THE UTAGAWA SCHOOL
Toyokuni and his Pupils - Utagawa Kunisada - The Osaka School - Representation of Wrestlers.
IN the Utagawa school, founded by Utagawa Toyoharu (1733-1814), do we find the greatest number of artists who strove to satisfy the ceaseless demand for theatrical prints and actor-portraits.
Toyoharu himself, whose prints are rare, was mainly a designer of figure-studies and landscape, though he painted theatre posters. He produced hardly any prints after 1775, when he reverted instead to painting. He was the first Ukiyoye artist to treat landscape as a subject in itself, and not as a mere setting for figures, and he is particularly noted for his successful employment of European perspective, especially in the representation of buildings, such as the theatre interior illustrated at Plate 34. He evidently learnt perspective from a study of Dutch pictures. His landscapes have aptly been described as the grandparents of those of Hiroshige, whose instructor was a pupil of Toyoharu. It is curious that the two chief pupils of Toyoharu should have taken such widely-divergent paths; Toyohiro followed in his master's footsteps; Toyokuni set a fashion in theatrical and actor-prints which dominated the Utagawa school throughout its career to the almost total neglect of the teachings of its original founder.
After the death of Toyokuni, however, the art of the print-designer fell into such a rapid and steadily-maintained decline that, notwithstanding its size, the Utagawa school, considered as a whole is, from an artistic point of view, the least important.
From the point of view, however, of the popular theatre and its connection therewith, it was, in its day, the leading school of artists, having gradually taken the place of the Katsukawa, even as the latter in its turn had displaced the Torii.
Utagawa TOYOKUNI (1769-1825), the leader of this numerous body of print-designers, by reason of his prolific output and the number of pupils which he trained, is one of the best-known artists of Ukiyoye.
He was the son of a wood-carver, specially of figures of actors, and this fact may have influenced the young Toyokuni in his choice of subjects for his brush, whereby he later became the leading exponent of actor-portraiture at the close of the eighteenth and the opening of the nineteenth centuries.
Toyokuni's best work is amongst the finest produced by any artist of Ukiyoye in actor-portraiture.
Up to 1790 he was exclusively a painter of feminine beauty, following in the wake of Kiyonaga, Yeishi, Choki,
and later Utamaro, but on the advent of Sharaku he discarded these and turned his brush to actor-portraiture,
though when Sharaku retired from the field with such suddenness in 1795, Toyokuni reverted for a time to studies
of women, and became a distinct rival to Utamaro. After the latter's death, however, he abandoned this subject
for the second time, thenceforth producing only actor-prints in ever-increasing numbers,but of a steadily
deteriorating quality, until his latest efforts were but a parody of his former self. This deterioration, no
doubt, was due to an over-hasty production in obedience to a popular clamour for his work, coupled with a coarsening
of public taste in matters artistic. His best series in the full-size, upright sheet is one entitled
Yakusha Butai no Sugata-ye,
Portraits of Actors on the Stage (rare).
With the advent of Toyokuni, we come to the actor-print wherein actors are depicted otherwise than in character on the stage; in picnics, or in the company of beautiful women taking their pleasure on the waters of the Sumida River, surrounded by their eager admirers.
Toyokuni, also, is noted for his large scenes in triptych form showing the interior of a theatre during a performance, similar to those already described, but on a larger scale. One such triptych we have before us as we write, and another very similar is in the British Museum.
In the centre sheet is a near view of the stage which is occupied by four actors, one of whom is a woman endeavouring to separate two others who have been violently quarrelling, while the fourth waits, squatting motionless behind, for his turn to take part in the scene.
On a level with the stage and somewhat behind it, on the right as viewed by the spectator, is the orchestra, in front of whom kneels the leader, with two blocks of wood in his hands, which he bangs violently on the floor when additional noise is required to emphasize the scene that is being enacted on the stage. In front of him again, with a book in his hand, is the prompter.
Behind a black screen which partly hides the orchestra is the chorus, whose functions have already been described; opposite the orchestra, on the other side of the stage, is a crowd of coolies who are almost invading the stage itself, so intense is their excitement, while an attendant squats in front of them to keep them back.
Above them in a gallery is another crowd of women and coolies. At the sides are boxes filled with women of a superior class and of a more serious turn of mind, while the uppermost tiers are occupied by inmates of the Yoshiwara. Immediately round the stage itself is a miscellaneous crowd penned in small compartments, three or four in each, whose heads are on a level with the stage. All are not equally engrossed with the scene being enacted in front of them; one coolie pours himself out a drink of sake, while in the next compartment another is enjoying an easy shave.
Three young women, arriving late, are making a somewhat hazardous passage to their places under the guidance of an attendant, along the very narrow ledge which divides the different compartments, to the evident amusement of the occupants thereof.
At the left corner of the stage is shown the end of the principal
flower-walk (there is another on the
other side of the auditorium, but only half the width) which runs thence to the back of the auditorium,
and which gives access to the pit, besides being used by the actors for their exits and their entrances,
specially when illusion requires them to come from a distance, or walk in processions.
This custom led actors to commence their dialogue as soon as ever they set foot inside the auditorium, and
behind their audience, long before they reached the stage. The
flower-walks thus became adjuncts to
the stage, while the action of the play could be transferred from one to the other as circumstances required;
the audience thereby were literally in the thick of the plot and become, as it were, part and parcel of the
drama being enacted in their very midst, and not, as with us, something apart.
The print by Toyoharu illustrated at Plate 34 shows how the action of a play was thus transferred from the
stage to the
flower-walk, whereon Danjuro holds forth to the pittites, apparently oblivious to the
invasion from the stage of Suketsune's retainers to attack him.
Toyokuni's triptych gives a very realistic representation of the interior of the kabuki-shibai, the
arrangement of the stage and scenery, position of the orchestra and chorus, to say nothing of the types of
audience which patronize it, and the evident gusto with which they enjoy it. Which theatre is represented
is not stated, nor are the names of the actors given; the title simply reads
Great success at the Theatre!
Neither can the play being acted be identified from the scene depicted.
Kunisada has copied the right and left-hand sheets of this triptych practically line for line, but the scene on the stage in the centre sheet is different.
Another similar triptych by Toyokuni is in the British Museum collection, and represents a scene which is supposed to take place outside a house, in winter. Two women from inside look out at Ichikawa Komazo on the left, who, with drawn sword, defies three men advancing from the right from behind the house. Behind Komazo stands Ichikawa Danjuro. The proceedings are enlivened by a free fight amongst certain of the spectators on the left, evidently caused by the strong objections of a coolie to being thrown out, in which the immediate audience are more concerned than in the fight about to open on the stage.
Sometimes a section of the stage was made to revolve, so that while one scene was being enacted another was being prepared behind, and on a given signal the turn-table was revolved bringing to the front fresh scenery and new actors. Or the first act of an entirely new play could thus be presented.
Revolving stages, trap-doors, and such-like accessories are not inventions of the modern European stage, as is probably generally imagined. They existed in Japan at least in the early eighteenth century, if not in the seventeenth, though the methods of working were, of course, primitive. The trap, for instance, was operated by a man hauling on a rope passing over a pulley, and fastened to the lower end of an upright in the centre of the trap, like a centre-leg table.
In certain respects, however, in connection with stage scenery and stage management, the Japanese theatre may
seem to us too complaisant. For example, the leader of the orchestra (the man with the two blocks of wood),
the prompter, and the stage attendants who remove
properties or otherwise assist and attend on the actors,
are dressed in black or a neutral colour because they are thereby supposed to be invisible, whereas, as a
matter of fact, these functionaries are very much in evidence. A Japanese audience, however, is far too
polite to notice them when custom demands they should be considered invisible.
Though the actors of the popular theatre wore no masks, they frequently painted their faces with red streaks as a substitute, as shown in the prints here reproduced, in order to enhance the effect of facial expression, while their elaborate and strikingly designed costumes afforded excellent material for colour-print artists, an advantage none made better use of than Toyo- kuni.
In fact it is often the magnificent costumes, so peculiarly adapted to the technique of the colour-print, that form the chief attraction of actor- prints for many who find the portrayal of the features and the modes of expression employed difficult to appreciate.
Actor-portraits are found full and three-quarter length in character, or as head-studies only; singly and in pairs.
Generally the name of the actor is given, and the character in which he is represented; at other times the only identification is by the mon, or crest, on his sleeve.
Toyokuni's best actor-prints were produced between the years 1790 and 1800, both full-size and in hoso-ye shape; the former often have a grey-wash background evidently in imitation of the coloured mica background used by Sharaku, or the silver-prints of Utamaro.
While, perhaps, Toyokuni's reputation as an actor-painter was at one time held too high, there seems a tendency at the present day, particularly with American collectors, if we may judge by the criticisms of Mr. A. D. Ficke, one of the most recent writers on the subject, to unduly discredit him, in proportion as the estimation of other artists in this respect has risen.
Doubtless this lower estimation of Toyokuni is primarily due to the relative abundance of his late work, which is of a poor quality, and which we see perpetuated in an even worse form by his numerous pupils, particularly by Kunisada.
As an actor-painter, however, he should be judged by his early work, which is of a high order of merit. On this point we take leave to quote from Mr. Strange's Handbook to the Victoria and Albert Museum, which contains a very complete collection of Toyokuni's large early actor-prints.
With a collection such as this before one, it is possible to arrive at a better judgment with regard to Toyokuni's powers as the designer of actor-prints.
These portraits of actors, writes Mr. Strange,
are the work of a master of the highest artistic rank,
whatever be his social position. They have not the prettiness of the graceful but, truth to tell, somewhat
inane females of Toyokuni's predecessors and contemporaries. The face and pose are often hard and angular;
but, as anyone will admit who has ever seen a Japanese play, these qualities are absolutely inherent in the
Japanese actor at work. Indeed the face was as a mask, and the Japanese stage of old times held nothing like
the human restlessness of a European actor. Thereon movement was slow, studiously controlled, and worked into
what was really nothing more than a series of tableaux; exactly such as Toyokuni, in fact, represents over
and over again with perfect realism. His rendering of dramatic emotion is intense; but it is that of the Japanese,
and not of the European actor.
And the simplicity of his convention, the unerring lines of his composition, and the inimitable dignity of
his subjects, when such is required of them, are all evidences of great and personal skill. His colour is always
good and generally in a somewhat subdued key ... a notable characteristic is the fine use he made of black in
solid mass. Probably no other artist of his class has excelled him in this respect - few have,
even occasionally, equalled him.
The above constitutes, in the writer's opinion, a much fairer estimate of the power of Toyokuni as a designer of actor-prints than what most collectors and writers on the subject seem disposed to concede to him.
Toyokuni's powerful rendering of dramatic scenes is well shown in the example by him reproduced in colours at Plate C. This print, which by itself would entitle him to rank amongst the greatest of dramatic artists, depicts the actors Ichikawa Omezo and Onoye Matsusuke in the characters of Watanabe-no-Tsuna and the Oni of Rashomon. There are two versions of this legend, one in which Watanabe is attacked by an Oni during a rainstorm at the gate of Rashomon, when he cut off its arm. He hid this arm in a box, refusing to show it to anyone, but was at length prevailed upon to do so by an old woman. As he opened the box, the woman assumed the form of a witch with the horned face of Hannya, and pouncing upon the arm, carried it away. (See page 32.)
The other version is as follows: A beautiful woman asked Watanabe to escort her to Gojo, as she was afraid to travel alone. He helped her on his horse, but during the journey she changed into a demon, and seized him by his hair; whereupon he drew his sword and cut off her arm. The remainder of the story is the same as the first version.
Another very striking theatrical duo by Toyokuni, and one which clearly shows the influence of Sharaku,
is reproduced at Plate 36, page 224. This represents the actors Ichikawa Danjuro as Matsumaye Tetsunosuke (or
Arajishi Otokonusuke), and Ichikawa Komazo in the character of Nikki Danjo, in a scene from a popular play
Nikki Danjo was a retainer in the service of the Lord of Sendai, and headed a conspiracy to rob the latter's
child of his inheritance on his father's death. By the devotion of the child's nurse and her husband,
Otokonusuke, they sacrifice the life of their own son whom they allow to be poisoned by the conspirators
in the place of their young lord. The scroll which the rat is carrying in its mouth contains the will of
the Lord of Sendai giving the title of succession to his son. This Danjo contrives to steal, and to effect
his purpose assumes the form of a rat by magic incantation the moment Otokonusuke attempts to catch him,
and so escapes. Otokonusuke, however, manages to hit the rat with his fan, when Danjo immediately changes
back into himself again, but with a wound in his head. (In the play this transformation is effected on the
disappearance of the rat by Danjo rising up through the trap-door in the
flower-walk, holding the
makimono in his mouth.)
Danjo is seized and tried for theft and witchcraft, and punished by imprisonment.
After serving his term he goes to the judge who sentenced him, and expresses sorrow for his deed. The judge receives him graciously, but the treacherous Danjo contrives to get close up to him and stabs him.
Retainers rush to the help of the murdered man, but Danjo expires by his own hand at the fall of the curtain.
The above scene, Otokonusuke attacking the rat, forms the sixth act of the play, and is illustrated in a print by Kiyonaga in the British Museum collection.
Another well-known scene from this play is that known as the
hanging by the
crown of the head scene, in which Yorikuni, Lord of Sendai, hangs the courtesan Takao over the side of a
boat by her hair, and lets her fall into the waves by cutting it through with his sword. This scene is also
often found illustrated in prints.
Takao was a very famous Yoshiwara beauty who persistently refused the advances of her admirer, Date Tsuna-mune, Lord of Sendai. He, however, bought her for her actual weight in gold from the joro-ya, and ordered her to his castle. Still refusing to become his mistress, she rather chose death by drowning in the Sumida River.
The play, Sendai Hagi, is founded on an actual historical event, the characters being taken from an
earlier period and the names altered, in the same way that the famous
Chushingura drama was adapted
for the stage from history.
Thus Otokonusuke is the same as Matsumai Tetsunosuke, another retainer in the employ of the Lord of Sendai, who caught Danjo in the act of stealing a valuable book from his master's room.
As examples of Toyokuni's work in hoso-ye form (c. 1800), we reproduce at Plate 35, Illustrations 5 and 6,
and at Plate 36, three fine examples; one (No. 5) a portrait of the actor Segawa Kikunojo as a woman Manzai
New Year dancer, with a grey-wash background across which is a band of pink mist, and behind that a
kadomatsu, after the style of Shunsho and his school.
At Plate 36, No. 3, is a full-length figure of the actor Ichikawa Danza- buro, also as a woman dancer, holding a fan in one hand and a rattle in the other. This is in a style more purely that of Toyokuni himself, without a background. In one case the actor's name can be identified from the mon or crest on his dress; in the other his name is written in characters.
As a large number of actor-prints only give the actor's name by the crest he wears, we reproduce in an appendix various actors' crests with their clan names, which we have been able to identify.
Illustration 6, Plate 35, shows an entirely different treatment. The title reads
Secret thoughts of the Pillow,
a Spring Phantasy for the Rat Year (i.e. 1804), and the subject is an actor dreaming of his success in a woman's
part, probably in allusion to Rosei's dream, a story taken from the Chinese.
Rosei (Chinese, Chao Lu Sheng), hearing that the Emperor was in need of councillors, set out for Canton to offer his services, and on the way met a Rishi or Sennin (immortal) who gave him a magic pillow. While waiting for his evening meal to cook, he rested his head on the pillow and fell asleep, dreaming that the Emperor becomes so pleased with his administration that, in gratitude for his services, he gives him one of his daughters in marriage.
Waking up, however, to find his meal still uncooked, he realized that his dream was a warning of the transitory nature of all earthly greatness, and instead of pursuing his way onwards, returned home to meditate thereon.
This print shows also the piece of purple silk which actors wore at this time on their foreheads, in virtue of a decree which ordered them to shave off their front hair, as the Government considered their good looks were too liable to play havoc with the hearts of the gentler sex. To replace their shorn locks, actors substituted this piece of silk, which, if anything, enhanced their personal appearance, and had an effect opposite to what the law had intended.
Following even closer the style of Sharaku are Toyokuni's large heads on a grey background in emulation of the former's large bust portraits published in 1794.
Like Sharaku's portraits they are notable for the very fine outline drawing, refinement of colour-scheme, and careful printing. Three such head- studies are in the British Museum collection, one of them, a portrait of an actor as Yuranosuke, the leader of the forty-seven ronin, being reproduced in the catalogue thereto.
None of Toyokuni's early actor-prints, such as described above, are at all common, particularly really fine copies of them, and this especially applies to his large heads.
The only other artist of the Utagawa school whose actor-prints are of a high order of merit - by some esteemed even above those of Toyokuni - and which were very popular in his lifetime, is Utagawa Kunimasa (w. 1772-1810), an early pupil of Toyokuni. Owing to the fact that he worked for a short time only, his output was small, and his prints to-day are consequently very rare. They show almost a closer resemblance to the style of Sharaku than to that of his teacher, though doubtless the fact that, at this period, Toyokuni himself was largely influenced by this same great personality, reflected itself to an even greater degree in the pupil. A fine example by Kunimasa, showing clearly the influence of Sharaku, is illustrated at Plate 36. Besides full-length figures, Kunimasa also designed large head- studies.
Another, even rarer pupil of Toyokuni is KUNIHISA, said to have been a female pupil. If this surmise is
correct, this must be an unique case in Ukiyoye of a woman print-designer. A print by her of
the actor Segawa Ronosuke as an oiran is reproduced in the sale catalogue of the Tuke collection
(Sotheby, April, 1911), and is signed
Kunihisa, pupil of Toyokuni. As the latter died in 1825 we should
be inclined to date Kunihisa somewhat earlier than the period attributed to her in the above catalogue (1840-1860).
The quality and style of drawing, also, suggests an earlier date, rather 1815-1830. If working as late as 1840,
she would have been a pupil of Kunisada, who was then the master of the Utagawa school. The writer, however,
considers her more likely to have been pupil of Gosotei Toyokuni.
After Toyokuni's death, in 1825, actor-portraiture fell into a rapid decline, and in the hands of his followers, led by Kunisada, eventually degenerated into pure caricature, squint-eyed, long-nosed, and wry-mouthed, defects enhanced tenfold by the shrieking colours.
Amongst other pupils of Toyokuni who died young or ceased work early in their career, before the art had so far advanced towards decay, and whose prints therefore are often above the level of their longer-lived contemporaries, may be mentioned the following:-
Utagawa Kuniyasu (c. 1800-1830), who designed actor-prints amongst other subjects, and whose drawing and colour is often good. His prints are not common, and were produced between the years 1805 and 1820.
Other pupils, such as Kunimaru, Kuninao, and Kuninaga, all of whose work is uncommon, appear to have designed studies of Yoshiwara beauties rather than actors, judging from such prints by them as have come under observation. All these worked only during Toyokuni's lifetime.
A very rare contemporary of Toyokuni, and fellow-pupil of Toyoharu's, is Utagawa TOYOMARU (c. 1785-1815), who designed actor-prints. The only example by him that has come under observation is a print in the British Museum collection. Von Seidlitz mentions him as an actor-painter, quoting examples from the Bing and Hayashi collections. He was also a pupil of Shunsho under the name of Kasumura Shunro.
The artist who dominated the Utagawa school after the death of Toyokuni is his chief pupil Utagawa KUNISADA (1786-1865), whose production of actor-prints was even greater than that of his master.
His first prints of this nature appeared about 1810, closely following the style of his teacher, and he is said to have achieved fame at the very beginning of his career by his portrait of a celebrated actor.
As an example of his productivity, he issued, in collaboration with Toyokuni, a series of some hundred and fifty sheets of one actor alone in his different parts.
His early work, which carries the signature Gototei (
Fifth ferry- house) Kunisada, is good; this name
signified his ownership of a ferry of which he held the license. About 1834 he changed this to Kochoro;
and ten years later assumed the name of his master as Toyokuni the second, thus ignoring the prior claim
of Gosotei Toyokuni (originally Toyoshige), an adopted son and pupil of Toyokuni, whose name he used
after his death, and was the real second Toyokuni.
It is from this date (viz. 1844) that we see most marked evidence of the rapid decline in Kunisada's work, and in that of his contemporaries and pupils. The drawing becomes rougher and cruder, the designs needlessly intricate and filled with a mass of bewildering detail of composition, which is reluctant to leave even the smallest space unoccupied, while the colouring becomes much stronger and garish.
If we shut our eyes to all the clumsiness, crudeness, and exaggeration in his (Kunisada's) work, there
still shine through it glimpses of the old grand style; . . . but the falling-off is nevertheless so great
that we can only call this new tendency, which entirely dominated Kunisada, the evidence of a rapid and
uncontrollable decay (Von Seidlitz).
The very fine, large head-study of the actor Seki Sanjuro (private name Kazan) in the character of Kiogoku
Takumi, which we illustrate at Plate 37, shows more than a glimpse of the old grand style; it is a really
fine piece of work, while at the same time it proves that as far as the technical skill was concerned,
there was no falling-off on the part of the engraver and printer, even as late as the middle of the nineteenth
century. The engraving is remarkably delicate, and the printing extremely accurate, while gauffrage
blind-printing) is freely employed both in the elaborate coiffure and on the dress. This print is
on remarkably thick, soft paper, even superior to that usually employed for surimono. Alongside Kunisada's
signature of Toyokuni is the printer's signature, Rinzo, a hall-mark of very fine printing.
The publisher's mark in the margin (not reproduced) is that of Kishodo, and above Kunisada's signature
is the seal-date Monkey 3= 3rd month, i860. As the other Monkey year, 1848, falls within the so-called Prohibition
period, when actor-prints were banned by law, it must be the later of these two dates, which would give
Kunisada's age as seventy-five, and shows that he had maintained his skill to the last, a skill which he
too often sacrificed to mere hastiness of production.
Further evidence on the date is given by the form of the date-seal which incorporates the year and the aratame
examined) seal in one, a device adopted in 1859 and subsequently.
Kunisada was the master of a large school of pupils who carried on the traditions of the Utagawa school in a very decadent and debased manner, till its practical extinction in 1870-1875. Their work calls for no comment.
The other leader of the Utagawa school after the death of Toyokuni was KUNIYOSHI (1797-1861), a much less prolific artist than Kunisada, but on the whole a more competent one. Like the latter he had a large following of pupils, but Kuniyoshi himself did few actor-prints, a subject with which he was not successful. He is better known for his numerous illustrations to heroic episodes in Japanese and Chinese literature, and kindred subjects.
We may, therefore, here dismiss Kuniyoshi without further comment.
THE OSAKA GROUP OF ARTISTS
The various sub-schools of Ukiyoye which we have now passed in review all worked in Yedo, the city where the art of the colour-print designer first came into existence. About 1820, however, there arose a new school of designers in Osaka, formed largely by pupils and followers of Hokusai and Kunisada. The former visited Osaka in 1818, and probably his influence started the idea of forming a school of print-designers there. An interesting piece of evidence, however, of Kunisada's connection with Osaka is in existence in the form of a triptych, a copy of which is in the Victoria and Albert Museum, South Kensington, giving a representation of the Dotombori Theatre, Osaka, showing its general internal arrangements, actors learning their parts, making-up, gossiping with one another, and so forth. The publisher of this triptych, Nishimura, states that it is being issued as a memorial of Kunisada's visit to Osaka, but unfortunately it is not dated, but it is probably about 1820-1825.
The Osaka artists devoted themselves mostly to actor-portraits and theatrical subjects. The memorial portrait which we reproduce at Plate 37 of the actor Nakamura Utayemon, is probably by an Osaka artist, and is signed Suiho Sanjin; Utayemon was a favourite in the theatrical world both in Yedo and Osaka.
The particular characteristics of Osaka prints have already been noted in Chapter II.
Next to the actor, the wrestler was the most popular public entertainer, yet few artists turned their attention to him as a subject for their brushes. Shunko, Shunjo, and Shunyei, pupils of Shunsho, were almost the only artists of importance who did so, and of these only the last-named to any extent, as has already been noted. Kunisada and his pupils, and Kuniyoshi, drew wrestlers to some extent, but like their actor-prints they were generally crude in drawing and worse in the colours employed.
The late Dr. W. Anderson, in his Japanese Wood Engravings, accounts for this apparent neglect of a
popular subject by the nature of an artist's training. He says:
Their training in the traditional art canons
had rendered them unfit to appreciate the grand display of muscular force that often revealed itself beneath the
hide of the athlete, and, as they could make nothing of the heavy features and elephantine limbs of their model
the few studies of the wrestling arena that have reached us have little attraction for the art collector. This
failure on the part of the artist to render a subject that might have appealed strongly to his European confrere
is an interesting contradiction of the theory that the magnificent creations of the sculptors of ancient Greece
were inspired by the opportunities that those great artists had of studying the nude form. The Japanese artist
had at least equal facilities, and many worthy subjects, but not one of the men who in certain directions showed
so perfect and instructive an appreciation for beauty of line has ever made a serious effort to do justice to the
matchless curves of the human figure.
We have, when dealing earlier in these pages with the characteristics of Japanese drawing, commented on the fact that the Ukiyoye artists paid little or no attention to the drawing of the human figure, even in respect of the hands and feet, the most easily noted parts besides the face, but followed a pure convention in this respect.
Then, again, the fact that they did not model their figures to shape, would render the wrestler, with his heavy paunch and unwieldy, puffy limbs unsuitable in their eyes as a subject for delineation, developments unnaturally exaggerated in drawings of wrestlers, save when intended as caricatures.
The Japanese wrestler, however much he may be admired in his own country, forms a striking contrast to our notions of how a wrestler should be trained.
Like the actor he was considered a low, vulgar fellow, but enjoyed a certain amount of familiarity with his patrons like-jockeys and prize-fighters in our own country. Champion wrestlers were allowed the privilege of wearing a rope girdle, and also of giving exhibitions of their prowess before the Shogun.
Wrestling was a very old institution in Japan, the first historical record of a match occurring 24 B.C. In the eighth century (A.D.), when Nara was the capital of Japan, the Emperor Shomu instituted wrestling as part of a religious ceremony, a custom not discontinued till 1606. Later, about 1640, was instituted the custom of having public wrestling matches in the streets of Yedo, for the purpose of raising funds for the building or repair of temples, a custom still in force in the nineteenth century.