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Fireworks at Ryogoku (Ryogoku Hanabi), No. 98 from One Hundred Famous Views of Edo

Utagawa Hiroshige (Ando)

Asian Art

During summer and early fall, the Sumida River was the scene of a custom known as "taking in the cool of the evening." Activity centered at Ryōgoku Bridge, where an endless variety of entertainment was offered on both land and water. The ideal place was not in the crowded stalls of the bridgehead plazas but rather in one of the nearby restaurants or in an individually chartered pleasure boat on the river.

Fireworks were an indispensable feature of evenings on the river. By the mid-seventeenth century, they were so popular that the threat of fire led authorities to issue decrees restricting their use to the Sumida River.

MEDIUM Woodblock print
  • Place Made: Japan
  • DATES 8th month of 1858
    PERIOD Edo Period, Ansei Era
    DIMENSIONS Sheet: 14 1/4 x 9 1/4 in. (36.2 x 23.5 cm) Image: 13 3/8 x 8 7/8 in. (34 x 22.5 cm)  (show scale)
    MARKINGS No publisher's seal visible, probably lost when left margin was trimmed.
    SIGNATURE Hiroshige-ga
    MUSEUM LOCATION This item is not on view
    ACCESSION NUMBER 30.1478.98
    CREDIT LINE Gift of Anna Ferris
    RIGHTS STATEMENT No known copyright restrictions
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    CAPTION Utagawa Hiroshige (Ando) (Japanese, 1797-1858). Fireworks at Ryogoku (Ryogoku Hanabi), No. 98 from One Hundred Famous Views of Edo, 8th month of 1858. Woodblock print, Sheet: 14 1/4 x 9 1/4 in. (36.2 x 23.5 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Anna Ferris, 30.1478.98
    IMAGE overall, 30.1478.98_PS1.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph, 2006
    "CUR" at the beginning of an image file name means that the image was created by a curatorial staff member. These study images may be digital point-and-shoot photographs, when we don\'t yet have high-quality studio photography, or they may be scans of older negatives, slides, or photographic prints, providing historical documentation of the object.
    CATALOGUE DESCRIPTION This festive image shows pleasure boats on the Sumida River, with Ryogoku Bridge in the center. Elegant restaurants (north of the bridge) traditionally co-sponsored the major fireworks displays at the site, together with the boathouses. The large boat in the center is the "palace-boat," the only one of its kind to appear in this series. These grand pleasure craft were up to fifty feet in length and held as many as twenty "tatami" mats; they were hired out for parties by rich merchants. Next in size and most numerous here are the "roof boats;" the smallest are the uncovered "chokibune." Finally, there are the four boats which wandered among the pleasure boats to sell food and drink. Until 1659, all fireworks used in Japan were imported from China, but then an enterprising youth (Yabei) came to Edo and began to make his own. In 1733 he was commissioned by the shogun Yoshimune to mount a special fireworks display at the Ryogoku Bridge as a purification rite to dispel the evil spirits of the plague and famine then sweeping Japan (the first Kawabiriki- "opening river" ceremony). Only since the Meiji period have summer fireworks been reduced to a single spectacular display at the time of Kawabiriki. This particular print is very dark compared to other impressions of the image, particularly those found in the Hirose collection ("Ukiyo-e taikei').
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