The Edo-born Isshunsai Yoshikazu (一春齋芳員) was active circa 1850-70. A pupil of Utagawa Kuniyoshi, he sometimes signed as Utagawa Yoshikazu (歌川芳員). His given names were Jirobei (次郎兵衛) and Jirokichi (次郎吉), and he used various gô (artist pseudonyms: 號), including Isshunsai (一春齋), Issen (一川), and Ichijusai (一寿斎). He is known primarily for his Yokohama-e (Yokohama prints: 横浜絵), focusing on foreigners and their customs. He also produced fûkeiga (landscapes: 風景画), musha-e (warrior prints: 武者絵) and ehon (woodblock-printed illustrated books: 絵本).
After the signing of the 1858 treaty between Japan and five western nations (U.S., England, France, Russia, and The Netherlands), the port of Yokohama was opened to foreign trade in July 1859. As foreigners from America, Western Europe, and Russia began to arrive, publishers and artists flooded the market with Yokohama-e to take advantage of the opportunity to promote a new genre of ukiyo-e. Artists "reported" on the appearance, customs, Japan residences, and native cities of the exotic visitors. There might have been government pressure on the publishers to produce positive images of foreigners in Japan as a sign of thriving commerce with the wider world after the demise of the sakoku ("closed country": 鎖国) foreign-relations policy of the Tokugawa shogunate, lasting from 1641 until 1853.
The initial group of printmakers were all from Edo, although Hasegawa Konobu (later Sadanobu II) and a few other artists in Osaka also picked up on the idea. Fifty-three artists, dominated by the Utagawa School, designed more than 800 Yokohama-e from 1860 to 1883, although most were produced in the years 1861–1863. Moreover, three-quarters of all known Yokohama-e were issued by only nine artists: Hiroshige II, Hiroshige III, Sadahide, Yoshiiku, Yoshikazu, Yoshimori, Yoshitomi, Yoshitora, and Yoshitoyo. Yoshitora seems to have been the most prolific with more than 150 prints, while Yoshikazu designed around 120 images. Some of the artists had never seen these strange visitors in Yokohama and certainly none had ever visited any of the "Five Nations." Typically, artists found sources of imagery in books and magazines imported from the West, which, of course, they could not read. The results were not infrequently incongruous and sometimes comical.
Yoshikazu's print, along with the others in the series, is arranged in the manner of a harimaze-e ("mixed pasted print": 張交絵), a print with multiple images in various sizes or within variably shaped cartouches on the same sheet as if each picture was meant to be cut out from the original sheet and pasted on byôbu (folding screens: 屏風) or album pages.
The presumably American figure in black waistcoat stands outside barracks in Yokohama. He carries a walking stick and holds a lit cigar. The rather upright posture is typical of the "foreigner figure" in Yokohama-e. The portrait of the woman, probably intended to represent his wife, purports to be a true likeness and, as such, would serve as a fascinating glimpse into Western appearance for Japanese viewers.
The inclusion of a Western clock in Yoshikazu's print was emblematic of the boundless Japanese curiosity about the scientific and technological advances made outside of their country. True, mechanical clocks had been introduced into Japan by Jesuit missionaries and Dutch merchants in the 16th century, but in miniscule numbers. The oldest surviving western clock in Japan dates back to 1612; it was given to the first Tokugawa shôgun, Ieyasu (1543-1616), by the viceroy of Mexico (then New Spain). The Japanese attempted to emulate their construction, but during Japan's two centuries of isolation from the West, there was a significant challenge — domestic wadokei (Japanese clocks: 和時計) had to account for traditional Japanese time, the so-called futei jiho (temporal hour system: 不定時法). This was a method of time-keeping in which daytime and nighttime were each divided into six roughly two-hour periods whose lengths consequently varied with the season. Japanese clockmakers therefore had to adapt European mechanical clock technology to the needs of traditional Japanese timekeeping. With the opening up of Japan in 1859, Western clocks began to appear in larger and larger numbers, and various Yokohama-e included them in representations of Westerners in Japan.
Another impression of this design (slightly trimmed and much soiled) is in the Library of Congress (DLC/PP-1930; 47623a, gift from the Chadbourne Collection). Richard Lane (ref. below) also happened to use a tiny monochrome illustration of this design to accompany his very brief entry on Utagawa Yoshikazu.
- Lane, Richard: Images of the Floating World: The Japanese Print. New York: Dorset Press, 1978/1982, p. 348, fig. 728.
- Newland, Amy Reigle (general ed.): The Hotei encyclopedia of Japanese woodblock prints, vol. 2. Amsterdam: Hotei Publishing, 2005, p. 509 (entry by Sepp Linhart).
- Shirahara, Yukiko (ed.): Japan Envisions the West: 16th-19th Century Japanese Art from Kobe City Museum. Seattle Art Museum and Kobe City Museum, 2007.
- Yokota, Yasuhiro: "A Historical Overview of Japanese Clocks and Karakuri." International Symposium on History of Machines and Mechanisms, 2008.
- Yonemura, Ann: Yokohama: Prints from Nineteenth-Century Japan. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution/Sackler Gallery, 1990,