Midsummer Night's Pleasure

  • Exhib_slideshow_022792_1

    Utagawa Hiroshige (1797–1858), 
Fireworks at Ryögoku from the series, One Hundred Famous Views of Edo
 Japan, Edo period, 1857, 
Color woodblock print, 
33.2 x 21.8 cm, 
Gift of James A. Michener, 1991 (22792)

August 05, 2010 - October 10, 2010
Robert F. Lange Foundation Gallery (21)

Exhibition Overview


Look at Edo period woodblock prints of summer festivals, fireworks and boat rides, and it’s clear that summer evenings were a special time of relaxation and merriment for residents of large cities like Edo (Tokyo), Osaka and Kyoto.
The official summer opening of the Ryögoku River was an integral part of life for Edo city commoners. After the humid rainy season, people looked forward to dressing in light, casual kimono and strolling along the river to enjoy the cool evening air and wait for the brilliant fireworks display. Watercrafts of all sizes dotted the river around the Ryögoku Bridge. Some boats sold cold tea, sake and snacks to spectators, and pleasure boats (on which people could eat and drink as they cruised the river) were fully booked days before the opening event.
But the woodblock prints in this exhibition aren’t just about pleasure. The depicted urban leisure activities illuminate an important social shift that characterized Japan’s early modern period. All the evening pastimes reflect the fact that the late 18th and 19th centuries saw unprecedented wealth and influence for merchants and artisans, even though they were on the lowest rung in the Confucian social hierarchy adopted by the Tokugawa government. ⎯ Sawako Takemura Change, Assistant Curator of Japanese Art & Robert F. Lange Foundation Digital Imaging Manager