In Edo, Kyoto, and Osaka during the Tokugawa period, a very popular pastime during the hot summer months was enjoying the cool of the evening alongside rivers traversing the cities. Adding to this pleasant diversion were special occasions when fireworks were set off above the bridges spanning the waterways. The most frequently published examples of such scenes were ukiyo-e prints from Edo, usually featuring bijin (beautiful women: 美人) enjoying the evening cool near the Ryôgoku Bridge arching over the Sumida River. Far less common — indeed rare — are prints depicting scenes from Kyoto, although one may encounter a view along the riverbed at Shijô Bridge crossing the Kamo River(SDN28). Just as rare are "evening-cool" views in Osaka, such as our print by Sadanobu.
In Sadanobu's time, the Naniwa-bashi was a wooden structure, one of the Three Great Bridges crossing the Yodo River. (The other large bridges were the Tenma-bashi and the Tenjin-bashi.) While most bridges in Osaka were built by business people, these three were managed directly by the Tokugawa shogunate. Such bridges were called Kogibashi (公儀橋).
Naniwa-bashi, measuring approximately 207 meters long and 5.7 meters wide, was situated along Naniwabashi-suji street, one block west of its modern-day location. Its single span (today it comprises two separate spans) crossed over the Tosabori and Dojima Rivers (two branches or subdivisions splitting off from the Yodo River) about 30 city blocks north of Osaka's theater district (Dôtonbori). Given that the arched bridge provided rather special views overlooking ten or more nearby bridges as well as the distant mountains, it is not surprising that the Naniwa-bashi became a popular spot for having boating parties, viewing fireworks, and enjoying the cool of the evening in summer.
The inset at the top left of Sadanobu's print depicts Naniwa-bashi (Osaka Bridge: 浪花橋) in the evening. A flotilla of small pleasure boats populates the river below, as fireworks fall from the sky. In the forground, tea stalls and small eateries offer refreshments to the townspeople strolling along the river bank. In the later years of the Tokugawa period, street performers were increasingly more common, presenting kôdan (講談) — spoken stories or musical narratives such as naniwa-bushi (浪花節) with samisen accompaniment.
The central view of the bijin shows a young woman seated on a bench. Her red underrobe is visible, a sight that would have been considered riské by her contemporaries. She holds an uchiwa (rigid fan: 團扇 or 団扇) with painted irises. In our impression the uchiwa has rose-color bokashi (gradation printing: 暈); later printings use all blue pigments. Sadanobu's style of drawing the face, body, and robes fits entirely within the Edo-based Utagawa bijin-ga tradition.
The vast majority of Osaka prints feature theatrical subjects. Consequently, there exist only a very small number of bijinga (pictures of beauties: 美人画) in the Osaka printmaking canon, as in the present series, made especially interesting by the pairing of beauties with the customs of Osaka.
References: HSH, no. 174-7; WKN, nos. 98-99; NHT, no. 27