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JAPANESE ILLUSTRATION. HANAI OUME? - Set of proof wood engraved illustrations for a Japanese serial story.

n.p. n.d. [c 1887?] Oblong quarto by size (260x185mm ) contemporary plain wrapper; 41 wood engravings on 21 double folded leaves. A little browning. ¶ A prime example of the strange casserole of Meiji Japan. In form, in technique, in content and in production these hold all the paradoxes of Japan embracing western modernisation while hanging fast to tradition. These are the illustrations for what seems a rollicking sword and sash thriller but ... it is set in a modern metropolis; bowler hats, suits and dashing mustachios are not out of place, neither is what looks like a railway station; and these are not ukiyo-e woodcuts for a popular novel, these are western wood engravings for a long serial - there are 41 after all - in a newspaper or broadsheet magazine; an illustration of such a paper helpfully holds a bough of blossoms in one illustration. The subject apart, the glaring difference between these and any western illustrations is the skill of artist and engraver, all but a few western counterparts are put to shame. I'm convinced that these relate to Hanai Oume the celebrated Tokyo geisha-teahouse owner who, in 1887, stabbed her sometime lover and employee who, apparently in concert with her father, was trying to muscle her out of the business. The first illustration here shows two men holding umbrellas that, I'm told, advertise a restaurant or 'licenced pleasure quarter' remarkably similar to hers: Suigetsu. Oume or O-ume - her professional name - was celebrity manifest. Her murder trial was public and though crowds unable to get in became irate every moment was covered in the press; books were published within minutes, kabuki plays and novels performed and published, and the newspapers made rich. Yoshitoshi produced a famous print of the murder as a supplement for the Yamato Shimbun but while there is plenty of violence in these pictures there is no murder. Spin-off or fanciful concoction, there's a good story here. There is an owner's (maybe artist's?) seal which I make out to be - I'm sure I'm wrong.
AUD 475.00 [Appr.: EURO 297.25 US$ 337.3 | £UK 254.25 | JP¥ 37536] Book number 9539

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