1925 Yoshida View of Gifu, Cormorant Fishing on the Nagara River

ながら川の鵜飼 / [Cormorant Fishing on the Nagara River]. - Main View

1925 Yoshida View of Gifu, Cormorant Fishing on the Nagara River


Remarkable Cormorant Fishing tradition.


ながら川の鵜飼 / [Cormorant Fishing on the Nagara River].
  1925 (undated)     6.5 x 11 in (16.51 x 27.94 cm)


This is a charming c. 1925 bird's eye view of Gifu (岐阜) by Yoshida Hatsusaburo, a leading producer of views from this era. The view focuses on the famous practice of cormorant fishing in Gifu, a traditional means of gathering food that by this time had already transitioned to being primarily a tourist attraction.
A Closer Look
Cormorant fishing (鵜飼 ukai) has been practiced on the Nagara River for over a millennium by skilled fishing masters (鵜匠 ushō), who are so highly regarded that they have been employed by the Imperial Household Agency since 1890. Usually setting out at night, their way illuminated by an impressive flame at the front of the boat (see photo on verso), the fishermen tie a snare around each bird's throat, allowing them to swallow smaller fish but preventing them from swallowing larger fish, several of which they can hold in their gullet at a time. The fishermen then return the cormorants to the boat to retrieve the larger fish (namely ayu, that is, sweetfish) and the process repeats. Although it seems simple, considerable knowledge and experience is required to smoothly work with the birds, ensuring their safety and comfort. More than a decade of training is required to become a fishing master and the profession is often hereditary, passing from father to son for generations.

The cormorants and their use on the Nagara River at Gifu are well-known cultural motifs in Japan, incorporated into idioms, Noh theater, woodblock prints, and two haiku by the renowned poet Matsuo Bashō. Viewing the cormorant fishing has been a popular tourist activity for decades and the city of Gifu has consequently been associated in popular imagination with the activity.

The verso contains brief information on the history, population, and economy of Gifu, but the main focus is on cormorant fishing: its history, what time of year to view it, how to find tourist boats for viewing, the cost to hire a boat for larger groups, and so on (a municipal tour boat center 市營游覽見船事務所 is visible in the foreground at left). Information is also provided on other attractions in Gifu, including parks, Shinto shrines, Buddhist temples, and Gifu Castle, prominent atop Mt. Kinka (金華山), as well as distinctive local products and folk songs.
Sketchbook Mailer Maps
This view is closely related to sketchbook mailers (書簡圖繪), a genre of bird's-eye view that became very popular in Japan in the 1920s-1940s, which Yoshida largely defined. Sketchbook mailers most often depicted famous scenic sites or cityscapes from across Japan's growing empire. Each view was designed to be folded and packaged for safe and easy mailing and came with information about and photographs of the site(s) depicted on the verso, as is the case here. Although these drawings are fascinating, beautiful, and educational, they also served a political function, informing Japanese audiences about the empire and helping to build a shared sense of national identity.
Publication History and Census
This view was drawn by Yoshida Hatsusaburō (吉田初三郎). It is undated but likely was produced in the mid-late 1920s, when Yoshida was well-known but before he had attained legendary status among Japanese artists. The map was published by Gifu City Hall (岐阜市役所), itself visible towards right, denoted with a red box (with the text '市役所'). It was edited by Okachi Kazue (岡地主計) and Tasaka Noboru (田坂昇) of Sokō Gashitsu (蘇江画室), Yoshida's Studio in Nagoya, and printed by Kankōsha shuppanbu (觀光社出版部) in Kyoto, which printed many of Yoshida's works. This view is only known to be held by the Nichibunken (International Research Center for Japanese Studies) and is scarce to the market. The Nichibunken also holds a similar bilingual (Japanese-English) view by Yoshida dated to c. 1931 (Japanese title: 世界一景岐阜長良川鵜飼, English title: Bird's Eye View of Gifu, OCLC 1020880699) that is likely a later edition of this view.


Yoshida Hatsusaburō (吉田初三郎, March 4, 1884 - August 16, 1955) was a Japanese illustrator and painter of birds-eye views active during the Taisho and Showa periods. Yoshida was born in Kyoto and apprenticed under Takeshiro Kanokgoi (1874 - 1941). Yoshida is significant for pioneering the use parallel perspective birds-eye views to illustrate Japanese bus and railroad transit networks. His first birds-eye view, completed in 1914, illustrated the Keihan railway and was highly praised by no less than Hirohito, then a prince but soon to be the Shōwa Emperor. With the Emperor's approval, Yoshida's views became widely popular and were adopted by the Ministry of Railways for the illustration all of its major public transportation networks. His style was so fashionable and distinctive that an entire genre was named after him (初三郎式絵図), and his works helped to spur a domestic tourism boom in the 1920s – 1930s. Most of his work consisted of city and regional views, though larger views encompassing the entirety of Japan do exist. Yoshida's most significant piece is most likely his rendering of the Hiroshima bombing, which was published in an English language magazine in 1949. He took on Tsunemitsu Kaneko as an assistant and apprentice in the early 1930s. Eventually Kaneko started making parallel perspective views of his own and became Yoshida's primary rival. Although he made over 3,000 maps in his lifetime, Yoshida was known to dedicate months to research and preparation for particular maps. For his 1949 Hiroshima map and his striking depiction of the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, he adopted a journalistic approach and spoke to many survivors of the disasters. More by this mapmaker...


Good. Fold lines visible. Slight toning and wear along edges.