Treasures of the library

Itchō gafu

The Lisa Sainsbury Library has an extensive collection of books and exhibition catalogues on ukiyo-e and kabuki. This is thanks to the generous donations made over the years by the former Leeds University History Lecturer, Dr Ellis Tinios. As well as his gift of modern publications, the Lisa Sainsbury Library received a further 11 titles in 18 volumes of pre-modern Japanese books as an additional donation in early October 2022. One of the examples of Dr Tinios’s generosity is Itchō gafu which I would like to describe in this article.
This picture album was originally published as a set of three woodblock printed books, but only the first and second volumes are held at the Library. The foreword of the book is dated in the first month of the year of the tiger in Meiwa era (January or February 1770) which indicates that the first edition was published at that time.
The ‘Itchō’ in the title refers to the painter, Hanabusa Itchō (1652-1724), who was active in the early Edo period. I would like to begin by outlining his astonishingly eventful life based on writings of Professor Kobayashi Tadashi, a board member of the Sainsbury Institute, who produced very detailed biographies of Hanabusa Itchō in Kokuka, Nihon no Bijutsu and Nihon Bijutsu Kaiga Zenshū.[1]

Hanabusa Itchō was born in Kyoto in 1652 as a son of Taga Hakuan, who was a physician of the Lord, Ishikawa Noriyuki, of the Ise Kameyama Domain. The family moved to Edo in his childhood.[2] Recognising his talent as a painter, the Lord Noriyuki ordered him to become a disciple of Kanō Yasunobu, who was the head of all Kano Schools.
Itchō, however, was expelled from the school several years later possibly when he was around 20 years old.[3] Neither Kano School nor Itchō explained the reason for his expulsion.
Itchō then interacted with Matsuo Bashō when he was in his late 20s.[4] He was also influenced by genre artists such Hishikawa Moronobu and Iwasa Matabē.[5] By the time he was in his 40s, he came to be regarded as a renowned genre painter by a wide range of people from commoners to high-ranking samurai.
He frequently visited Yoshiwara[6] not only enjoying himself as a customer but also working as a jester. It is said that he entertained wealthy people including feudal lords and even the Shogun’s relatives encouraging them to spend large amounts of money on their entertainment. This made him some enemies who disapproved of his behaviour.
In 1693, Itchō was arrested by the Shogun’s government and imprisoned. Fortunately, he was released two months later. However, five years later when he was 47, he was exiled to Miyake Island which is located approximately 180 kilometres southeast of Edo. While there are several theories as to why he was exiled, the real cause has not been identified.
His exile was meant to be for life, and Itchō was initially depressed but soon started painting again. After 12 years on the remote island, he was eventually offered an amnesty in 1706 when he was 58 on the accession of a new Shogun, Tokugawa Ienobu.
Itchō returned to Edo and started to call himself ‘Hanabusa Itchō’. He created his masterpieces of this period under the patronage of wealthy merchants but not samurai. He became the founder of the Hanabusa School.
In contrast to his promising career, his personal life was not so fortunate. His wife passed away in 1713 and his mother in the following year. His eldest son left him because there were conflicts between them. In 1717, he decided to resume working in the Kano School style. He passed away in 1724 at the age of 73.

This album Itchō gafu was compiled by the painter Suzuki Rinshō (1732-1803) nearly half a century after the death of Hanabusa Itchō. Rinshō was a disciple of Kanō Michinobu (1730-1790). In his lifetime, Rinshō was considered one of the three master painters of Edo along with Bunrei and Enjō, though he is not now thought of as a well-known artist.[7] He admired the style of painting of Hanabusa Itchō and his circle, and he published some other albums of Hanabusa School artists in addition to Itchō gafu.
Itchō gafu is “one of the first monographic art books published in Japan”.[8] A number of copies of this book can be found today in libraries, galleries, and museums around the world . Sometimes, they can even be found on Internet auction sites. Therefore, it seems that this album was published continuously over the years due to its popularity. The publisher of the first edition is Kariganeya Seikichi of Seizandō. Since then, several different publishers produced this album until the late Meiji period.

The title page design of the album was altered depending upon the publisher. The Lisa Sainsbury Library’s copy has a distinctive wisteria pattern which differs from the Seizandō’s edition even though our copy is printed ‘Seizandō zō’ (woodblocks are owned by Seizandō) at the bottom of the fore-edge of each folder sheet. In consequence of searching other institutions’ copies, the Seiundō edition seems to be the same as our title page design. It is necessary to make such comparisons in order to determine which printing we have because our copy lacks the third and final volume of the book, which would have carried the colophon.  

Itchō gafu covers a wide range of subjects such as historical figures, birds and flowers, genre scenes and auspicious motifs. Regardless of the subject matter, the pictures in this album are all cheerful, witty and heart-warming without formality or vulgarity.

According to Miriam Wattles, auspicious motifs are usually placed at the beginning and the ending of picture albums.[9] In the case of Itchō gafu, the first volume starts with Ebisu and Daikoku and ends with Hotei, and the second volume begins with Fukurokuju and ends with Jewel. Ebisu, Daikoku, Hotei and Fukurokuju are four of Seven Deities of Good Fortune “who are said to bring wealth and long life”.[10] The album indeed follows the rule that Wattles indicates.

As an example of historical painting, there is a work entitled ‘Nue and Yorimasa’ which is the second image in the first volume. The story of this picture is based on a legend that at the end of the Heian period, the Emperor Konoe ordered the master archer, Minamoto no Yorimasa (1104-1180), to exterminate a nue that disturbed the Emperor’s peaceful night sleep, and Yorimasa successfully fulfilled the mission. A nue is a mythical creature whose head resembles a monkey, with the body of a raccoon dog, the limbs of a tiger and the tail of a serpent, and it makes horrible noise at night. In this picture (figure 7), the figure on the right-hand side with a bow is Yorimasa, and on the left-hand side with a sword is his vassal, Ino Hayata, who sits astride the nue.

Genre scenes are regarded as the most characteristic subjects among Itchō’s painting. This picture (figure 8) is entitled Amayadori (shelter from the shower), which appears in the first volume of the album. The mix of people depicted in this picture are not well-dressed, are not posing, are not engaging special activities such as slaughtering a devilish creature. They are just doing nothing but waiting for the shower to pass. Everyday scenes like this were commonly occurrences in Japan at that time, but nobody depicted such a scene in a painting before. Itchō’s personality is clearly revealed in his choice of the daily lives of the common people as a fit subject for his paintings, even though he rejected such scenes in his latter period.

His name lives in posterity as a pioneer painter who broke away from the formalistic world of Kano School painting and opened up a new world by choosing the everyday lives of ordinary people as the subject matter of his painting. His genre scenes reveal his love for his fellow humans.

Akira Hirano

1 Kobayashi Tadashi, “Hanabusa Itchō – sono  hairu o chūshin to shite,” Kokka 920 (November  1968): 5-20.
Kobayashi Tadashi, “Haran no shōgai,” Nihon no bijutsu 260 (January 1988):  18-30.
Kobayashi Tadashi, “Morikage/Itchō,” in Nihon bijutsu kaiga zenshū (volume 16) (Shūeisha, 1982): 98-117.
2 Some sources indicate when he was 8 years old, others show that he was 15 years old.
3 Kawai Masatomo, “Jōkyōji zō Shaka Nyorai gazō to Hanabusa Itchō ni tsuite,” in Kawai Masatomo kaiga-shi ronshū (volume 2) (Chūō Kōron Bijutsu Shuppan, 2020). 307.
4 Kawai Masatomo, “Jōkyōji zō Shaka Nyorai gazō to Hanabusa Itchō ni tsuite,” 307.
5 His name is usually spelt ‘Matabei’ by art historians, but I prefer to use ‘Matabē’ because it is the correct Japanese pronunciation. There is no ‘i’ sound at the end of his name.
6 The government-regulated centre for prostitution in Edo.
7 Katō Bunrei (1706 – 1782)  known as the master of Tani Bunchō. Takada Enjō (-1809) studied the Kano School painting under Katō Bunrei.
8 Miriam Wattles, “The Life and Afterlives of Hanabusa itchô (1652-1724),” (PhD diss., New York University, 2005), 3.
9 Miriam Wattles, “Suzuki Rinshō “Giga bassui Itchō gafu” o Kokkai Toshokan de yomu,” Bungaku 10-5 (9-10 2009): 202.
10 Japan: an illustrated encyclopedia (1993), s.v. “Seven Deities of Good Fortune,” 1351.