Copperplate Prints Portraying Various Kinds of Shops in Yokohama—Their Mysterious Aspect
By Iwakabe Yoshimitsu. Photos provided by Kanagawa Prefectural Museum, Yokohama. This article originally appeared in Daruma 11
In the summer of 1975, Kanagawa Prefectural Museum heard about a book from a second-hand bookstore chain. Its main branch is located in Shinjuku, Tokyo and in every country it searches out rare books about Japan, America and Europe. They told us about a small collection of copperplate prints which had been found in London.
Though the book was well-thumbed, we could clearly read the title on the cover, Doban Chokoku—Yokohama Sho-gaisha Sho-shoten no Zu (”Copperplate engravings—prints depicting various kinds of companies and shops in Yokohama”; hereafter it is called “Yokohama Shop Prints”). The book is full of original copperplate prints showing shops in Yokohama, as suggested by the title.
You can see copperplate Yokohama prints of this kind in Nihon E-iri Shonin-roku published in 1886. It includes foreign firms in Kobe too and brings together 64 Yokohama-related and 25 Kobe-related prints (see Shimin Gurafu Yokohama no. 52). The book shows us various aspects of a foreign settlement: trading houses run by foreigners, a Western-style tile factory managed by Alfred Gérard, Isaac Ferris Girls’ High School and a fire defense association.
Depicting a harbour city vibrant with life and energy
Like Nihon E-iri Shonin-roku, “Yokohama Shop Prints” passes down to present-day residents the city of those days, in well-rounded fullness: we see a storytellers’ hall (fig. 1), rice cracker shop (fig. 6), factories (fig. 10) and especially the shops of Japanese traders.
While the prints in the former book resemble static photographs, the latter are like cuts taken from a movie. The figures and voices of people who lived in Yokohama at that time such as merchants engaging in business talk, young men hauling wagons, Western ladies nestling close to their husbands while looking round the town and artisans slaving away in front of furnaces—they seem ready at any moment to jump out from the pictures. Without being aware of it, we are invited to the harbour city of Yokohama, which vibrated with life and energy.
Both books have been reissued as Yokohama Doban-ga (Yokohama Copperplate Prints) edited by Kanagawa Prefectural Museum and published by Yurin-do. The collection of copperplate prints is 20 cm long and 16.5 cm wide. This homemade or private book has Doban Chokoku—Yokohama Sho-gaisha Sho-shoten no Zu on the front cover and on the back cover “Ekiben-do Watanabe Zo (owned by Watanabe of Ekiben-do)”, written in Indian ink. As many as 99 kinds or 123 prints are pasted into it.
Until quite recently the same prints had not been seen elsewhere except for the factory of Tsutsumi Isoemon, a soap manufacturer (fig. 2). You see the names of four copperplate engravers on the prints: “engraved by Gengi-do Shimizu”, “carved by Juzan”, “Sekioka” and “Yoshikazu”.
“Gengi-do Shimizu (Yoshikazu)” and “M. Sekioka” also appear as copperplate carvers on the prints portraying Tokyo Shoko Hakuran-kai (Tokyo Commercial Exposition) I mention later and “Yoshikazu” is suggestive of Issen Yoshikazu, an ukiyo-e artist. However, we do not have any idea about the other artisans.
Also when it comes to “Fukamichi Doban-sho” (Fukamichi copperplate factory) written on lanterns in the print depicting Ogawara Eijiro’s store which may offer a clue about where it was printed, all what we know at present is that the person responsible was Fukamichi Genjiro and the publisher was located in Hongoku-cho, Nihombashi, Tokyo.
Many mysteries remain to be solved
The collection of copperplate prints is shrouded in mystery. First we do not know when it was made. If we trace back the history of copperplate prints, they were introduced to Japan by a missionary from the Society of Jesus in the late 16th century and have been handed down in the form of Bible frontispieces, carved by Japanese as Christian copper-plate prints.
In the late eighteenth century they were used for maps and medical books, thanks to their ability to give minute descriptions and sharp line drawings. Impressed by the few Western paintings which came into the country through Nagasaki, Shiba Kokan (1747-1818) and Aodo Denzen (1748-1822) helped the copperplate print grow into Western-style landscapes incorporating a strong feeling for the material, brought about by perspective and the accumulation of lines.
Entering the Meiji period (1868-1912) such copperplate carving skills were adopted for printing subjects in which minute detail is required; examples include the production of original plates to prevent the counterfeiting of bank notes and the descriptive portraits used instead of photographs, thanks partly to the arrival in Japan of an Italian, Edoardo Chiossone.
But as the Printing Bureau would not allow the printing techniques to be taken out of the Mint, it did not spread as a method of artistic expression among the masses.
At that time wood-block print artists, like carvers of ukiyo-e, began to switch over to the production of copperplate prints and Hitori-an’nai (teach-yourself books) while skilled craftsmen made Meisho-e (pictures of noted places) which had enjoyed popularity among the general public since the last days of the Tokugawa government. Thanks to this, many copperplate prints depicting noted places or for guidebooks were made all over the country from the early 1880s on.
What is most remarkable is that they mainly chose stores as their subjects. For example, in Osaka, the pivot of the economy since the 16th century, Shoko Gigei Naniwa no Sakigake was published in 1882 and in Tokyo Bankoku Meisho-zu E and Tokyo Shoko Hakuran-e were published in 1885. In Kobe, a harbour city like Yokohama, Kobe Akashi Gosho Hitori An’nai no Sakigake came out in 1887 and collections of similar copperplate prints appeared in Niigata and Hakodate too.
Produced from 1883 to 1890?
Accordingly it is easy to imagine that a collection of copperplate prints was also planned around 1880 for Yokohama which was in the van of the Bunmei Kaika movement (the new patterns of behaviour and artistic expression that arose in the process of learning Western ideas). It is thought that this book was “Yokohama Copperplate Shop Prints”.
When looking at each print in it carefully, we can find some inconsistencies if we suppose that all prints were made at the same time. For example, though they were all located in Honcho, we see electric lines in the prints portraying Minoda Chojiro’s store (fig. 3) and Wakao Ikuzo’s (fig. 4), but not in that of Mitsui Bussan (fig. 5) or Machi-gaisho (fig. 9). As electric lights were laid from 1890 on, the two prints of Minoda and Wakao are likely to have been made around that year.
Ishikawaguchi Steel Mill (fig. 10) was constructed in 1865 and all the facilities were moved to Ishikawajima, Tokyo in 1884.
Judging from the two dates, while each print in other collections was made at about the same time, a certain latitude was allowed in the production dates for the prints gathered in the Yokohama book. The prevailing view is that it was made from 1883 to 1890.
Produced as an advertising medium
Secondly, let me talk about why they were produced. It may be safely said that this kind of publication was an advertising medium, that is, as a hikifuda (handbill or flyer). Judging by the bookbinding agreement of Tokyo Shoko Hakuran-e the prints were gathered by inviting firms to pre-register. They were based on artists’ sketches; signboards, goods and medals awarded when taking part in exhibitions, etc. could be added on request. Store-owners had the right to proofread the original picture and could own the original copperplate if desired after the book was bound.
Comparing these details of the Tokyo agreement with the scenes in these Yokohama prints, we notice that the books have a lot in common. Accordingly the prints with no English company name (e.g. fig 6 senbei-ya) or prints with basic misprints like “Tanuma Tazaemon” which should have been “Tanuma Taemon”, can be recognised as trial prints.
“Yokohama shop prints” may have been a private book edited for pleasure by Mr. Watanabe who obtained trial stage prints. No finished book has been found, probably because “Fukamichi Doban-sho” lost the original copperplates in a fire or something and publication became physically difficult, or the editing and publication was interrupted.
Another group found at old house in Yokohama
In the spring of 1986 Kanagawa Prefectural Museum held an exhibition entitled “Yokohama Copperplate Prints” and put on view all the prints depicting shops. It was reported in the paper, and an old family in Isogo told us that they own some.
This was the first time we had seen examples outside the Museum. They consisted of 53 prints. Prints portraying the same stores were each pasted on a mat. The valuable result of this discovery was that we learned roughly through which channel the old family purchased them.
They were left by the late Nakamura Fusajiro, a well-known Yokohama merchant. He collected works of art through Samurai Shokai (Samurai & Co.) in Honcho which had a lot of foreign customers. English sales memos were written in pencil on the mats of the newly discovered prints. So it is highly possible that Samurai & Co. had a hand in the departure of the Yokohama shop prints for overseas; we can understand why the collection of copperplate prints now owned by Kanagawa Prefectural Museum, was found in London.
When the same store is portrayed, only a few differences can be seen in the description of the store names between the prints owned by the Museum and those discovered at the old family’s house. Accordingly it can be said that both were legacies of the proofreading stage.
However, the discovery posed a new question. Just as on the Museum’s collection of copperplate prints, thumbprints were found on some of the prints discovered at the house. They might disprove our theory.
I mentioned before that Mr. Watanabe collected the copperplate prints at the trial stage when they were classified by store and existed separately, and edited them into a private book. If each print portraying a store were pasted on a separate mat, the fingerprints caused by turning over the leaves of a book, would not be found on the same place. But the fact that we can see these thumb prints, raises new doubts: were the newly discovered prints also published in book form? Unfortunately there is no answer so far.
Let me tell you about the materials in the prints. While some storekeepers were from Yokohama and were called the landed group, many were merchants who came to do business in Yokohama. I would like to discuss the merchants as a whole now, so when it comes to an individual, please refer to the comments on each print.
By Yokohama merchants we generally mean traders, especially in raw silk and tea, who supported the modernization of Japan by obtaining foreign currency. But here, besides them, I note many merchants who contributed to the growth of the city of Yokohama such as forwarding agents, shipping agents and the builder of a storyteller’s hall which formed a recreation centre for workers. In 1859 the trading port of Yokohama was opened to America, Britain, France, Russia and Holland with the Five Country Treaty.
At that time there were two groups of merchants in Yokohama: merchant princes of good lineage and speculative merchants. The former were privileged Edo merchants in whom the government put the greatest confidence. They had taken hold of the distributive system thanks to shogunal politics. But many of them hesitated to trade with foreign countries, because they were still an unknown entity.
Quite a few merchants, for example Echigo-ya (the direct ancestor of Mitsui & Co., the huge trading firm), refused at first a government request to open branches in Yokohama and finally accepted under duress and with bad grace.
On the other hand, the city of Yokohama attracted adventurous speculative merchants who had great dreams for new businesses and planned to get rich at a single bound. It may safely be said it was they who formed the majority. Some of them had strong connections with producers of raw silk and tea (the most important exports) and rose to the rank of representative Meiji era Yokohama merchants, armed with youth and business ability.
Examples of very successful merchants
Mogi Sobei of Nozawa-ya (fig. 11) put the logo “Iri Ku” (literally entering nine) on his store’s noren (a curtain over a door bearing a shop’s name) in order not to forget the original resolution he made when he left Kiryu (Gunma Prefecture) for Yokohama as a silk trader with only 9 mon (a small coin) in his pocket.
The brothers Wakao Ippei and Ikuzo (fig. 4) carried to Yokohama dried radishes which were said to sell well to foreigners but did not. Through the failure they noticed that raw silk promised a bright future, so they sold the raw silk produced in their hometown in Yamanashi Prefecture and achieved great success. They became the pioneer Koshu zaibatsu (Koshu is modern Yamanashi Prefecture). Those episodes suggest their youth and strong-mindedness.
In the Meiji period Yokohama merchants became representative Japanese traders. However, they had a rocky road before reaching this zenith. They moved ahead by keeping company with men of power at the time and vied with the privileged merchants and foreign traders.
For example, in the last days of the Tokugawa shogunate, the government held talks with them, the growing power, in place of the privileged Edo merchants; they set up distribution channels in order to connect Yokohama directly to producers. In addition the Meiji government launched the preparation and expansion of banking organs in order to supplement their weak capital. They steadfastly carried out the policy of the leaders who tried to run a government which did not bow to pressure from the great Western powers.
In 1872 a railway between Shimbashi and Yokohama was opened with due ceremony. As a representative of the Yokohama merchants, the new government invited Hara Zenzaburo to attend it and deliver a congratulatory address to the Emperor. This indicates that the government had a high opinion of the newly-risen merchants who could supply foreign money for the government, as it tried to adopt Western civilization and inaugurate new enterprises. Hara was a raw silk exporter who came from a Saitama farming family in 1862.
Close relations with leading government figures
Over a short period Takashima Kaemon (fig. 12) built modern Takashima-cho in order to lay a railroad, at the government’s request. Tanaka Heihachi (fig. 13) went gypsying about the country and met many royalists in the last days of the Tokugawa government. Entering the Meiji period he amassed vast wealth through raw silk.
People in the political and financial worlds like Ito Hirobumi and Sugi Magoshichiro honoured the former and erected a monument inscribed: “Tenka no Itohei” (a national figure, known by the name Itohei). Those episodes stress the close relationship between the new Meiji government and Yokohama merchants.
However, we must note that such relationships derived from human contact. Ito Hirobumi, a veteran statesman of the Meiji Imperial Restoration who pushed forward the modernization of Japan, often visited Mr. Takashima, a Yokohama hotelier; Ito deferred to his opinions, known by the name of “Takashima Ekidan” (divinations) when Ito had to decide a policy. There is a strong “human smell” about the Meiji people in this episode.
Toward business on a nationwide scale
The reason why Yokohama merchants, especially raw silk and tea traders, became representative businessmen was that their sphere of activity was not limited to Yokohama. For example, Otani Kahei (fig. 8), a typical tea exporter called together tea processors from all over the country in order to raise the amount of tea exported and proposed the laying of a submarine cable under the Pacific to learn, without delay, the tone of their biggest market, America.
In addition he and his company founded Yokohama Shokin Ginko (fig. 7) as a trade bank. It has grown into an international bank which established branches all over the world and since World War II has had a great influence on the monetary world under the name of “Bank of Tokyo”.
Up to now I have referred to exporters who were known as urikomi-sho (sellers), but of course in Yokohama there were also importers known as hikitori-sho (buyers). When you look at “Yokohama shop prints”, you will notice that while the exporters dealt mainly with raw silk and tea, the importers handled a variety of items, but textile-related stores were conspicuous, because imported woven stuffs and cotton yarn were highly valued.
With headquarters in Tokyo, Kakinuma was one of them. Kakinuma Tanizo, the owner, sold imported cotton yarn and was known as a leading light among cotton-yarn dealers. The Yokohama branch supplied the Tokyo store with imported yarn.
Maruzen (fig 14) owned by Hayashi Yuteki, imported medical supplies and books and helped spread advanced Western civilization. There were a variety of foreign-made articles in Yokohama and people from Tokyo visited there to buy them.
Artists in a harbour city
As the port city of Yokohama was open to foreigners, many shops dealt with souvenirs for them, so these people too were portrayed in the Yokohama print book. The souvenirs included simple items like books with commemorative photos, but many people liked high-quality artistic handicrafts like Yokohama Makuzu ware (see Daruma 9) and cloisonné. Especially popular was the porcelain of Makuzu (fig. 16) which was made in Minami Ota, Yokohama for four generations from 1872. Miyagawa Kozan (Kozan the First) was so skillful that he was appointed a court artist. We should remember that his novel ceramic idiom grew up in the special surroundings of Yokohama.
Protrayal of the storefronts
Finally let me simply introduce the Yokohama stores of those days as reference material while you look through the copperplate prints. People who were born and brought up in Tokyo like me find, if I am allowed to say so, something alien about associating modernity with the sound of the word “Yokohama.” Probably other people get a similar impression.
They will be surprised on looking at the copperplate prints of shops here, because almost all the stores were strongly built in purely Japanese style, unlike the urbane foreign firms in the settlements. But it is reasonable that merchants who care about their creditworthiness should adopt a conservative look for their shops. We can see their sense of values.
A typical example of Yokohama store arrangement is Okano Rihei’s store (fig. 15). He had a store built in a godown or warehouse style (it was called a tanagura or ’shelved store’). There was an inner court which was used as a workshop too. Warehouses were built around it and the main house was adjacent. Tanagura looked conspicuous and were characterized by double-leafed, hinged (kan’non biraki) windows, tall hakomune roofs (they had box-shaped horizontal roof edges) and plastered walls (shikkui-nuri). The tanagura style was typical of fireproof Edo architecture. Like Edo, fires broke out frequently in Yokohama, so the style was adopted.
In addition stores in Yokohama were distinguished by walls covered with square tiles, raised plaster joints (namako-kabe) and black-plastered walls with a burnished finish (kuro-shikkui nuri migaki shiage). It is said that this black and white wall was developed by Izu no Chohachi in the last days of the Tokugawa. Thanks to its good design and protection against wind, it was often used for buildings in the early Meiji period.
The black-plastered walls burnished by trowel and hand, cost as much as the brick buildings typical of the Bunmei Kaika movement, so they were a firmly established symbol of Yokohama merchants. In this connection I may add that the tanagura in Kawagoe, Saitama Prefecture, which were destroyed by fire in 1893, are said to have been modelled after those of Yokohama.
Store interiors in semi-Western style
Among stores in Kan’nai there were Western-style buildings with balconies like the Second National Bank and Musashiya owned by Ozeki Teijiro (fig. 17). A watch store owned by Wakamatsu-ya Jisuke (fig. 18) was characterized by a Western-style shop interior. I suggest Hara Zenzaburo’s villa residence in Nogeyama is an example of fully-fledged Western building.
Great merchants possessed their private residences in Nogeyama, apart from their Kan’nai stores and welcomed guests there. Such residences often boldly adopted Western architectural styles. Hiranuma Senzo’s private residence next to Hara’s was not exceptional either.
I am very sorry that these stores and the Yokohama merchants who had played a role in the modernization of Japan, were buried in Yokohama’s history due to a financial crisis after World War I and the Great Earthquake of 1923.
In this sense the Yokohama copperplate book provides valuable material for learning about the activity of Yokohama merchants.
This article appeared in the 60th issue of Shimin Gurafu Yokohama of 1987, published by Yokohama’s Citizen’s Information Centre. The author was a curator of Kanagawa Prefectural Museum and is now in the Archives and Mausolea Department of the Imperial Household Agency.
The magazine in which the article appeared is published by the city in Japanese but has many photos and only costs ¥400. Gurafu is the English word ‘graph’. The articles all relate to the surrounding prefecture. Readers who might like to visit the museum may look at page 3 where full details of location and admission, etc. are given.