Hanga Treasure Chest: Print #13

With the rainy season over and hot summer now upon us, it's time to cool down - so here's a depiction of one of the ways that the Edo townsfolk beat the heat! My reference books tell me that sea bathing wasn't common in those days, but that waterfalls of this type were favourite places for relief from hot summer temperatures, with food and drink vendors setting up shop in the coolness of the river valley near the base of the fall.

The image is from an extended series of prints entitled Edo Miyage (Souvenirs of Edo), designed (nominally) by Hiroshige. I include the 'nominally' for the usual reason - his name is there on the prints, but going by the rather low quality of design, one wonders just how much he was actually involved with their production.

We have to remember though, that the point wasn't to make great 'art', but simply to supply people with a souvenir of a trip to a famous place, so I suppose I shouldn't be too critical. There must have been steady demand for prints of this type, and I imagine that they sold for quite reasonable prices at the time.

I have quite a few of the prints from this series, and although I could never consider using most of them for my work, there are a few that 'make the grade'. This one depicts Fudo no Taki (Fudo Waterfall) in the Oji area, and even with its clumsy little 'stick' figures and rudimentary depiction of foliage provides such a fascinating snapshot of Edo period life that I couldn't resist including it in this Treasure Chest set.

Who are those people under the waterfall? Would he be a servant, scrubbing her back? But would an upper-class woman do this outdoors in public with people looking on? Or is it more probably a shitamachi couple, who would presumably be less concerned about such things? Or perhaps I'm on the wrong track entirely, and he is a religious attendant, and this is some type of ritual being performed under the falling water.

I sure wish there were some falls like this near me!


Monday, July 18, 2005