Chikanobu Yoshu, Noh Theatre, The Inner Palace of Chiyoda


Artist: Chikanobu Yoshu (1838-1912)
Title: Backstage of a Noh Theatre
Series: The Inner Palace of Chiyoda
Publisher: Fukuda Hatsujiro
Date: 1894-1897
Size: (L) 24.2 x 35.3 (C) 23.5 x 35.2 (R) 24 x 35.3 cm

Original Japanese woodblock print.

This series published around 1890 depicted the life of the court ladies living in the women’s quarters of the shogun’s palace called ‘ooku’ before the Meiji restoration. The palace was also known as Edo castle and contained many luxurious buildings, gardens and gates.


The women lived leisurely lives representing the height of elegance and beauty evident in their finely detailed and brightly coloured kimono and youthful faces. The court ladies fashions varied throughout the ages and consisted of wearing white make-up and styling her hair. These ladies-in-waiting were expected to be well educated in traditional arts and carry out refined activities such as writing poetry, tea ceremony and attending theatre plays. Chikanobu produced many fine woodcuts dealing with scenes from the Noh Theatre, and with the pleasures of the noble courts. His minimalist style combined with the richly decorated clothes and costumes made him stand out among other woodblock print artists of the Meiji period. In this print, a lady is preparing a Noh mask for an actor that is about to step on stage.

Chikanobu Yoshu (1838 - 1912)

Chikanobu Yoshu was a woodblock print artist from the end of the 19th century. He was one of the most prolific woodblock print artists of this period, working with both traditional subjects, such as actors, courtesans, scenes of famous sites, beautiful women, and with topical subjects, such as war and rebellion. Born into a samurai family in Echigo province, Chikanobu became one of the final, great, ukiyo-e artists aiming to preserve the traditional culture of Japan at a time when the country was becoming rapidly modernised. As a child, he studied Kano style painting. When he moved to Tokyo he studied print design first at the studio of Kuniyoshi Utagawa (1797-1861) and later on at that of Kunisada I Utagawa (1786–1865).

The end of the Edo period (1603-1868) and the beginning of the Meiji period (1868-1912) brought a rapid influx of Western values and technologies that influenced many artists of this time, including Chikanobu. As a result, he developed a distinctive personal style blending a close adherence to the traditional technique of ukiyo-e, and occasional western imagery. He designed prints rooted in traditional myths and legends but also kaika-e, prints that documented Japan's modernization, the Emperor Meiji and the imperial court's promotion of that modernization.

Even though Chikanobu’s prints showcase a variety of subjects, due to the wealth of his beauties and court ladies works, it is believed that the customs and events of the imperial family were his favourite subject. Out of these prints, the most well-known series is probably ‘The Inner Palace of Chiyoda’ (‘Chiyoda no O-oku’), which depicts the court life in the palace of the Tokugawa shogunate. Influenced by the rapid changes happening in Japanese society following the Meiji restoration, Chikanobu also produced beauty prints showing ladies in Western clothing, as opposed to kimono. Chikanobu's last works in the early years of the 20th century featured brave samurai and heroic women of Japan's past, models of appropriate behaviour for the future.

More Information
Print FormatTriptych
ArtistChikanobu Yoshu (1838 - 1912)
SubjectBeauty & Female, Kimono Design
Size(L) 24.2 x 35.3 (C) 23.5 x 35.2 (R) 24 x 35.3 cm
SeriesCourt Ladies of the Chiyoda Palace::Chikanobu Yoshu