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VJP title
Utamaro print showing


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Chain Lines (Orientation on Standard Papers)


Typical ukiyo-e print sizes were sheets cut from larger standard handmade papers (there were at least 4 standard uncut sizes in regular use during the Edo period). If we use approximate sizes in inches, an uncut standard sheet used to make ôban-size ("large-print") and chûban-size ("medium print") sheets was approximately 20" x 15". When cut in half parallel to the smaller 15" dimension, the sheet would yield 2 ôban sheets (10" x 15"). Depending on the orientation of the printed design, you would have vertical chain lines for ôban tate-e (vertical or "upright" ôban prints) or horizontal chain lines for ôban yoko-e (horizontal ôban prints).

Chûban sheets were ôban sheets cut in half parallel to the remaining longer (10") dimension, so they measure approximately 10" x 7.5." As with ôban sheets, the direction of the chain lines depends on the orientation of the design. On the cut chûban sheets, the chain line orientations would be the reverse of the ôban-sheet orientations, that is, horizontal in relation to a chûban vertical (tate-e) design, and vertical in the much less commonly encountered chûbanhorizontal (yoko-e) design.


Other print formats were cut from three alternate types of standard sheets, so a summary of the most familiar print formats derived from these four standard sheets is given below. Note that the koban size ("small print") refers to formats cuts as fractions of at least three of the standard sheets and so varied in its actual dimensions. As hand-made Japanese papers varied in actual size and amount of trimming, all sizes are approximate. For the purposes of simplifying this summary, the smaller sizes are consistent divisible fractions of corresponding larger sizes.

  • Standard Sheet (20" x 15"): Yields 2 ôban sheets (10 x 15), 4 chûban sheets (10 x 7.5), or 8 koban(small) sheets (7.5 x 5); also 4 chû-tanzaku (5 x 15) if cut along the other dimension
  • Smaller standard sheet (12.5" x 18"): Yields 2 aiban (12.5 x 9), 3 hosoban sheets (12.5 x 6), 4 chûban sheets (6.25 x 9), or 8 koban (small) sheets (6.25 x 4.5); also 2 nagaban sheets (6.25 x 18) if cut along the other dimension
  • Standard hosho sheet (16" x 22"): Yields 2 large surimono (8 x 22), 6 square surimono (shishikiban) sheets (8 x 7.33), or 4 chûban sheets (8 x 11)
  • Standard large sheet (15" x 27.5"): Yields 3 hashira-e (pillar print) sheets (5 x 27.5)

In addition, there were some joined sheet formats, such as the large kakemono-e (vertical hanging scroll print), which was formed from 1-1/3 smaller standard sheets (12.5 x 24). There were, as well, occasional non-standard format sheets cut from various larger sheets. ©1999-2001 by John Fiorillo


  • Keyes, R.: The Male Journey in Japanese Prints. University of California Press, 1989, p. XXX ("Paper Formats").

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