1874 Kunitsuru Ukiyo-e Triptych View of Yokohama's New City Hall

橫濱繁榮本町通時計臺神奈川縣全圖 / [Complete View of the Clock Tower in Yokohama's Flourishing Neighborhood of Honcho, Kanagawa Prefecture]. - Main View

1874 Kunitsuru Ukiyo-e Triptych View of Yokohama's New City Hall


Keeping Time in Yokohama.


橫濱繁榮本町通時計臺神奈川縣全圖 / [Complete View of the Clock Tower in Yokohama's Flourishing Neighborhood of Honcho, Kanagawa Prefecture].
  1874 (undated)     14.25 x 28.5 in (36.195 x 72.39 cm)


A scarce and brightly-colored ukiyo-e 1874 woodblock triptych by Utagawa Kunitsuru depicting Yokohama's town hall (横浜町会所), constructed in 1874 (Meiji 7), one of many new marvels depicted in Yokohama-e prints of the era. Bridging past and present, Kunitsuru employed established nishiki-e conventions but added relatively new, vibrant pink, yellow, and purple aniline inks, most imported from Europe, that eventually became distinctive of Meiji-era woodblock prints.
A Closer Look
A fascinating scene of the early Meiji, this view depicts Yokohama's new town hall in the neighborhood of Honchō. The complex was distinctive for its Western-style architecture, including a tall clock tower that dominated the cityscape and the tall flagpole at left. A lively street scene in the foreground depicts Japanese Yokohamans of various social classes chatting, traveling, or engaging in business. Some are dressed in Western-style Victorian clothing. A combination of means of conveyance are illustrated, including rickshaws, a sedan chair, horse-drawn carriages, and, at center, a woman pushing what appears to be a pram (another mother at right carries her child using the more traditional 'piggyback' onbu おんぶmethod). In the background at left, two more flagpoles can be seen; these appear to fly generic 'foreign' flags rather than those belonging to any particular country. Though no directional orientation is given, the lack of water and the presence of mountains in the background suggests that the view is looking towards the west.
The 1874 Town Hall and Clock Tower
Despite appearances, the structures seen here were not initially intended as a city hall in the modern sense. True to the laissez-faire spirit and system in Yokohama, it was instead meant as a meeting place for merchants akin to a Chamber of Commerce (one of its names was 'Traders' Association Office' 貿易商組合事務所). However, over time, disputes and other issues led to the creation of 'officials' to oversee matters pertaining to relations between businesses. The Hall's distinctive clock tower, whose internal mechanisms were imported from Europe, became a landmark much adored by locals. A fire demolished the structure in 1907, just as it was due for restoration. Afterwards, the Yokohama Port Opening Memorial Hall (横浜市開港記念会館) was built on the same site (completed 1917, rebuilt following the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake).
Yokohama - Japan's Gateway to the Outside World
Although Japan had reluctantly signed a 'Treaty of Peace and Amity' with the United States in 1854, allowing for greater foreign presence and influence, the terms were quite vague until a subsequent Treaty of Amity and Commerce (also known as the Harris Treaty), was signed in 1858, opening Japanese ports to foreign trade. Other foreign powers piled into Japan to sign similar treaties stipulating rights for their nationals 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 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. Aside from Western traders, Chinese merchants and workers also resided in Yokohama in large numbers, establishing an important community, still the largest Chinatown in Japan.

Woodblock 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 throughout Japan. These prints were so popular that they spawned an entire genre, known as Yokohama-e (橫濱繪).

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 (by then renamed Tokyo) in 1872. Eventually, Yokohama would grow to swallow up Kanagawa-juku and other nearby towns, becoming the capital of Kanagawa Prefecture and the second largest city in Japan.
Nishiki-e (錦繪)
Nishiki-e (literally 'brocade picture', also known as Edo-e 江戸繪 because it developed in the Tokugawa capital of Edo) is a style of woodblock printing that emerged in the 1760s and revolutionized the medium. Instead of producing a black and white print which was then hand-colored, or perhaps with one or two color blocks added, as had been done previously, nishiki-e prints allowed for the combination of many blocks, each adding one color to a complete image, which were fitted together perfectly. The result was that vibrantly-colored prints could be produced in greater numbers in far less time, allowing for popular distribution of woodblock prints, especially ukiyo-e prints.

Nishiki-e remained the dominant mode of woodblock printing through the Meiji era and was critical to the distribution of prints that carried depictions of new technologies and ideas throughout Japan in the mid-late 19th century. In particular, Kunitsuru here has incorporated the stunning (or garish, depending on one's perspective) colors developed in the late 1860s that would, in time, become the dominant style of the Meiji era. In any event, by the Taisho era, lithographic machine printing had advanced to the point that woodblock prints could not compete, and the tradition continued as a niche art rather than a means of mass media.
Publication History and Census
This triptych print was drawn (画) by Utagawa Kunitsuru and published by Maruya Tetsujirō. The lead engraver appears to have been surnamed Kishida (岸田). The view likely dates to the mid-1870s.


Utagawa Kunitsuru (歌川國鶴; 1807 - 1878) was a Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock artist and painter of the late Tokugawa and early Meiji period. As his professional name indicates, he was a member of the esteemed Utagawa school of woodblock printers, and more specifically was trained by disciples of Utagawa Toyokuni (歌川豊國). He was born in Edo but spent much of his career in Osaka and Yokohama. He moved to Yokohama in 1859, just as it was opening to foreign traders, and became an early purveyor of Yokohama-e prints, depicting foreigners and foreign technology in the treaty port. More by this mapmaker...

Maruya Tetsujirō (丸屋鉄次郎; fl. c. 1860 - 1890), also known as Tetsujirō Kobayashi (小林鉄次郎), was a Japanese publisher based in Edo / Tokyo. He published a wide range of nishiki-e prints, including those by the Utagawa school of woodblock artists, such as Hiroshige II's (二代目歌川広重) fascinating 1863 triptych of London (英吉利西龍道大港). His professional name strongly suggests and affiliation with the publishing lineage of Maruya Jianpachi (丸屋甚八). Learn More...


Very good. Light crackling, light foxing.