Hikifuda (lit., "billboard poster": 引札) were printed hand-bills or advertising circulars made to advertise a product or retail shop. Some well-known ukiyo-e artists designed hikifuda, such as Sadanobu I for the nishiki-e illustrated here. The characters in the word hikifuda include meanings such as "distribute" or "attract." Early examples were made with woodblock printing, and during the late nineteenth century some hikifuda were made in deluxe printings. Toward the end of the nineteenth century lithography and other Western printing techniques, including movable type and offset printing, replaced the woodblock method. Many hikifuda were printed with a variety of standardized borders that merchants could select for their particular advertising messages. Typically, hikifuda were distributed in limited numbers to important customers and neighborhood leaders who were expected to assist in advertising the product or store through word of mouth.
For more information about hikifuda, see Peter Ujlaki's article "Heaps of fun with hikifuda."
Unlike most hikifuda, which could be adapted for different retail enterprises, this advertising circular by Sadanobu appears to have been designed specifically for the shop owner Shimamura Rihei, whose address is given as Amida-ike (Amida Pond), Osaka. He specialized in goods such as chrysanthemum oil, paraffin, white shark oil, and various flower and seed oils, including a special "Shimamura oil." The mon (crest: 紋) on one ship's sail at the top right reads "Ri" for the shop owner's name.
Sadanobu II followed the Utagawa Hiroshige (I or III) style for this street view of clerks assisting customers bustling about an oil merchant's shop in Osaka. This hikifuda is unusually large and the colors are pristine. It is very difficult to find a woodblock-printed hikifuda of this quality, size, and condition. Also, given that non-theatrical subjects are uncommon in kamigata-e, this street scene offers an extra bonus.