune Maru (“Little Fox”), 1873

George Monbiot (the original moonbat), the very last person in the world whom you would ever expect to become pro-nuke, says that events in Fukushima have caused him to stop worrying and love nuclear power.

You will not be surprised to hear that the events in Japan have changed my view of nuclear power. You will be surprised to hear how they have changed it. As a result of the disaster at Fukushima, I am no longer nuclear-neutral. I now support the technology.

A crappy old plant with inadequate safety features was hit by a monster earthquake and a vast tsunami. The electricity supply failed, knocking out the cooling system. The reactors began to explode and melt down. The disaster exposed a familiar legacy of poor design and corner-cutting. Yet, as far as we know, no one has yet received a lethal dose of radiation.


The effectiveness of the containment at Fukushima is based on single-piece steel containment chambers, built by Japan Steel Works, (株式会社日本製鋼所, Kabushikigaisya Nihon Seikōsho), a steel manufacturer founded in Muroran, Hokkaidō, Japan in 1907, which traces its technological heritage directly back to the native Japanese steel-making tradition which produced the Japanese samurai sword.

Justin Hyde:

As fears rise in Japan about nuclear disaster at the Fukushima plant, the first and best line of defense are the reactor’s six inch thick steel-walled chambers, made by a company that still forges samurai swords by hand.

Japan Steel Works is the world’s only volume builder of nuclear reactor vessels, the steel container that holds radioactive fuel, and in case of a meltdown, prevents that fuel from leaking and triggering a catastrophe. Founded in 1907 and rebuilt following World War II, it supplied nearly all of the vessels used in Japan’s 54 nuclear power plants, including the containers at the Fukushima Daiichi plants designed by General Electric and Toshiba.

While those vessels were made from steel plates bolted and welded together, modern designs require Japan Steel Works to forge containers from a single ingot that can weigh up to 600 tons. It’s a slow process that takes months at a time, using the company’s 14,000-ton press to shape a special steel alloy that’s been purified to maximize its strength. These methods also minimize seams that can give way in case of a meltdown, where nuclear fuel can reach 2,000 degrees Celsius.

Although Japan Steel Works is a major corporation with 5,000 employees, it also maintains a samurai sword blacksmith, in a small shack on a hill above the factory in Muroran, where a single craftsman still hammers steel into broadswords, as the company has done since 1917.


Japan Steel Works founded its smithy in 1918 by recruiting Taneaki Horii, whose teacher Taneyoshi Horii (c. 1820-1903), had studied under Gassan Sadayoshi (1800-1870), founder of the Osaka Gassan school, and under Taikei Naotane (c. 1777-1857).

Naotane was himself the pupil of Suishinshi Masahide (1750-1825) of Edo, the founder of the Shinshinto (New Revival) period of sword-making. Masahide criticized the showiness and practical defects of the Shinto sword, and advocated the building instead of the fukko-to, “the Restoration sword,” by returning to the sword-making techniques and styles of the Heian and Kamakura periods.


Current master Horii Tanetada making a sword and a tour of the Zuisen Sword Smithy


Horii swords displayed at exhibition hall

23 Aug 2008

A Rather Expensive Utamaro

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Kitagawa Utamaro (1753?-1806), Mono omou koi (Reflective Love),
from the series of five prints entitled Kasen koi no bu (Anthology of Poems: The Love Section), c. 1793-94

Estimated to sell for $1,000,000 – $1,500,000 at the Christie’s auction sale of Japanese & Korean art scheduled for September 18, 2008 at Rockefeller Center in New York.

Jeffrey Olson
‘s excellent description reads (in part):

Her underrobe lies loose about her neck, as in a casual moment at the end of a day, and her eyes are unusually compressed to give the sense of the heavy-lidded stare of the daydreamer. Features or dress that might define personality or status or period are absent. Utamaro is using “delicious approximations” to decant the sensation from the scene.2
The visual glory of Reflective Love begins with the contrasts between the planes of color. The violet inner robe and matching silk hair tie are breathtaking. Purple, one of the most fugitive hues, tends to fade to grayish brown. The muted colors of the Reflective Love in the Musée Guimet prompted Richard Lane to remark on Utamaro’s subdued palette.3 Its cool tone conveys a somber mood, a brooding over something lost or never to be. The impression here—the vermilion lips and cuff lining, the velvet swirl of hair—is stirring (fig. 1). The underrobe is in a traditional tie-dyed dappled pattern (kanoko shibori moyo) that appears often in Japanese prints, usually on undergarments. Utamaro uses it to stage intimate settings, as here. The middle robe has the trellis design of plain-weave robes from crossing warp and weft threads. The fabric of the outerrobe represents crepe treated with wax resist so that the clusters of plovers and dots, symbolizing clouds or waves, appear white against the dyed grey.
The pink mica ground is exceedingly rare. …

Shibui Kiyoshi (1899-1992), a collector and scholar of Japanese woodcuts, offered that the pink mica of Reflective Love represents the light of a lantern. Extending his implication that the background is not simply a costly gloss, but is intended to establish mood by suggesting the time of day, one might equally see the pink as crepuscular. To take another step, consider the poem by Fujiwara Teika (1162-1241) using the same pivot, “vacant reverie” (omoi), to which Emperor Komyo linked his poem in the sequence mentioned above:

kino kyo Yesterday, today–
kumo no hatate nino matter how I gaze in vacant reverie
nagamu tote toward the cloud tips
mi mo senu hito no tinted in the evening, how can I know
omoi ya wa shiru the feelings of one I cannot see?
(Fuga waka shu X: 954)

2:19 recording.

01 Jan 2008

Choki: Sunrise at New Year

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Eishosai Choki (fl. 1780s-1800s), Sunrise at New Year

A bijin (beautiful woman), presumably a courtesan, has risen early to greet the rising sun of the New Year at the waterfront at Fukagawa in Edo. The woman is adjusting the top of her kimono to protect against the chill of the early morning. In the lower-left is a blossoming fukujuso plant, emblematic of the New Year.

01 Jan 2007

Sunrise at New Year


Eishosai Choki (active c. 1786-1808), Sunrise at New Year (ca. 1800)

Perhaps the artist’s best-known design. It shows a woman, presumably a courtesan living near the waterfront at Fukagawa in Edo, who has risen early to greet the rising sun of the New Year. The woman is adjusting the top of her kimono against the chill of the early morning. Behind her is a blossoming fukujuso plant, emblematic of the New Year.

20 Mar 2006

An Ukiyoe by Koson


Koson - Bird and Begonias
Bird and Begonias, Koson Ohara (1877-1945) c.1910

Subject: A silhouetted bird flying through the driving rain, beneath it sprays of flowering Begonia.

The same essential image was recorded almost 1200 years earlier in Europe.

Venerable Bede, The Ecclesiastical History of England, Book II, Chapter 7:

The present life of man, O king, seems to me, in comparison of that time which is unknown to us, like to the swift flight of a sparrow through the room wherein you sit at supper in winter, with your commanders and ministers, and a good fire in the midst, whilst the storms of rain and snow prevail abroad; the sparrow, I say, flying in at one door, and immediately out at another, whilst he is within, is safe from the wintry storm; but after a short space of fair weather, he immediately vanishes out of your sight, into the dark winter from which he had emerged. So this life of man appears for a short space, but of what went before, or what is to follow, we are utterly ignorant.

04 Jan 2006

B.W. Robinson Dead at 93

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B.W. Robinson
photograph courtesy of Yahya Abdelsamad

The Telegraph yesterday, 1/3, reported the sad news of the death of Basil William Robinson, author and Orientalist, on December 29th at the age of 93.

Born in London June 20, 1912, Robinson was educated at Winchester, and at Corpus Christi College, Oxford. While at Oxford, he prepared a a B.Litt. thesis on the collection of Persian miniatures in the Bodleian Library, which many years later was to form the basis of a comprehensive catalogue.

Upon completing his degree at Oxford, he accepted the post of headmaster of a school at Bognor Regis. He had been an enthusiast and collector of Japanese art, arms, and armor, since boyhood, and in the capacity of a collector became acquainted with A.J. Koop, Assistant Keeper of the Metalwork Department of the Victoria and Albert Museum. An inquiry resulted in a friendship, and with Koop’s encouragement, he sought a post at the Museum. He was runner-up for an Assistant Keeper’s position, but the favorite soon resigned; and, in 1939, Robinson succeeded to the appointment.

He joined the Royal Sussex Regiment in 1942, enlisting in the ranks, but was sent to officer training school, and then commissioned (on the basis of his knowledge of Urdu) in the 2nd Punjab Regiment. He subsequently served as an Intelligence Officer in the Headquarters of 14 Army, which defeated the Japanese in the course of the campaign in Burma whose major actions were the battles of Imphal and Kohima.

After the end of the war, Robinson was sent to Singapore to be employed, on the basis of his knowledge of Japanese swords, in evaluating large quantities of swords surrendered by the defeated enemy. He was able to obtain the services of Colonel Yamada Sakae, of the 3rd Air Force, who had been a member of the sword evaluating committee of the Japanese War Office, to assist in his task.

He returned to the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1946. In the years following the war, Robinson proved a prolific author, publishing monographs on Persian miniatures and paintings, on Japanese swords and armor, and on the woodblock prints of Hiroshige and Kuniyoshi. His The Arts of the Japanese Sword (1961) was one of a small number of post-WWII publications in European languages which played a crucial role in opening up the study of Nihonto to Western students and collectors.

He became Deputy Keeper of Metal work in 1954, and succeeded the illustrious Charles Oman as Keeper in 1966. In 1967, Robinson was elected honorary president of the To-ken Society of Great Britain. He was president of the Royal Asiatic Society from 1970 to 1973. He was Keeper Emeritus at the Victoria and Albert from 1972 until his retirement in 1976. He is remembered with gratitude for his many contributions to the advancement of learning, and with affection by many friends, students, and long-time correspondents.


Yahya Abdelsamad, Basil William Robinson, Japanese Sword Society of the United States Newsletter, 37:1, February, 2005.

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