Yoshitora: Real and Imagined Wheeled Vehicles on the Streets of Meiji Tokyo 東京往来車尽 (Sold)

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Artist: Utagawa Yoshitora (active ca. 1850-1880)
Title: Wheeled Traffic on the Streets of Tokyo (Tokyo ôrai-kuruma zukushi東京往来車尽)

Date: 1870

Fascinating array of wheeled conveyances, both observed by the artist and imagined or extrapolated from foreign illustrations, are here arrayed in a single composition. Prior to the Meiji Restoration in 1868, the Tokugawa shogunate banned wheeled vehicles in order to keep control over transportation and to  impede any potential challenges to the shogun’s power. The exception was  limited to the ox-drawn carriages of the Kyoto aristocracy. Here we see the pride that the Japanese took in speedily adopting many varieties of modern western conveyances after centuries of wheel-less travel, making up for lost time as it were.  It is also interesting to note that Japan’s first railway did not begin operations until 1872, and this work is dated 1870. The Japanese are credited with the invention of the jinriksha in 1869, and here we see depictions of two of this popular, human-powered device.

Beginning with the top right, we see a cannon on wheels, its movement directed by an official wearing two swords. Below this we see a horse-drawn carriage for two merchants (shônin basha 商人馬車) and horse-drawn “public transportation carriers “(ôrai basha 往来馬車). At top are “wheels moving by steam engine” or perhaps “steam locomotive” (蒸気車), a fascinating (almost Wonka-like) contraption with a man who seems to steer two front wheels with a crank while smoke pours forth from the smokestack.  Below this is a parcel carrier (nitsuke-sha 荷附車), looking little changed from the wheeled dollies that delivery people still use worldwide today. Also labeled is a “two-horse drawn carriage for foreigners” (ijin basha異人馬車), which indeed carries a foreign man in a hat and woman in a bonnet. Below is shown an example of the recently invented rickshaw (jinriki-sha人力車). On the left sheet we see a steam boat from the Meiji Period with a paddle wheel, which was used by the navy as well as for general transport. Two other mysterious vehicles are the one-man tricycle (ichinin-sha一人車), shown with no visible means of locomotion and driven by a foreign man, and finally a two-story carriage (nikai basha二階馬車) drawn by four horses. Lending vérité to the scene, the artist has shown two men on horseback and two men running in a hurry.

Condition: Excellent impression, color and condition. An unusually fine example with only very minor imperfections.

Dimensions: ôban triptych, each sheet 36.7 x 25 cm
Publisher: Masada-ya
Signature: Yoshitora ga