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VJP title
Utamaro print showing


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Meiji Recuts and Reprintings
(Hiroshige 歌川廣重)


Ukiyo-e publishers owned the original woodblocks for the prints they issued. In effect, publishers held the copyrights, not the artists who provided the original sketches that were transformed into woodblock prints. Some publishers reprinted the designs from the original blocks well into the Meiji period (1868-1912). These late impressions would invariably reveal wear and tear to the blocks and were typically made with less nuanced color schemes.

Publishers might also have their carvers recut blocks for the most popular designs and reissue new editions. There are, for example, potentially deceptive Meiji-period copies of Utagawa Hiroshige's designs. As the Meiji papers and pigments were sometimes not so very different from those used during Hiroshige's lifetime (1797-1858), it can be difficult, without sufficient expertise, to distinguish these later nineteenth- or early-century reproductions from the originals.

There was, however, one series of Hiroshige's designs, recut in 1891-92, that poses less of a challenge to authentication. First, the most obvious difference from the originals is the margin inscriptions, which in the recut edition provides information about the publishing particulars, including the dates of the block cutting (either 1891 or 1892), in place of what would have been the Edo-period publisher, date, and censor seals. Second, the series title in the red cartouche at the upper right has changed from Meisho Edo hyakkei (100 famous views of Edo: 名所江戸百景) for the 1856-58 edition to Senjutsu Edo shijûhakkei (Selection of 48 views of Edo: 撰出江戸四十八景) for the Meiji versions. Third, the later pallete differs in its limited use of the brighter aniline and natural colorants that were favored during Meiji, although it should be said that color-palette aside, the quality of these later recuts, particularly in the carving, are rather similar to the originals. For example, see the two editions below of Ohashi Atake no yûdachi (Sudden shower over Shin Ohashi and Atake: 大はしあたけの夕立).

Early edition (with 2 boats in distance)
Meisho Edo hyakkei (9/1857 this design)
Meiji recut, 1891
Senjutsu Edo shijûhakkei

Another series, considered Utagawa Hiroshige's early masterpiece, was subject to lifetime and very late posthumous printings from wornout original blocks. The series of fifty-five horizontal ôban designs titled Tôkaidô gojûsan tsugi no uchi ("Fifty-three post stations of the eastern sea road"), was published circa 1833-34 by two firms, Takenouchi Magohachi (Hôeidô) and Tsuruya Kiemon (Tsuruki or Senkakudô). The set is often called simply the Hôeidô Tôkaidô series to distinguish it from various other sets by Hiroshige on the same theme (there are at least 36 groupings of prints on the Tôkaidô by Hiroshige numbering over 900 separate designs). The Hôeidô Tôkaidô was reissued many times in variant states and in so many thousands of impressions that today the different editions are still being sorted out and their chronology still debated.

In some designs the range of variation is considerable (Stations 1 and 6 are known in recut lifetime second editions issued only by Hôeidô, who also partly recut Station 2). It is not known why so many changes were made, but theories include the loss of some woodblocks in a fire at Senkakudô's shop in 2/1834 or the no-turning-back wearing out of some blocks that Hôeidô decided to recut after he acquired sole rights to the designs from Senkakudô.

Other designs from this and other series by Hiroshige were republished from original blocks well into Meiji. The differences lie mainly in the elimination of one or more color blocks or special printing effects such as bokashi (color gradation: 暈). It has been said many times but it still bears repeating: Almost without exception early impressions from original blcoks of Hiroshige's prints are essential to a full achievement of the artist's vision and the atmosphere and poetic effects of the Japanese landscape. Nearly all late impressions lack the nuance and expressiveness of the early editions.

Looking again at a design from Meisho Edo hyakkei (100 famous views of Edo: 名所江戸百景), we can compare two impressions from the original blocks for the "eagle's-eye" view of Fukagawa Susaki Jûmantsubo (Jûmantsubo Plain at Fukagawa Susaki: 深川洲崎十万坪) first issued in the intercalary fifth month of 1857. In early impressions, there is a crispness to the lines, a more subtle rendering of the eagle, a well-defined edge to the near shoreline, and a nuanced gradated sky. In late impressions, the entire design is turned into a crude copy. Most of the linework is tired and worn, the red cartouches show a lack of registration and degraded edges, and the sky is a travesty of what Hiroshige (or the original artisan-printer) intended, now a dull expanse of black withvisible horizontal baren marks betraying careless production for the sake of quick sales to customers still interested in this imaginative masterpiece of a design.

Early-edition printing
Fukagawa Susaki Jûmantsubo
Later Meiji reprinting (original blocks)
Fukagawa Susaki Jûmantsubo

For other Hiroshige prints, see Hiroshige I, Mutamagawa, and Woodgrain. ©1999-2019 by John Fiorillo


  • Forrer, Matthi: Hiroshige: Prints and Drawings. Munich & NY: Prestel-Verlag & Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1997.
  • Izzard, Sebastian: Hiroshige: An Exhibition of Selected Prints and Illustrated Books. New York: The Ukiyo-e Society of America, 1983, p. 23.
  • Link, Howard: Hiroshige: The James A. Michener Collection. 2 vols. Honolulu: Honolulu Academy of Arts, 1991.
  • Narazaki, Muneshige: Hiroshige: The 53 Stations of the Tôkaidô (Masterworks of Ukiyo-e). Tokyo: Kodansha, 1969.
  • Smith, H. and Poster, A.: Hiroshige: One Hundred Famous Views of Edo. New York: Brooklyn Museum, 1986.
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