Learn the Shadow Puppetry of Japan’s Edo Period with Hiroshige’s Delightful Woodblock Prints



Art
History

#shadows
#ukiyo-e
#woodblock prints

June 2, 2021

Grace Ebert

Master the playful art of shadow puppetry with a little help from Utagawa Hiroshige (1797–1858). The prolific ukiyo-e artist, who is best known for his poetic woodblock prints of the Tōkaidō and views of Edo, also created an instructive series of omocha-e, or toy pictures intended for kids, that demonstrates how to twist your hands into a snail or rabbit or grasp a mat to mimic a bird perched on a branch. Appearing behind a translucent shoji screen, the clever figures range in difficulty from simple animals to sparring warriors and are complete with prop suggestions, written instructions for making the creatures move— “open your fingers within your sleeve to move the owl’s wings” or “draw up your knee for the fox’s back”—and guides for full-body contortions.

Prints of the eight-figure chart shown above, which Hiroshige released in 1842, are available from Flashbak, and you can explore a massive archive containing thousands of his works on The Minneapolis Institute of Art’s site. (via Present & Correct)

#shadows
#ukiyo-e
#woodblock prints

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