Nihon seihin zusetsu [trans.: Japanese Products, Illustrated & Explained]
by KO, Ungai (or Eiichi)
Numerous full-page & double-page woodcut illus., mostly color-printed. Five vols. 8vo, orig. orange pattered wrappers, orig. block-printed title slips on upper covers, new stitching. Tokyo: Matsunosuke Iguchi, 1899. Second edition (1st ed.: 1877) of this massive survey of the arts and edible products of Japan. Sponsored by the Ministry of the Interior, it was prepared in the aftermath of the Vienna World's Fair of 1873, the first world's fair in which Japan participated. The Japanese representatives in Vienna realized they needed a survey of the arts and products of their country, in order to make known to the rest of the world the wealth of the superb traditional skills of their island nation. Such a work would thereby promote the export of products. Both editions are rare; our second edition has a number of additions reflecting the changes which Japan experienced in the last part of the 19th century. The finely produced color-printed woodcuts in all the volumes were executed by Shosen Kano (1823-80), the ninth-generation head of the Kobikicho Kano branch of the Kano school of art. The numerous woodcuts are superb examples of bokashi, a technique used in Japanese woodblock printing, which achieves a variation in lightness and darkness of a single color by hand applying a gradation of ink to a moistened woodcut printing block, rather than inking the block uniformly. The quality of the illustrations are highly detailed and of the greatest delicacy, some of which have mica applied for an extra richness. Many of the illustrations also demonstrate the application of tsuyadashi, a technique in which portions of the image have been lightly oiled to render a certain "shine." The illustrations are multi-colored and required many different woodblock impressions. The first volume contains a preface describing the need to increase exports of Japanese products. The main body of the text is concerned with seaweed from the Asakusa area, known for it high quality products of the sea. The text and illustrations describe how to harvest and process seaweed in all its complex and intricate steps. Vol. II is devoted to the production of salt in Tokushima Prefecture. Again, all the steps of the production of salt are described and finely illustrated. Many of the tools and drying furnaces are depicted. The third volume is by far the most important: it is one of the fullest descriptions of nishiki-e (brocade pictures), a major innovation in the evolution of polychrome woodblock illustration techniques. It was invented in the 1760s by Suzuki Harunobu. Previously, most prints had been in black-and-white, colored by hand, or colored with the addition of one or two color ink blocks. Polychrome prints or book illustrations were made using a separately carved block for each color, which could number up to twenty. To print with precision using numerous blocks on a single paper sheet, a system of placing two cuts on the edge of each block to serve as alignment guides was employed. The text of this volume is very technical, describing how to produce prints in the nishiki-e method; the use of gold, silver and mica; how to achieve various levels of "sheen;" the use of metallic pigments; how to apply all these effects; etc. Each illustration has extensive and detailed text, explaining exactly the processes depicted. All the brushes and supplies are shown at the different artists' work stations. Vol. IV is concerned with konbu, the edible kelp and one of the main ingredients to make dashi. There is also a substantial section on kanten (aga), a jelly-like substance obtained from algae. The illustrations depict harvesting of konbu on long boats of the Ainu, drying the konbu, tools, how to package the product for shipping, how to process the raw kanten, etc. The fifth volume is concerned with miscellaneous seaweeds (29 kinds) and their economic uses. The very fine colored illustrations depict these seaweeds.
(Inventory #: 6224)
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