Ninjôbon ("books on human feeling": 人情本) constituted a genre of popular fiction focused on contemporary young love or emotions (ninjô). These works were generally written from a woman's perspective to appeal to female readers. The precursor to the ninjôbon were a melodramatic sub-genre of sharebon (books of wit and fashion": 洒落本) called nakibon ("weepy books" or "books to cry by"). Ninjôbon first appeared around 1819 with Akegarasu nochi no masayume (After the Morning Crow, a True Dream: 明烏後正夢) by Ryûtei Rijô and Seidan mine hatsuhana (清談峰初花) by Jippensha Ikku as early examples of the genre. Ninjôbon reached their apogee in the 1830s, due in large part to the novels of Tamenaga Shunsui (1790-1844, 為永春水), the pen name of Sasaki Sadataka (佐々木貞高). Having tried his hand at nakibon without great success, he wrote the ground-breaking Shunshoku Umegoyomi (Colors of Spring - The Plum Calendar: 春色梅児誉美) in 1832-1833, with sequels in the Umegoyomi series by both Tamenaga and his son (called the Junior Shunsui Tamenaga). Ninjôbon were dealt a severe blow in 1842 with the imposition of the Tenpô kaikaku (Tenpô Reforms: 天保改革), governmental regulations of 1842-1847 that, among other things in Osaka, banned prints of kabuki actors or stories associated with the theater, as well as prints of courtesans and geisha. Tamenaga was manacled for 50 days, ninjôbon were confiscated and burned, and fewer new examples appeared thereafter. Nevertheless, ninjôbon were published in smaller numbers until the early Meiji period.
Yoshitaki has employed a clever graphic device by placing three protagonists based on the novel Shunshoku Umegoyomi within the "frame" of an open book. It is as if the actors have sprung to life from the pages of a novel that was still popular more than 30 years after its publication.
This example is finely printed, and includes texturing with a techique called nunomezuri (fabric printing: 布目摺), a type of a blind-printing or embossing in which a piece of cloth (often muslin or silk) is placed over an un-inked block for the area to be printed and the pattern of the textile transferred by exerting heavy pressure with a baren (circular printing pad: 馬楝) on dampened paper. If the pattern is to be used in a color area, the paper is first printed with the desired color, and then nunomezuri applied. See image at right.
The rectangle at lower right is the result of an ireki (lit., "inserting wood: 入木), a plug to replace an area removed from the key block. In this case, possibly a publisher seal was removed for this edition, replaced by a blank plug, but the inserted wood took up the background pigment differently than the original surrounding area.
References: WAS-VI, no. 553