Yoshitora Utagawa, 5-7 am, The Twelve Hours in the Modern World


Artist: Yoshitora Utagawa (active 1830-1880)
Title: U no koku / 5-7am
Series: The Twelve Hours in the Modern World
Publisher: Sawamuraya Seikichi
Date: 1870
Size: 25.3 x 37 cm

Original Japanese woodblock print.

yoshitora utagawa, courtesans, twelve hours, japanese clock
yoshitora utagawa, courtesans, twelve hours, japanese clock yoshitora utagawa, courtesans, twelve hours, japanese clock

A Japanese clock (wadokei) is a mechanical clock that has been made to tell traditional Japanese time, a system in which daytime and nighttime are always divided into six periods whose lengths consequently change with the season. The typical clock had six numbered hours from nine to four, which counted backwards from noon until midnight. The hour numbers one, two and three were not used in Japan for religious reasons, because these numbers of strokes were used by Buddhists to call to prayer. The count ran backwards because the earliest Japanese artificial timekeepers used the burning of incense to count down the time. Dawn and dusk were therefore both marked as the sixth hour in the Japanese timekeeping system.

This series by Yoshitora Utagawa plays on the theme of the Japanese time keeping system to illustrate a day in the life of Edo period courtesans.

Yoshitora Utagawa

Yoshitora Utagawa was a woodblock print artist active towards the end of the 19th century in Japan. Born in Edo (today’s Tokyo), neither his date of birth nor date of death is known. Yoshitora was a pupil of Kuniyoshi Utagawa (1798-1861), however, he was expelled due to artistic differences. He went on his own path and changed his artist name to Mosai, producing prints of warriors, kabuki actors, beautiful women, and foreigners in particular (Yokohama-e).

The limited contact with the West imposed by the Japanese regime in the Edo period (1603-1868) created endless curiosity that artists were eager to satisfy, although the situations they imagined were sometimes far from being accurate. It is evident from these prints that the Japanese were fascinated by the clothing, the strange habits and the occupations of the foreigners.

For much of the Edo period Japan adopted a sakoku (closed country) policy. Sakoku was a system in which strict regulations were placed on commerce and foreign relations by the shogunate and certain feudal domains. Trade was limited, except for the port of Nagasaki where the Dutch and Chinese were the only ones allowed to operate. In 1859 the port of Yokohama was opened to foreigners, and ukiyo-e artists, primarily of the Utagawa school, produced hundreds of woodblock print designs in response to a general curiosity about the newly arrived visitors.

Yoshitora was a leading designer of these prints and he also produced a number of landscapes derived from Western engraving. In the Meiji period that began in 1868 he also worked for newly established newspapers.

More Information
Print FormatOban (Vertical)
ArtistYoshitora Utagawa
SubjectBeauty & Female, Kimono Design
Dimensions25.3 x 37 cm
Condition ReportLight soiling, some discolouration, thin areas on the margins, light creases, tape marks on the back.
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