Tokyo artist during the Edo era: From fishmonger to esteemed art

Tokyo artist during the Edo era: From fishmonger to esteemed art

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

The Japanese artist Totoya Hokkei (1780-1850) died in the late stages of the Edo Period. Remarkably, he went from being a young fishmonger to studying under Katsushika Hokusai after delving into the Kano School of Art. Therefore, the non-stratification of the artistic community shines brightly once more in Japan during this period of history.

It is difficult to imagine a young fishmonger studying under the creme de la creme of art in many industrialized nations in this period of history. However, for Hokkei, he wasn’t hindered by concepts of traditional snobbery when encountering Hokusai and other important artists.

The British Museum says Hokkei became a “…major designer of ‘surimono’ and illustrator of poetry anthologies. A small number of paintings of beauties and Chinese warrior subjects, the compositions often derived from Hokusai but the style progressively more individual.”

In the above art piece, titled Chronicle of a Journey to Enoshima, you can witness ordinary people busy at work. The mountain in the backdrop is secondary to the distinctive features of the individuals displayed. Hence, the unnatural becomes natural and provides a brief glimpse into the lives of ordinary people.

The Fujisawa Ukiyo-e Museum says, “In this picture, a scene of a teahouse at a mountain pass is illustrated. A waitress is handing something to a traveler. It looks like the man with a humorous facial expression forgets his notebook at the teahouse. The word on the notebook, “shouro-kayoi” tells the viewers that they are the buyers of shouro (a mushroom-like round shape small bacteria), a local specialty of Fujisawa post station and Shounan region.”

Irrespective of Hokkei studying under esteemed artists from two powerful traditions, he was a free spirit. He did commission woodblock prints for wealthy Individuals and produced illustrated books. However, this concerns the economic reality he faced. Despite this, the young fishmonger developed into a potent artist who produced stunning art related to his own unique style.


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