Kuniyoshi’s Skytree

Toto Mitsumata no Zu

(Image source: Japan Probe)

The other day a friend and I were talking about ukiyo-e (浮世絵 / Japanese woodblock prints) and she mentioned “Kuniyoshi’s Skytree”. I didn’t know what she meant, but soon found out after a little Googling…

Around 1831, Japanese ukiyo-e artist Utagawa Kuniyoshi ((歌川 国芳, 1797 – 1862) made the picture “Toto Mitsumata no Zu” (“The view of Tokyo’s Mitsumata area”) and in that picture he included a mysterious tower in the background. Sometime last year, people realised that the object closely resembled the new Tokyo Skytree (東京スカイツリー), which opened to the public in May 2012. No building that tall would have existed at the time as there were rules prohibiting people from building anything taller than Edo Castle, so what exactly Kuniyoshi was imagining remains a mystery.

(Image source: Japan Probe)

Kuniyoshi’s woodblock print was on display at the Isago no Sato Museum in Kawasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture, last year, but I’m not sure if it’s still possible to see the piece as it was part of a temporary exhibition.

Recently I’ve been getting quite interested in ukiyo-e and how traditional woodblock prints have influenced modern Japanese art. I’ll be writing something on that soon, but if you’re in London and want to know more and see some ukiyo-e for yourself I would highly recommend visiting the current ukiyo-e pop – ukiyo-e & contemporary japonism exhibition at the ICN gallery in Shoreditch, which is on until 8th September.

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