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New Year's Eve Foxfires at the Changing Tree, Oji, No. 118 from One Hundred Famous Views of Edo

Utagawa Hiroshige

Asian Art

In the late 1850s, while Japanese color prints were dominated by themes of the fantastic, Hiroshige emphasized the realities of the observed world in his work. However, here he has ventured into the world of spirits. It was believed that on New Year's Eve all the foxes of the surrounding provinces would gather at a particular tree near Oji Inari Shrine, the headquarters of the regional cult of the god Inari. There the foxes would change their dress for a visit to the shrine, where they would be given orders for the coming year. On the way, the animals would emit distinctive flames by which local farmers were able to predict the crops of the coming year.

MEDIUM Woodblock print
  • Place Made: Japan
  • DATES 9th month of 1857
    PERIOD Edo Period, Ansei Era
    DIMENSIONS sheet: 14 3/16 x 9 1/4 in. (36.0 x 23.5 cm); image: 13 3/8 x 8 3/4 in. (34.0 x 22.2 cm)  (show scale)
    MARKINGS No publisher's seal visible, probably lost when left margin was trimmed.
    SIGNATURE Hiroshige-ga
    ACCESSION NUMBER 30.1478.118
    CREDIT LINE Gift of Anna Ferris
    PROVENANCE Prior to 1930, provenance not yet documented; by 1930, acquired by Anna Ferris of Summit, NJ; 1930, gift of Anna Ferris to the Brooklyn Museum.
    Provenance FAQ
    CATALOGUE DESCRIPTION This unique print is the only one in the entire series that involves fantasy and is generally included among the "best three," together with prints 58 and 107. On the last day of the year, according to legend, all of the foxes if the eight Kanto provinces would gather at a particular tree near Oji Inari Shrine. They would change their dress before visiting the shine, where they would be given orders for the coming year. On the way they would breathe flames (kitsunebi) by which local farmers were able to predict the success of the crops of the coming year, either by the shadows cast by the flames or by their numbers. The word "foxfire" exists in English as a literal translation of Kitsunebi; both words are used to explain strange lights at night, such as the burning of swamp gases, and both were ascribed to the fox. In creating this image, Hiroshige relied on a composition in the Edo Meisho Zue (vol. V) which shows an old hackberry tree (enoki), backed by a pine. Haystacks are shown on one side and there are touches of green on the pine behind to the left, in overprinting on the haystacks and at the tips of the trees in the distance to the right. Red bokashi is used at the base of the yellow flames of the foxes in the foreground and there are some sixty-odd more foxes breathing fire in the distance. Although the Japanese considered foxes to have supernatural powers, they were a common sight in the city of Edo, especially in the Oji district. The "changing tree" stump has been preserved in a small shrine. A firebombing raid threatened to destroy the area in 1945, but the flames came no further than this point. After the war the residents constructed a shrine and planted a new tree, which is presently seen at Shozoku Inari Shrine.
    MUSEUM LOCATION This item is not on view
    CAPTION Utagawa Hiroshige (Japanese, 1797–1858). New Year's Eve Foxfires at the Changing Tree, Oji, No. 118 from One Hundred Famous Views of Edo, 9th month of 1857. Woodblock print, sheet: 14 3/16 x 9 1/4 in. (36.0 x 23.5 cm);. Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Anna Ferris, 30.1478.118 (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 30.1478.118_PS20.jpg)
    IMAGE overall, 30.1478.118_PS20.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph, 2023
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    RIGHTS STATEMENT No known copyright restrictions
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