1861 Yoshikazu Ukiyo-e Triptych of an American Steamship at Yokohama

亜墨利加國蒸気車往來 / [The Comings and Goings of an American Steamship]. - Main View

1861 Yoshikazu Ukiyo-e Triptych of an American Steamship at Yokohama


Foreigners so strange.


亜墨利加國蒸気車往來 / [The Comings and Goings of an American Steamship].
  1861 (undated)     14.75 x 30.25 in (37.465 x 76.835 cm)


An intriguing depiction of foreigners in Japan from the early days after Yokohama's opening as a treaty port, this is Utagawa Yoshikazu's 1861 ukiyo-e woodblock triptych of an American steamship and passengers at Yokohama. It is notable for reflecting both the curiosity of Japanese artists about the new arrivals and their imperfect understanding of these visitors.
A Closer Look
A group of passengers and gruff-looking sailors mill around an American sidewheel steamer. Several curious elements reflect an incomplete understanding of foreigners. For example, terminology was not yet standardized, and phrases in the title would soon be replaced with more common terms (汽船 instead of 蒸気車, 米国 or アメリカ instead of 亜墨利加國). Some minor details are clearly mistaken or misremembered, such as the star field of the American flag (instead of five-pointed stars, these white symbols more closely resemble the chrysanthemum in the standard of the Japanese imperial family). The purpose of the ship's large chimney at right is not entirely clear, and paddle steamers of the era meant for oceangoing would typically have sails. Finally, despite appearing in Western dress, most of the women in the view look to be Japanese. This easily may well have been a reflection of reality, as most foreign traders in Yokohama traveled solo and many took Japanese wives.
Yokohama - Japan's Gateway to the Outside World
This work falls within the Yokohama-e (橫濱繪) genre, which depicted foreigners and the cultural interactions between Japan and the outside world that took place in Yokohama after its opening as a treaty port. Although Japan reluctantly signed a 'Treaty of Peace and Amity' with the United States in 1854, opening the door for greater foreign presence and influence in Japan, the terms were quite vague until a subsequent treaty, the 1858 Treaty of Amity and Commerce (Harris Treaty) opened Japanese ports to foreign trade. Other foreign powers piled into Japan to sign similar treaties stipulating rights to trade and reside in certain Japanese ports. The most important of these 'treaty ports' were Nagasaki and Yokohama, the former having been a major port for centuries, the latter much less so.

The foreign powers demanded a port near Edo (Tokyo), understanding that the capital itself was not an option. Yokohama was primarily chosen because the most obvious choice, Kanagawa-juku, a nearby coastal station on the Tōkaidō, was opposed by the Shogun. Much like Shanghai in China, Yokohama grew rapidly and became the main conduit for the exchange of people, goods, and ideas between Japan and the outside world.

Japanese artists rushed to depict the new visitors, who were regarded with both curiosity and revulsion, but in either case were an object of keen interest. Aside from Western traders, Chinese merchants and workers also resided in Yokohama, establishing an important Chinese community, still the largest Chinatown in Japan.

As the city itself was a product of the treaty port system, Yokohama was quick to embrace foreign technology, and Japan's first major rail line was opened from Yokohama to Edo (Tokyo) in 1872. Eventually, Yokohama grew to swallow Kanagawa-juku and other nearby towns, becoming the capital of Kanagawa Prefecture and the second largest city in Japan.
Publication History and Census
This ukiyo-e woodblock triptych was drawn and printed by Utagawa Yoshikazu (歌川芳員, signed here as Ishikawa Yoshikazu, 一川芳員) and published by Maruya Jinpachi (丸屋甚八). It is undated but generally accepted to have been published in 1861 (Bunkyū 1). Each individual sheet measures 14.75 inches tall by 10 inches wide. The triptych is rare, only being held by Harvard University (Harvard Art Museums), the Art Institute of Chicago, the Kobe City Museum, and the Kanagawa Prefectural Museum of Cultural History.


Utagawa Yoshikazu (歌川芳員; fl. c. 1853 - 1870), also known as Ishikawa Yoshikazu (一川芳員), was, as his name indicates, a painter and ukiyo-e woodblock printer of the Utagawa School and a disciple of Utagawa Kuniyoshi (歌川国芳). His early work often dealt with battle scenes or natural themes, but after the opening of Yokohama as a treaty port, he began to produce prints dealing with foreigners there (Yokohama-e). Among his last known works is an 1870 print (東京繁栄車往来之図) containing somewhat fanciful illustrations of modern technology, including Yoshikazu's imagination of a steam locomotive (none had arrived in Japan yet, so he had to work off of second-hand accounts). More by this mapmaker...

Maruya Jinpachi (丸屋甚八; c. 1759 - 1872) was a paper and ornate fan (uchiwa) merchant, as well as a publisher of woodblock prints based in Edo (Tokyo). The firm is named after its founder and was passed on to his descendants, including an adopted son, who operated it until the early Meiji period. They produced nishiki-e by many of the leading ukiyo-e artists of the late Edo period, including members of the Utagawa School. Learn More...


Very good.


Harvard Art Museums Object No. 2007.214.32.1-3. Art Institute of Chicago Reference No. 1926.1819. Kanagawa Prefectural Museum of Cultural History Reference No. CW0007617.