Umbrellas in ukiyo-e

Umbrellas don’t sound very thrilling but I’m always looking out for elements of ukiyo-e that illustrate aspects of the Meiji period – the preoccupations of the people and the times. In this way the metal-spoked Western pattern of umbrella is neat and very recognisable feature in prints of the time and contrast nicely with the traditional Japanese bamboo umbrellas.

You have to also remember that celebrities of the day were very keen to use yakusha-e to boost their image and to look more trendy and stylish. The Meiji period was a period of massive modernisation and Westernisation so objects that were clearly foreign were seen as very stylish but actors are usually pictured wearing the costume of their characters and so this limits what they can bring to the image. The solution to this seems to have been … Western, metal-spoked umbrellas. 

Here is one of my favourite series showing actors of the day portraying female characters, carrying Western umbrellas and wearing beautiful traditional kimonos. Kunichika: “A selection of six celebrated actors (Haiyū Rokkasen)” by Kunichika, 1873. 

And just to show that the men were also not slow to get in on the trend – here is a lovely print by Kunichika (presumed to have been produced between September 1873 and June 1874, from the actor’s names & faces):

Kunichika: Ichikawa Sadanji I, Nakamura Sōjūrō, Kawarasaki Sanshō (Ichikawa Danjūrō IX), Onoe Kikugorō V & Nakamura Shikan IV, in an unknown play featuring street toughs – otokodate

Another almost identical copy is here at JAC: https://www2.ntj.jac.go.jp/dglib/collections/view_detail_nishikie?division=collections&class=nishikie&type=title&istart=30&iselect=%25E3%2581%2582&trace=detail&did=1874

The new Meiji royal family were also quick to spot the opportunity to develop their popularity with the people as this pair of prints shows. The first is the original design, produced in Meiji10 (1877) and shows the empress walking in the palace gardens followed by her retinue. 

Kunichika: Illustration of the Empress Strolling (皇后の宮御歩行図, Kōgō no miya gohokō no zu)

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