Japan #1847: drawing, calligraphy, oh my

This is a marvel: a hand-drawn manuscript for a small Japanese book by Utagawa Yashitora, an ukiyo-e print artist who (among other things) published over a hundred books during his active years, 1850-1880. With brush and ink, the artist tells his story of “Revenge at Igaguye” on 5 x 7 in. pages of rice paper. The pages were cut and layered as needed for the two-page spreads and for corrections. Even with all the layering, the two volumes of 40 pages are barely 1/8-inch (3-mm) thick, The craftmanship of the drawing, the calligraphy, and the layouts are truly awesome — the kind of thing that makes you believe artists are magicians.

The pages are so razor thin and the drawing so fine, that you need to handle it to catch the enchantment. But I couldn’t resist taking a photo of every page. Now I can blow it up on my screen and have a proper digital-age look. I also posted it as an album on Flickr, because sometimes sharing brings its own serendipity.

Yoshitora: Revenge at Igagoye//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

This is another of the “bottom drawer” treasures, small items that surface on occasion to delight us. The receipt and notes were neatly tucked inside the wrapper (made from a cut-down brown file folder). Jim bought the manuscript from his London dealer-friend in 1972.

It’s kind of a comic book, isn’t it? A predecessor of today’s manga and today’s action heroes. It was written when Japan’s age of the samurai was coming to an end — a romance, a reminiscence, a longing for the day when heroic geniuses could save our asses. Hmm… sake poured.

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