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Yoshida Hanbei (吉田半兵衛)


Yoshida Hanbei shorei kyokun kagamiYoshida Hanbei (吉田半兵衛 1642-1693) was the leading book illustrator in Kamigata (Kyoto and Osaka region) from around 1681 to 1693. Although Hanbei was the most prolific Kamigata artist of the late seventeenth century (some say he illustrated more than 100 books, although these include a great many unsigned works), his biography is unknown. He might have studied with an artist called Shôgorô, although no work signed by that teacher is recorded today. Hanbei was the first ukiyo-e book illustrator in Kamigata to sign his works, the earliest being Yamato nijûshi-kô (Twenty-four paragons of filial piety in our homeland: 日本廾四孝), a sumizuri-e (monochrome pictures: 墨摺絵 or 墨摺絵) from 1685. He also seems to have used the signature Yoshida Sadakichi (吉田定吉). Hanbei's work reveals the influence of Tosa, Nara-e, and ukiyo-e (especially the work of Hishikawa Moronobu in Edo).

Hanbei's mature oeuvre is always skillful and occasionally innovative. Various unsigned and generally undistinguished works before 1685 have certain mannerisms, facial types, and quality of line and composition to suggest a younger, less capable Hanbei might have produced such designs, and so some are attributed to him. Starting in 1685, however, there are sufficient numbers of signed works to nevertheless establish him as an important artist.

One example of an unsigned but attributed work is Shorei kyôkun kagami (Mirror of instruction for various rites: 諸礼教訓鏡), 1681 (reprinted in 1720, one volume). The diminutive figures do not fill the pictorial space, a characteristic of a great many book designs by Hanbei. Here, the familiar theme of dressing the hair is presented in a style closely associated with Hanbei.

Hanbei's range of subject matter spans many categories that were popular in ehon (woodblock-printed "picture books": 絵本) by late seventeenth century. These include comprehensive guides to behavior and dress, such as Joyô kinmô zui (Illustrated encyclopedia for women, 女用訓蒙図彙 six volumes, 1687, also read as Onna-yô kinmô zui). In the two pages shown below, young beauties model the latest in kimono fashions. Other illustrations feature models for dress, hairstyles, and household management. In these instances, the figures are much larger than in the aforementioned Shorei kyôkun kagami, endowing them with a greater visual impact.

Yoshida Hanbei onna yo kinmo zui
Yoshida Hanbei: Onna yô kinmô zui
(Collection of pictures to enlighten the young, for women: 女用訓蒙圖彙), vol. 3 (of 5), 1687

Another work intended for women (and male connoisseurs or suijin, men about town, 粋人) was Tôryû onna yô kagami (Modern mirror of the world of women 當流女用鑑) written by Okada Shôhakuken (奥田松柏軒) in 1687. Its translation is also given as "Illustrated encyclopedia for use by women." Volume 4 (of 5) presents patterns for furisode ("swinging sleeves": 振袖), kimono with long sleeves popular among young, unmarried women as well as certain entertainers, including onnagata (male actors in female kabuki roles: 女方 or 女形). Here, kimono in the Genroku style of the 1680s-90s are displayed. Each has literary allusions. On the right, a teguruma (two-wheel hand carriage: 手車), for use within palace grounds and closely associated with the Heian-period imperial court is combined with a fan and evening glories, thus resonating with the Yûgao (evening glory: 夕颜) chapter of the Genji monogatari (Tale of Genji: 源氏物語). On the left, Hanbei has drawn the Yoshino River, along which one could view cherry blossoms (there are some depicted in a floating saké cup). The large gourd also floating in the river might allude to the concept of fleeting time and youth, a theme directly connected with ukiyo-e and the demimonde whose inhabitants lived only for the moment, or as Asai Ryôi (浅井了意 c. 1612-1691) in Ukiyo monogatari (Tale of the floating world: 浮世物語) from 1661 wrote, "... like a gourd floating along with the river current."

Yoshhida Hanbei toryu onna-yo kagami
Yoshida Hanbei: Tôryû onna yô kagami
(Modern mirror of the world of women 當流女用鑑), vol. 4 (of 5), 1687

Yoshida also produced epistolary guides, including E-iri tôryû onna bunshô (Illustrated modern letters for ladies, 絵入當流女文童 three volumes, 1688) — a book of examples on letter writing that also served as a copybook for calligraphy, published in Osaka, Kyoto, and Edo. In addition, Hanbei illustrated courtesan critiques, such as Nagasaki miyage (Souvenir of Nagasaki: 長崎土産, five volumes, c. 1681 as dated in the Preface), one of the oldest guides to the sex workers of the Maruyama district in Nagasaki, as well as providing details of relations between Japanese and Chinese traders in that port city. The book's postscript is signed Sakino akusho daijin ("Former minister of the red-light district") Shimabara Kanesute (Hatakeyama Kizan 畠山箕山 1628-1704), who, while signing as the author Fujimoto Kizan (藤本箕山), had produced Shikadô ôkagami (Great mirror of the way of sex: 色道大鑑) in 1678. Included among Hanbei's much admired shunga (explicit erotica or "spring pictures": 春画) were Uruoi-gusa (Charming wet grasses: うるほひ草 c. 1680, Genji on-iro asobi (Genji’s erotic pursuits: 源氏御色遊 two volumes, 1681), Kôshoku kinmô zui (Encyclopedia of erotica: 好色訓蒙圖彙) from 1686, and its sequel, Kôshoku kai-awase (The erotic shell game: 好色貝合) of 1687.

Hanbei's yakusha hyôbanki (actor critiques: 役者評判記) included Toshi no hana (Flowers of the year: 年の花 one volume, 1692), with assessments of their abilities, some biographical information, diagrams of their mon (crests: 紋), and what claim to be portraits. The isolated figures have a statuesque quality and the actors are, in effect, modeling kimono, which are printed on pages opposite the actors. This book is considered to be one of the last designed by Hanbei.

Yoshida Hanbei koshoku gonin onna
Yoshida Hanbei: Kôshoku gonin onna (Five amorous women who loved love: 好色五人女), 5 volumes, 1686
Scene from vol. 4, "The greengrocer's daughter with a bundle of love"
Author: Ihara Saikaku (井原西鶴)

Hanbei supplied illustrations for at least twelve of the novels and story collections by Ihara Saikaku (井原西鶴, 1642-1693), and it is these collaborations that first come to mind when considering Hanbei's place in Kamigata book illustration. Due in part to the association with the eminent Saikaku, they may be counted among Hanbei's best-known illustrations, starting with Saikaku's first work of fiction, Kôshoku ichidai otoko (The life of an amorous man: 好色一代男) in 1682. Four years later, Hanbei's contributions appeared in another of Saikaku's best-sellers, Kôshoku gonin onna (Five amorous women who loved love: 好色五人女), issued in five volumes in 1686. Shown above is a scene from "The greengrocer's daughter with a bundle of love." The tale presents the adolescent Yaoya Oshichi (八百屋お七) and her first love, the samurai youth and koshô (temple page: 小姓) Kichisaburô (吉三郎), which ends in her tragic death and his flight into the priesthood. The related text for the illustration has been translated as, "He [the older monk] got up, put the bell back on a string, and threw fresh incense on the fire. Then he sat at the altar for what seemed an eternity to Oshichi, who was impatient to enter [Kichisaburô's] bedchamber...." [trans. by Wm. Theodore de Bary]

Yoshida Hanbei shorei kyokun kagami

As for nanshoku ("male-male love": 男色), one notable example by Saikaku is Nanshoku ôkagami (Great mirror of male love: 男色大鑑) published in Kyoto and Osaka in a large-book format (273 x 194 mm) with 8 parts bound in 10 volumes (nos. 2 and 7 were divided over 2 volumes each). A second edition was published in standard size (roughly 180-220 x 130-140 mm). Title slips expand the title to read Honchô waka fûzoku nanshoku ôkagami (The custom of boy love in our land — Great mirror of male love: 本朝若風俗 男色大鑑). The work is considered a masterpiece of ukiyo-zoshi ["notes of the floating world": 浮世草子], a major genre of illustrated fiction originating in Kamigata and written for the chônin (townspeople: 町人), focusing on their lives, romances, and pursuit of pleasure.

In the image shown on the right, from the second story in volume 1 of Nanshoku ôkagami, Hanbei depicted a crucial moment from a tale called Naburi-korosu sode no yuki (Tortured to death with snow on his sleeve: 嬲殺袖の雪). Two young samurai, Sasanosuke and Haemon, are lovers. When Sasanosuke spies Haemon chatting with another young man, he flies into a rage and forces Haemon to strip down and stand in the snow. As Haemon pleads with Sasanosuke, the jealous lover looks down upon the pitiable Haemon while playing a tsuzumi (hand drum: 皷 or 鼓). Haemon succumbs to the freezing temperatures and dies, whereupon the grief-stricken Sasanosuke takes his own life while lying beside Haemon in bed. Sasanosuke is then praised for his loyalty.

A two-page illustration by Hanbei from Saikaku's Nihon etai-gura (The family storehouse: 日本永代蔵 six volumes, 1688), also known as "Japan's treasury for the ages," is shown below. This book is perhaps the most representative example of Saikaku's realistic style in his "townspeople" ehon. Nihon etai-gura was immediately popular, offering tales of men amassing wealth by talent, scheming, or hard work, or losing it through profligacy. Hanbei's scene depicts the custom of calling in loans at the Mizuma Temple in Izumi province. This was done on the "Day of the Horse in Spring." Here, a heavily indebted merchant arrives with a herd of pack horses carrying the the coins for the loan plus interest after thirteen years of defaulted payments. ©2020 by John Fiorillo

Yoshida Hanbei nippon eitaigura
Yoshida Hanbei: Nihon etai-gura (The family storehouse: 日本永代蔵), two volumes, 1688
Settling accounts at the Mizuma Temple
Author: Ihara Saikaku (井原西鶴)


  • Christie's: The Donald and Mary Hyde Collection of Japanese Books and Manuscripts. New York, October 7, 1988 [auction], nos. 103, 107-110, 113.
  • Clark, Tim, et al.: The Dawn of the Floating World 1650-1765: Early Ukiyo-e Treasures from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. 2001,no. 78, p. 202.
  • Clark, Tim, et al.: Shunga: Sex and pleasure in Japanese art. Amsterdam: Hotei Publishing, 2013, p. 140, no. 31.
  • De Bary, Wm. Theodore: Five Women Who Loved Love by Ihara Saikaku. Rutland / Tokyo: Tuttle, 1956.
  • Hillier, Jack: The Art of the Japanese Book. London: Sotheby's, 1987, pp. 100-111.
  • Ihara, Saikaku: Nanshoku ôkagami (男色大鑑). Princeton University Library: 10 physical vols. (nos. 2 and 7 divided into two parts each, bound separately). Illustrated by Yoshida Hanbei; published in Kyoto by Yamazaki Ichibei and in Osaka by Fukaeya Tarôbei; Jôkyô [1687]; Title Slip: Honchô waka fûzoku nanshoku ôkagami (本朝若風俗 男色大鑑); Call Number: PL794 .N37 1687 (Marquand Library - Rare Books).
  • Izzard, Sebastian: "Early Images from the Floating World. Japanese Paintings, Prints, and Illustrated Books, 1660-1720." New York, March 3 - April 5, 2008 (exhibition), pp. 60-61.
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