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National Diet Library Newsletter

No. 155, June 2007

Selections from NDL Collections
Nishiki-e depicting Iki-ningyo

Humanities Division
Reference and Special Collections Department

This is a translation of the article of the same title
the NDL Monthly Bulletin No. 553 (April 2007).

Iki-ningyo (生人形; living dolls), one kind of Japanese ningyo (人形; dolls or figures) crafts, is a life-sized doll elaborately and realistically created to look like a real living person.

Misemono (見世物; literally, show or exhibit) of Japanese dolls dates back to the early years of the Edo period (1603-1867), and iki-ningyo exhibits were the most popular around the Ansei era (1854-1860) to the late of 1880s.

The forerunners of the iki-ningyo were the papier-mâché dolls portraying actors made by Oe Chubei (大江忠兵衛) displayed in Nanba-shinchi (present-day Chuo-ku area, Osaka) in 1852. The first of the iki-ningyo in Edo (present-day Tokyo) was Mitate-onna Rokkasen (見立女六歌仙) by Oishi Ganryusai Yoshihiro (大石眼龍斎吉弘), which gained popularity among people around Ryogoku-bashi Higashizume (両国橋東詰, present- day Ryogoku in Sumida-ku, Tokyo) in 1853.

The origin of the name “iki-ningyo” was the performance titled “Chinzei Hachiro Shima-meguri Iki-ningyo saiku (鎮西八郎嶋廻り 生人形細工)” in Nanba-shinchi in 1854 by Matsumoto Kisaburo (松本喜三郎, 1825-1891), a doll craftsman originally from Kumamoto.

*click for larger image

Asakusa Okuyama Iki-ningyo
Set of two O-ban (large-size) nishiki-e, from “Azuma nishiki-e”
Artist: Ichiyusai Kuniyoshi
Publisher: Izutsuya
Published in 1856
Owned by the NDL
Call no. 寄別2511

The nishiki-e (Japanese full-color print) above, "Asakusa Okuyama Iki-ningyo (浅草奥山生人形)" by Ichiyusai Kuniyoshi (一勇斎国芳, 1797-1861), represents an iki-ningyo show of ethnographic and exotic figures by Matsumoto Kisaburo performed in 1855 in Asakusa Okuyama which was thronged with people at the time of the exhibition of the Kanzeon (観世音).

These odd-looking creatures who live in strange lands such as the "Long-Arm," the "Long-Leg," the "Bellyless," and the "Hole-in-Chest" countries, had been introduced in old books including the Chinese Shan Hai Jing (山海經; a Chinese geography book rich in myths), Sancai Tuhui (三才圖會; a Chinese encyclopedia completed in 1607), the Japanese Wakan Sansai Zue (和漢三才圖會; a Japanese encyclopedia with illustrations completed in 1712) and Morokoshi Kinmo Zui (唐土訓蒙圖彙; a Japanese encyclopedia widely covering affairs in China, published in 1719) earlier. The nishiki-e drawings of such outlandish figures reflect the social climate of those days that put pressure on Japan to open to foreign trade and diplomatic relations. It is known that there are at present three other nishiki-e featuring iki-ningyo of outlandish creatures, two by Kuniyoshi and one by Ichidosai Yoshitsuna (一登斎芳綱), whose compositions are different from that of the picture above.

The nishiki-e "Furyu Iki-ningyo (風流生人形)" below is drawn by Ichijusai (Baichoro) Kunisada (一寿斎(梅蝶楼)国貞, 1823-1880). It depicts a scene of an iki-ningyo performance (made by Matsumoto Kisaburo) held in Asakusa Okuyama; the scene of Iki-ningyo Mayuzumi, a courtesan from Sanozuchi-ya (name of a brothel), getting dressed at Yoshiwara karitaku (吉原仮宅).
*click for larger image
Furyu Iki-ningyo
Set of three O-ban nishiki-e, from "Nishiki-e"
Artist: Ichijusai (Baichoro) Kunisada
Publisher: Santetsu
Published in 1856
Owned by the NDL
Call no. 本別9-28

Mayuzumi was a respected woman who, when a great earthquake occurred in the Ansei era, donated 30 ryo (両; currency in pre-Meiji period) to a shelter to distribute food to victims of the disaster, although she herself had suffered loss. She was rewarded for this good deed with two silver coins from the Bugyo-sho (奉行所; the Edo city commissioners office).

In front of a pock-faced man on the left side of the tatami floored room, there is a box containing Kushi (櫛; combs), Kogai (笄; Japanese hairpins), and Kanzashi (簪; hair ornaments). Mayuzumi borrowed 30 ryo by pledging these luxurious accessories. The Peep-Show tent let audiences get a close-up look at Mayuzumi through a telescope at a charge of four mon (文; currency, 1mon = 1/4000 ryo) in addition to the regular admission fee.

Nishiki-e of the Mayuzumi iki-ningyo seem to have been very popular; they were printed in the greatest numbers of all the iki-ningyo nishiki-e, and Kuniyoshi and Toyokuni (III) (豊国(三代), 1786-1864) also painted pictures on the same subject.
The National Diet Library (NDL) holds nishiki-e of other iki-ningyo performances exhibited in Asakusa Okuyama in 1856 together with that of the Mayuzumi iki-ningyo, such as Kuniyoshi’s "Furyu Ningyo-zukushi (風流人形盡)" depicting three heroes in Shui hu chuan (水滸傳; a classic novel of Chinese literature), and Tose mitate ningyo no uchi - Kume no Sennin (当盛見立人形之内 粂の仙人).
  *click for larger image
Furyu Ningyo-zukushi
Set of three O-ban nishiki-e
Artist: Ichiyusai Kuniyoshi
Publisher: Hayashiya Shogoro
Published in 1856
Owned by the NDL
Call no. 本別9-28

*click for larger image
Tose mitate ningyo no uchi - Kume no Sennin
Set of two O-ban nishiki-e
Artist: Ichiyusai Kuniyoshi
Publisher: Motoshige
Published in 1856
Owned by the NDL
Call no. 本別9-28

You can also see the same nishiki-e as shown here in Misemono Gafu (観物画譜; a collection by Asakura Musei (朝倉無声, 1877-1927) who was an authority of misemono research) and Misemono-e (見世物繪) held by the Toyo Bunko (Oriental Library).

Iki-ningyo was a folk art that soaked up ordinary people’s desire. The iki-ningyo shows were characterized by boldly exposed skin, dynamic sensuousness and bruising battle scenes from such stories as Shui hu chuan and Chushin-gura (忠臣蔵; Revenge of Ako Warriors).

Nishiki-e depicting Iki-ningyo are interesting materials which offer a glimpse into the society, fashion and public entertainments of the end of the Edo period as well as providing an essential resource for misemono research.