Almanac of news nishikie and related topics
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Glossary of terms in news nishikie world

Some of the more important words and expressions that figure in the study and collection of news nishikie are defined and discussed here. The focus is on Japanese-to-English, hence the predominance of Japanese terms on the menu. English-to-Japanese entries are limited to a few less familiar technical terms.

Related terms are grouped together. Some terms are cross-linked within the glossary. A few entries include links to related articles on this website or to information on other sites.

Lexical sources

All entries in this glossary were originally created for this website. They reflect both guidance from Japanese lexical sources and personal experience with the subject matter.

Considerable use has been made of Kojien (5th edition, Shinmura Izuru, Iwanami Shoten, 1998), Japan's premier desktop-cum-CD-ROM dictionary, but also of technical dictionaries like Shuppan jiten (Dictionary of Publishing, Fukawa Kakuzaemon, Shuppan Nyuusu Sha, 1971) and Toshokangaku shoshigaku jiten (Dictionary of Librarianship and Bibliographical Terms, Uemura Chozaburo, Yurindo, 1972).

See the Bibliography and Web Sources sections of this website for reviews of other guides to terminology.


ana, mushiana, tojiana

ana (穴)   Holes of some kind.

mushiana (虫穴)   Holes caused by worms and other critters.

tojiana (綴じ穴)   Holes made in the margin of a woodblock print or other document in the process of binding it into a book or album.


aratame, aratamein, otodoke

aratame (改)   Approval.

aratamein (改印) [kaiin]   Approval seal, which typically included a graph or graphs representing the year and/or month a draft of a usually including a form of the graph 改 and a graph representing the .

otodoke (御届)   Notification stamp. Typically showing the graphs 御届 in the center of a circle, around which are shown the year, if not also the month and day, that an official accepted a publisher's notification of intent to print and sell a woodblock print, a draft of which was submitted for approval.

During the later half of the Tokugawa and the first few years of the Meiji periods, publishers of woodblock prints and literature were required to submit preliminary drawings or written drafts of materials to be carved on woodblocks to an official (行事 gyōji) of the illustrated literature (絵双紙 ezōshi) sellers guild (問屋組合 ton'ya kumiai) in the jurisdiction of the town magistrate for review (検閲 ken'etsu). The official indicated acceptance by affixing a seal of approval (aratamein) to the drawing or draft.

Typical seals include a variation of the graph for "approval" (改 aratame) plus graphs representing a date. The seal was then carved directly on the main woodblook along with the basic drawing and/or text.

Meiji 5 to Meiji 8 (1872-1875)

There were various kinds of seals and they changed from time to time. During the first few years of the Meiji period, the seal was changed several times a year. However, compliance varied from publisher to publisher, some publishers always using them, others using them sporadically if at all. And there is little evidence that compliance was enforced.

Legal reforms eventually required publishers to specify the year, month, and day of a publication using an otodoke stamp. The new system, introduced from the fall of 1875, also required publishers to dislose their actual names and addresses, and the names addresses of writers and drawers -- whereas previously nishikie were apt to show only pen names and handles, and shop names and logos.

A seal which includes some representation of a date may be evidence of about when a woodblock print or other work was published. Whether a print has an approval seal or a notification date, however, there is no assurance that the print was actually published then -- just as a postmark, even if correct, is not evidence of when a letter was written, mailed, delivered, opened, or read.

From Meiji 8 (1875)

In September 1875, the publishing edict of 1869 was heavily revised. The pre-publication inspection system, which had begun during the Tokugawa period, came to an end. Publishers were now required to disclose -- on all publications, including some woodblock prints -- the legal names and addresses of the publisher and writer/drawer, and the year, month, and day that notifications for publication was accepted.

In principle, from September 1875 or so all woodblock prints had to show the legal names and street addresses of both their creator (author or drawer) and their publisher. In lieu of an aratamein (approval seal), they also had to have an "otodoke" (御届), a stamp which showed the Meiji calendar year, month, and day that authorities accepted a "notification" of intent to publish.

The stamp was circular. A small circle in the center enclosed the graphs 御届. The date was shown in the donut around the center. On the right, reading clockwise, was 明治 (Meiji) followed by a space and 年 (year). On the left, reading counter-clockwise, were the graphs 月 (month) and 日 (day), each followed by a space. In some cases only the number for the year was shown.

See Typical nishikie details for an example of a seal of approval on a news nishikie, and a table of the seals used from Meiji 5 (1872) through Meiji 8 (1875), which covers the period of the earliest news nishikie.

Reliability of seals and date stamps

Some scholars and collectors have a very "positivist" attitude toward aratamein seals and otodoke date stamps. That is to say, they take them at face value as meaning when a work was published.

However, seals and date stamps do not actually purport to be publication dates. They represent only when a publisher is presumed to have received permission to publish. Hence neither can be taken as evidence of when a nishikie, say, was "published" -- without bracketing "published" and noting that it could mean anytime the publisher decided to print and distribute copies.

"Publication" -- defined as "printing and distribution", which already implies an unknown lapse of time between physical production and availability -- would not likely have been before the date of the seal or stamp. However, there is nothing to say that, at the time the publisher obtained the seal or stamp, all the blocks for a single nishikie work, say, were completed, or that the publisher immediately printed and distributed copies of the work.

In any event, assuming the publisher received the seal or stamp according to prescribed procedures, the seal or stamp would not have been carved until after receiving it -- which could have been anytime later. And there were no constraints on later prints runs using the same set of blocks -- even in cases when one or more of the blocks in the set had to be partly recarved, whether to only repair the block, or to modify the drawing or text.

So seals and date stamps are at best only rough indications of the time frame in which a work of printed matter was possibly first published -- meaning printed and distributed. The few prints that bear the publication date and issue number of the newspapers with which they were distributed as supplements are exceptional -- but, at the same time, they prove the point, in that they would have had to be printed in advance with the expected dates of publication.

Note that, later, books typically had (and some still have) two dates -- one the date on which the book is declared to have been printed, the other the date on which it is declared to have been published. Neither date has anything to do with the book's actual distribution or availability -- although, again, if the printing date can be trusted, it would indicate an earliest possible date of availability.

Magazines are notorious for gaps between their production dates, distribution dates, and cover dates. Such gaps can vary from a few days to a few months.

Anyone who has worked in a publishing company will understand that production cycles can vary hugely with the nature of the material being published -- in terms of the times when something is conceived, planned, written or drawn, prepared for publication, manufactured, and finally released for sales.

Even today, when publishers are expected to disclose edition details, there is no assurance when a given copy of a book, say, was actually published and distributed -- simply on the strength of the dates published on the colophon or copyright page. One needs independent data to be sure of when something has been published.

This is not to say that the dates of seals and stamps on a nishikie print are useless. On the contrary, they rank among the various problems that always have to solved when attempting to accurately describe, and impute meaning to, a given copy of a given work.



bokashi, fukibokashi

bokashi (ぼかし, 暈)   (1) A gradual shading off or dimming away of a pigment, from darker to lighter, created by various means. (2) An abbreviation of "fukibokashi" in reference to woodblock prints.

bokashizuri (暈刷) -- (1) "bokashi printing" in reference to any bokashi technique. (2) "bokashi impression" in reference to the result of any bokashi technique.

fukibokashi (拭きぼかし)   "wiping bokashi" -- a bokashi effect created at time of printing, by wiping (拭き fuki) the surface of a ridge on a block with a moist cloth before applying the pigment. This results in a softer edge which appears to blur or fade into the adjacent areas. Distinguish from fukibokashi (吹きぼかし)   "blowing bokashi" -- a bokashi effect created by blowing or spaying pigment.

itabokashi (板ぼかし)   "board bokashi" -- a bokashi effect created by manner in which a woodblock is carved.

The unfurled banners of the mastheads of most TNS (Tokyo nichinichi shinbun) prints show examples of "horizontal bokashi" (一文字ぼかし ichimonji bokashi) -- so-called because the graph for "one" is brushed horizontally -- the darker pigments right and left becoming lighter until they completely fade into the unpigmented area of the paper in the center of the banner.

A vignette photograph is called a "bokashi shashin" (暈し写真) in Japanese.

The graph 暈 is also used to represent "kasa" -- a halo or ring, as around the moon.


bunmei kaika

bunmei kaika (文明開化)   is supposed to mean "civilization and enlightenment" -- which does not mean that "bunmei" means civilization or that "kaika" means enlightenment. If anything, the opposite is true -- i.e., "bunmei" is enlightenment that comes about from literacy and education, while "kaika" is the development of land and other geographical resources that constitute a process of "civilization".

Dictionaries Chinese, Korean, and Japanese dictionaries most likely equate "bunmei" (文明) with "civilization" -- not as a process but as a state. Civilizations exist. They are objects of possession and agents of conflict.

Dictionaries are less in agreement about "kaika" (開化). As a noun is is commonly glossed to mean either civilization or enlightenment, and in verbal forms like "kaika shita" (開化した) it is similarly glossed both "civilized" and "enlightened".

The following bilingual museum catalog renders "kaika" three different ways in its translation of the titles of three Meiji woodblock prints.

東京: 渋沢史料館
Different Lands / Shared Experiences:
The Emergence of Modern Industrial Society in Japan and the United States

An Exhibition Organized by the Shibusawa Memorial Museum and the St. Louis Mercantile Library at the University of Missouri-St. Louis
Tokyo: Shibusawa Memorial Museum 2 October 2005 to 27 November 2005

1. Untranslated

東京開化卅六景 新ばし鉄道館
Tokyo kaika sanjurokkei Shinbashi tetsudokan
Utagawa Hiroshige, III
The Thirty-six Scenes in Tokyo: Shinbashi Railroad Station

[ 36 scenes of Tokyo development ]

2. "Westernization"

Kaika shinpo nichiyo sugoroku
Sugoroku Game: Westernization and Progress in Daily Life

[ Development and progress daily use sugoroku ]

3. "New Civililzation"

開化廿四好 郵便
明治10 / 1877
Kaika nijushi-ko: Yubin
Toyohara Kunichika
Twenty-four Favorites of New Civilization: Postal Service

[ 24 favorites of development: Postal service ]




cartouche   An enclosure which highlights a title or explanation on a drawing or map.

A cartouche can appear anywhere, be of any shape, and can be very plain or elaborate. European engravers turned cartouches into a minor art form. In Japan they were generally much simpler and do not show a lot of embellishment until the latter half of the 19th century.

Cartouche is a French word for gun cartridge, which seems to be what Napoleon's soldiers called the serekh around hieroglyphic writing, on account of their shape, not knowing they contained the names of pharaohs and others. So if not for Napoleon, a cartouches would be called a serekh.

Broadly speaking, anything that contains especially text related to a drawing is a cartouche -- the title, the name of someone or something, a narrative or poem, an aside. Even the little boxes with the name of the publisher or carver -- sometimes inside, sometimes on the border of a woodblock print -- are "cartouches" in the world of graphic description.


cho, rakucho, rancho

chō (丁)   (1) a leaf (葉 ha, yō), as in a book. (2) a unit for counting leaves.

When reckoning pages in Japanese-style publications, one cho (一丁 itchō) is a single leaf, with two pages printed on one side, and folded so that the pages face out. Collected leaves are bound on the outer margin so that the folds are free.

Each leaf is numbered on the fold and its two pages share this number. Approaching the leaf from the right -- i.e., while leafing through the book from right to left -- the front and back aspects of the leaf are referred to as the first, recto, or "a" (甲 kō) aspect, and the second, verso, or "b" (乙 otsu) aspect.

An N丁 book has N leaves and hence 2N pages. The pages would be referred to as 一甲 (1a), 一乙 (1b), ニ甲 (2a), ニ乙 (2b), et cetera, through N甲 (Na) and N乙 (Nb).

rakuchō (落丁)   A condition in which a book is incomplete because one or more leaves are missing -- "dropped" or otherwise lost or left out in the process of printing or binding.

ranchō (乱丁)   A condition in which the pagination of a book is erratic, as when there are numbering gaps or the numbers are not sequential -- especially when the all leaves are present but have been bound in the wrong order

Missing and misbound leaves, though usually not intentional, may be purposeful. A true facsimile edition of a book that was published with such errors will maintain the integrity of the errors.



diptych, triptych

diptych, triptych
nimaitsuzuki, sanmaitsuzuki

diptych (2枚続 nimaitsuzuki, 2枚組 nimaigumi)   A woodblock picture consisting of two sheets.

triptych (3枚続 sanmaitsuzuki, 3枚組 sanmaigumi)   A woodblock picture consisting of three sheets.

N-maituzuki (N枚続) or "N-sheet sequence" is more common and more specific that N-maigumi (N枚組) or "N-sheet set".

Most multiple sheet woodblock works are triptychs, followed by dyptichs. Quadriptychs (tetraptychs) were rare in Edo but not uncommon in Osaka, where apparently taboos against "four" (四 yon, shi) -- a homophone for "death "(死 shi) -- were not as strong.

Pentaptychs are fairly common. Hexatychs, heptaptyhs, and higher order polyptychs are known.

Most polyptychs were meant to go side by side, but some were designed to be arrayed end to end, which accommodated mounting on a hanging scroll. A few -- very few -- were staggered diagonally, with the edges of two corners together.

One problem with multi-sheet prints is that favorite sheets might be kept (or stolen) and others disgarded. This website includes an orphan sheet that awaits its right and left mates.


dokufu, kanpu

dokufu (毒婦)   "Poison woman". A woman who does evil things.

kanpu (奸婦)   "Cunning woman". Synonymous with "dokufu".

Dokufu, often shown dressed in black, destroy the men in their lives and usually themselves. Real-life dokufu were reported in early Meiji newspapers, and then in news nishikie, and were resurrected in late Meiji fiction based on earlier and imaginary incidents.

For a detailed survey in English of dokufu stories and the controveries that surrounded them during the Meiji period, see Jay Rubin's Injurious to Public Morals (Rubin 1984).



e, eshi, egaki

e (絵, 画)   A picture, or a drawing as an object.

eshi (絵師)   (1) An artisan consigned to draw something. (2) Any person who draws, a drawer.

egaki (絵描き, 絵書き)   (1) Act of drawing. (2) A person who draws, a drawer.

Other words for picture including 画 (ga, e) and 絵画 (gaiga). The former is read either "ga" or "e" depending on the usage and the perceived intent of the writer. The latter was once pronounced with two w-glides as "kwaigwa" (クワイグワ).

Other words for drawer include 画家 (gaka), 画工 (gakō, edakumi [e + takumi]

The "e o kaku" (絵を書く), an older term meaning "to brush a picture", became "ekaku" (絵書く), now usually prnounced "egaku" and graphed either 描く or 画く.



esoragoto (絵空事)   Literally "a picture (絵 e) is something (事 koto) in the air (空 sora)" -- a figment of the imagination.

The expression appears in a story in Kokon chomonjū, a 13th-century collection of setsuwa. See Kokon chomonju account of esoragoto for a full translation of the story.

Esoragoto story in brief

The esoragoto story is about Toba Sojo (1053-1140), a monk who was well-known for his drawing, and a disciple. Sojo is jealous of the disciple, who can draw very well. One day the disciple draws a picture of a fist, still gripping a sword, sticking out from the back of a man through which someone has thrust the sword while fighting. Sojo objects: Such things don't happen in the real world. You should not draw pictures with such a set of heart. His disciple counters: There are precedents in other pictures. The erotic pictures of the old masters depict huge organs. Pictures showing things as they are are not worth seeing. The old masters said pictures were things in the air. Your own pictures include drawings of things in air. Sojo, bending to his disciple's reasoning, had nothing to say.

Significance of esoragoto story in art history

The story cites the exaggeration of organ size in erotic pictures drawn by the "old masters" as evidence of their conviction that pictures showing things as they really are were not worth seeing. It is commonly cited by art historians in Japan as evidence of early justification for the use of imagination in drawing.

Exaggeration and deformation are considered essential in drawings meant to be interesting or otherwise have merit. Drawing things in an imaginary manner, larger than life or otherwise different from their actual appearance, is of course especially characteristic of "playful pictures" (戯画 giga), "comic pictures" (滑稽画 kokkeiga, 滑稽の絵 kokkei no e), or "foolish pictures" (烏滸絵, 痴絵 wokoe, okoe) -- among other synonyms for drawings of caricature or parody.



satsu, bunsatsu

fascicle   (1) A section or installment of a book or a series of books, published as an independent volume. (2) Any Japanese-style booklet (冊 satsu), whether or not it is part of a series (分冊 satsu).

satsu (冊)   (1) A booklet consisting of several string-bound folded pages called cho. (2) Any book or other gathering of written documents, especially when bound by sewing. (3) A counter for such publications.

bunsatsu (分冊)   (1) Division of a book into several separately bound booklets. (2) One such booklet (fascicle).




gajō (画帖)   An album.



gesaku, gesakusha

gesaku (戯作)   (1) "frivolous works" including comic or jocular stories or poems. (2) Popular literature, expecially fiction, written from the middle of the Edo period, and mostly during the Edo period, though also well into the Meiji period.

gesakusha (戯作者)   gesaku writer, i.e., a "writer of frivolous works".

The late 18th and early 19th centuries saw a flourising of writing that intentionally rejected the attitudes and styles of more refined literature like Ueda Akinari's Ugetsu monogatari [Tales of Moonlight and Rain] (1776). Gesakusha preferred telling more playful, parodic, satirical, sometimes self-referential stories, and at times Confucian didactic tales, in the vernacular language of ordinary people -- and they didn't mind that some people considered their writing light, frivoulous, crude, or vulgar.

Gesakusha are perhaps most closely comparable with present-day writers of entertainment fiction who have no pretentions about writing literary masterpieces and consciously pander to popular tastes (as elitist writers pander to what passes for refined tastes). If a work work struck a vein of popularity, the publisher would mine until sales dropped below the profit line.

During the Meiji period, gesaku fiction and illustrations became vehicles for lampooning Japan's infatuation with things European and American. Many of the more famous gesaku writers of the late Edo period became journalists. All of the writers involved in news nishikie -- including Jono Denpei (Sansantei Arindo), and Kishida Ginko, indulged in writing satirical works.

Kanagaki Robun (1829-1894), a popular gesaku writer who became a journalist, poked fun at the new "beef eaters" in Aguranabe [Sitting cross-legged at a pot (of beef)] (1871-1872). Fukuzawa Yukichi (1835-1901) satirized tooth-blackening in Katawa musume [Deformed girl] (1872). Nakamura Setsudai poked fun at Fukuzawa's infatuation with Europe and America in Katawa musuko [Deformed boy] (1873). And on and on.

Akutagawa Ryunosuke (1892-1927) wrote a story set in the Edo period called Gesaku zanmai [Absorbtion in gesaku] (1917). The gesaku attitude (more than its style) has inspired a number of writers of "shin gesaku" (new gesaku) like Ishikawa Jun (1899-1987).



han, atohan

han (版)   (1) Edition. (2) Counter for such.

atohan (後版)   A later edition of a work, made from partially or entirely recarved blocks. Later editions usually show minor if not major design changes.

See also suri and atosuri.



hanga (版画)   (1) A picture printed from woodblocks (木版 mokuhan), copperplates (銅版 dōban), or by lithography (石版 sekiban). (2) General synonym for woodblock picture (木版画 mokuhanga).

Hanga are typically color pictures printed from a set of woodblocks each used to print a different color, much like a classic color printing press will use a different plate for each color.

Woodblock printing was innovated to facilitate mass production of texts that would otherwise have to be produced by scribes. In this sense, they are the manual equivalent of flatbed, rotary, and offset lithograph presses that use galleys of type or carved or etched plates to make multiple prints.

Though a single person could make a nishikie, most prints were produced by teams of artisans comissioned and/or employed by a publisher who oversaw everything from the conception of a project to sales. At least three kinds of artisans were involved.

publisher (hanmoto) -- planned and supervised production
drawer (eshi) -- sketched pictures and determined colors
carver (horishi) -- cut pictures and text into blocks of wood
printer (surishi) -- made impressions from blocks on paper

If the print required a story, a professional writer might also be on the team.



hanmoto (版元)   Publisher, especially of woodblock printed matter.


hori, horishi

hori (彫)   Cutting, carving, engraving, chiselling.

A more formal expression is "chōkoku" (彫刻). Both terms apply to the creating of text and images on wood, metal, or stone.

horishi (彫師)   Cutter, carver, engraver.

Othter terms for carver include 彫工 (chōkō, horik#333;), and 彫刻師 (chōkokushi), and 彫物師 (horimonoshi).

Carvers often used the term 彫 (hori) in their names. Tattooers, too, consider themselves "horishi" and are likely to adopt a "hori" handle.




ireki (入木)   A piece of wood embedded in a woodblock to amend or repair.

A few news nishikie have variations resulting from the use of inlays to modify the story and/or the picture of the original print, or to change the name of the publisher on re-issued prints.

Inlays were also used to replace "shinbun" with other terms in titles of some series of prints. For examples see both "Shinbun" suppression and Meiyo shinbun / shindan.

The term is also used to refer to kindling wood presented to masters of families, shops, sumo stables and the like, to temples and shrines, and to doctors and others at the end of the year (Kojien).

See examples of inlays in the Woodblock publishing: Editing.






karazuri (空摺)   "empty printing" or "gauffrage". In referrence to woodblock prints, the technique or the effects of applying pressure to moistened paper placed on a carved but unpigmented block, to create an embossing of the design carved on the block.

Such embossing was used to texture parts of a print, or create a 3D effect. Such effects appears on a few -- not many -- news nishikie.



kawaraban (瓦版)   A printed sheet, especially a newsprint, usually produced with woodblocks.

This is one of many words that do no mean what their graphic presentations imply. There is no doubt the meaning of "-ban" is reflected in 版 (han). There is every doubt that "kawara" means "tile" as implied by 瓦 (kawara).

Kojien (5th edition) states that kawaraban were "crude printed matter consisting of single-sheet impressions of an "original form" or "plate" (原版 genban) made by engraving text and pictures on clay and baking [the clay] like tile. Used during the Edo period for urgent reports of incidents. Actually many [kawaraban] are [impressions] from woodblocks (木版 mokuhan)."

Kojien (5th edition) also states that "kawara" (kahara) originates from Sanscrit "kapāla" -- and Iwanami's Kogojiten (Ono Susumu et al) remarks that this means 塼 (sen) or brick. While not all linguists agree that "kawara" derives from Sanskrit, most historians of printing in Japan dispute that "kawaraban" were ever made from baked-clay plates.

Newsprints appear to go back to the late 16th century though the earliest extant example is dated 1615. Significantly, they were not called kawaraban until the middle of the 19th century. Moreover, a kawaraban printed from a clay block has not yet to been found. All known kawaraban have been printed from woodblocks. (Nakae 2003:70)

Until the Bakumatsu period, kawaraban were called yomiuri (読売), denoting the fact that the news was read and sold. Vendors who strolled the streets, sometimes singing the news as ballad, were also called "yomiuri". Yomiuri shinbun (読売新聞) [Yomiuri news], Japan's highest circulating daily newspaper today, originated as a kawaraban news sheet.

The etymology of kawaraban is thought to be either a place in Kyoto (Kawara < Kahara) where yomiuri-like stories were published, or an allusion to unglazed earthenware vessels called a "kawarake" (瓦器 kaharake), in the sense that yomiuri news sheets were materially simple and plain publications. (Nakae 2003:70)


kento, kentozure

kentō (見当)   Literally "suitable". (1) Guide mark (目当て meate, 目印 mejirushi) carved on a woodblock to assure the appropriate positioning -- alignment, registration, register -- of text or an image on the paper, especially when overprinting with blocks representing different parts or different colors. (2) Alignment, registration, register (see next).

kentō awase (見当合わせ)   Registration and register in printing generally, from the alignment of color plates to the alignment of text on both sides of a page.

kentōzure (見当ずれ)   off registration, poor registration. Also kentō furyō (見当不良).

See examples of registration marks on blocks and related details in Woodblock publishing: Registration.



komae (小間絵, 齣絵, 駒絵, こま絵)   (1) small picture or "cut" within a larger picture or text. (2) a picture cartouche.

"koma" means either "small space" or a "scene" in a play. It is most conventionally graphed 齣 but is more commonly written 駒 if not just こま.

"hitokoma" (一齣, ひとこま) is either a scene from a movie or an event in life, or an abbreviation of "hitokoma manga" (一齣漫画, ひとこまマンガ) meaning "one-frame comic picture" -- i.e., cartoon. Whereas a "yonkoma manga" (四齣漫画, 四コマ漫画), or "four-frame comic picture", is a comic strip.


koshinbun oshinbum

koshinbun (小新聞) refers to "small news" as opposed to ōshinbun (大新聞) or "large news". The terms were used to differentiate newspapers which carried mostly what some people considered major, important news -- meaning reports and articles concerning government, politics, economics and other "serious" topics -- and those which featured more stories of greater interest to the masses, such as crime and other incident reports, articles about popular entertainments, and serialized fiction.

The terms "small news" and "large news" appeared early in the Meiji period. Later in the period came so-called chū shinbun (中新聞) or "middle-news" papers, which sought to strike a marketable compromise of "small" and "large" content.

"Large-news" papers were more easily read by the better educated people who were well schooled in highly sinified styles of Japanese writing and even kanbun texts, without the aid of a lot of furigana. Such papers had few if any illustrations.

The earliest "large-news" papers included Tokyo nichinichi shinbun (Tokyo daily news) and Yūbin hōchi shinbun (Postal dispatch news). The first issues of Tonichi were single, large, wide sheets of paper. The first issues of Hochi, however, were small multi-page pamphlets.

Tonichi was absorbed by Osaka mainichi denpō (Osaka daily telegraph) in 1911. The two papers were merged in 1942, and from 1943 became Mainichi shinbun (Mainichi news) -- a major national paper which has been battered by loss of readers.

Hochi was merged with Yomiuri in 1942. It resumed as an independent paper in 1946 but by 1948 it had floundered and returned to the Yomuiuri fold. Relaunched in late 1949 as Hōchi supootsu (Dispatch sports), it went on to become a major national sports sheet -- i.e., a major "small-news" paper.

"small-news" papers

"Small-news" papers were written in styles closer to the vernacular language, and the language of popular novels and oral narratives. The ratios of Chinese graphs to kana were smaller, and most graphs were accompanied by furigana to aid their reading by the less literate. Such papers also featured more illustrations.

Among the earliest small-news papers were Yomiuri shinbun (Yomiuri news) and Asahi shinbun (Asahi news) -- which are now the most widely distributed major dailies in Japan.

Semantic shifts

It is somewhat of a misconception that "big" and "small" originally referred to the size of the paper, for the early papers -- whether they carried "big" or "small" news -- came in various sizes. Besides which, at the time the distinction was made, the term "shinbun" referred only to "news" and had not yet come into use as a synonym for "shinbunshi" or "newspaper".

That many researchers today use "koshinbun" and "oshinbun" to mean "small newspapers" and "large newspapers" is more in accordance the extended meaning of "shinbun" as an abbreviation of "shinbunshi" (newspaper) in contrast with, say, "zasshi" (magazine) or even "terebi" (television). In early-Meiji usage, however, "shinbun zasshi" would have referred to a magazine-like "news booklet" or "news pamphlet".

In the meantime, "nyuusu" has become the more common word for news -- except in titles of newspapers, where "shinbun" still means news. And while "shinbun" can also now mean newspaper, "shinbunshi" remains the most technical term for such media.






mimi (耳, みみ)   The unprinted edges of a print, which are sometimes trimmed.

Metaphorically, mimi are ears of animals, handle of kettles, the crust of bread or the heels of a loaf of bread, among other edges and borders of things.



nikuhitsu, nikuhitsuga

nikuhitsu (肉筆)   (1) Writing or drawing by hand. (2) Abbreviation of "nikuhitsuga".

nikuhitsuga (肉筆画)   An original sketch, drawing, or painting, done in the hand of the person to whom the work is attributed -- that is, not a print or reproduction.


nishikie, nishikiga

nishikie (錦絵, 錦画)   (1) any woodblock-printed "color picture". (2) a more colorful variety of ukiyoe -- called such because the pictures (絵 e) were reminiscent of colorful silk brocades (錦 nishiki).

"-e" and "-ga"

When suffixed to "nishiki-" (錦), "-e" is graphed as either 絵 (繪) or 画 (畫). In other words, 錦絵 and 錦画 are graphic variations of the word "nishikie".

In order to differentiate these variations in romanizations and abbreviations, this website shows 錦絵 as "nishikie" [N] and 錦画 as "nishikiga" (Ng). This facilitates clarification of titles that differ only in their preference for one graph or the other.

The first nishikie are thought to be have been inspired in by the pictorial calendars (絵暦 egoyomi) designed in 1765 by the ukiyoe drawer Suzuki Harunobu (鈴木春信 c1725-1770). Conventional ukiyoe used a limited range of colors, usually printed within the black outlines of a picture. Nishikie used a fuller range of colors, made possible by the innovation of registration guide marks carved on blocks. A commercial edition of Harunobu's pictorial calendars was called Azuma nishikie (吾妻錦絵), alluding to Edo in the east (東 azuma). In time such prints came to be called just "nishikie" -- or so the story goes.

Because color lent itself to gaudier tastes, nishikie, more than conventional ukiyoe, were more likely to be used for entertainment purposes, including the dissemination of legends, gossip, and news. During the final decade and the first few years of the Edo and Meiji periods, sketch artists like Yoshiiku and Yoshitoshi earned their living drawing famous and notorious historical and near contemporary heroes and villains for both popular novels and nishikie. For them it was an easy transition to illustrate news stories, whether for newspapers or nishikie.


news nishikie, nyuusu nishikie

news nishikie (ニュース錦絵 nyuusu nishikie)   Term coined by William Wetherall to resolve the dispute represented by "shinbun nishikie" and "nishikie shinbun" (see below).

News nishikie integrated a brief narrative of an event into a picture dramatizing a scene of the event, typically on a single sheet, exceptionally on two (diptych) or three (triptych) sheets, of washi. Sometimes two stories were pictured on a print.

Contrary to popular and academic belief, these color prints were neither newspapers, nor forerunners of illustrated newspapers. Their formats do, however, invite comparision with the spreads in presentday magazines featuring photograph with stories.

"shinbun nishikie" and "nishikie shinbun"

This website calls all news-related nishikie "nyuusu nishikie" in Japanese and "news nishikie" in English. However, the terms most like found in Japanese writing are "shinbun nishikie" (news nishikie) and "nishikie shinbun" (nishikie news).

As Tsuchiya Reiko has pointed out (Tsuchiya 1995:15-21), Ono Hideo, the father of Japanese journalism studies and an early collector of news nishikie, preferred to call the Tokyo variety "shinbun nishikie" (news nishikie) and their Osaka cousins "nishikie shinbun" (nishikie news).

Ono observed that Tokyo news nishikie were published under the banners of papers like Tokyo Nichinichi Shinbun and Yubun Hochi Shinbun, and that the numbers of the prints referred to the issues of the papers which had already carried the stories. And he regarded Osaka news nishikie as "pure-Japanese-style graphics" with their own distinct mastheads and numbers.

In Ono's opinion, then, Tokyo news nishikie were "nishikie which had been produced with newspapers as their source", while Osaka news nishikie were "printed matter which had the fuction of newspapers that used nishikie". In 1972, a few years before he passed away, Ono published Shinbun nishikie [Newspaper nishikie] (Ono 1972), a large (B4) book of reproductions of news nishikie, but only prints associated with Tokyo newspapers.

Tsuchiya recognizes the merits of Ono's distinction. Tokyo news nishikie, she agrees, may well be superior both in terms of printing technology and artistic value. However, she believes that Osaka's "nishikie shinbun" (nishikie newspapers) deserve more attention than Ono was willing to give them.

Tsuchiya points out that news nishikie produced in Osaka were often typically keyed to news reports from Tokyo papers, since Osaka didn't have its first newspaper until 1876. In Osaka, then, news nishikie were distributed and read in lieu of newspapers, and were therefore, she reasons, a kind of newspaper.

Shiga-born Ono went to college in Tokyo and remained there the rest of his life. Before undertaking the studies of journalism that led him to an academic career at the University of Tokyo, he worked as a reporter for Tokyo Nichinichi Shinbun. No wonder, then, his interest in principally it's news nishikie -- and the focus of his seminal book, published by Mainichi Shinbun, the present-day incarnation of the merger of Osaka Mainichi Shinbun and Tokyo Nichinichi Shinbun.

Nagano-born Tsuchiya, after studying and teaching in different localities, including Tokyo and Hokkaido, decided at some point to put Osaka's news nishikie on the map of journalism (if not art) history. Hence her pioneering work (Tsuchiya 1995), after which came her academic post at Osaka City University.

In her 1995 book (and 2000 CD-ROM update), Tsuchiya succeeds in showing that Osaka news nishikie are every bit as worthy of our attention as their Tokyo cousins, both as journalism and as art. At the dawn of the Meiji period, Tokyo's currents may have been faster and wilder, but Osaka's waters were not exactly stagnant.

The war of words continues among academics interested in making the sort of distinctions that Ono and Tsuchiya have lived with. The contributors to this website, though, prefer a more neutral term for what they see as "news-related nishikie" or simply "news nishikie" -- whether they were art associated with newspapers, or newspapers that exploited art.

Art historian and mystery writer Takahashi Katsuhiko argues that "nishikie shinbun" were neither newspapers nor, strictly speaking, like today's weekly magazines. They were closer, he suggests, to television wide shows. (Takahashi 1992:32-41).

Takahashi may have a point. Newspapers report breaking news. The weeklies follow up with longer reports. The wide shows focus on particularly sensational incidents, collect and air video footage, and pay all manner of talk-show personalities, from fashion critics to university professors, to sit around and make entertaining comments.



oban, obosho, chuban, hanshi, hanshibon, mambeban

Most Tokyo news nishikie are oban. Most Osaka news nishikie are chuban. Some news nishikie are mameban. Hanshi, a common size of book folios, was also used for some broadsheets.

ōban (大判) is a somewhat generic name for the most common size nishikie in Edo and Tokyo, very roughly 25cm x 38cm, comparable to the B4 (250mm x 353mm) paper standard today. A much larger size, which measured about 32cm x 58cm, is sometimes called ō-ōban (大大判) or "large ōban".

"ōbōsho" (大奉書), roughly 53.0 x 39.5 centimeters, is most most commonly used today for making folders measuring roughly 26.5 x 39.5 centimeters, which are convenient for protecting ōban nishikie and other printed matter. So-called "ōban" descends from half a sheet of such paper.

The term 大判 (ōban) was also a denomination for gold and silver coins from the end of the Muromachi period to the end of the Edo period. The most familiar in movies, tv dramas, and fiction is the oblong gold piece marked and valued at ten ryo (拾両 (jōryō).

chūban (中判) is also used rather broadly to refer to a size of paper about half the size of ōban. More commonly used in Osaka prints, this size measures roughly 19cm x 25cm, comparable to the B5 (176mm x 250mm) paper standard today.

mameban (豆判)   About half a chuban sheet.

Hanshi (半紙) became the most common size of paper during the Tokugawa period. Printed two pages on one and folded toward the unprinted side, it made a folio leaf which, when bound with other leaves on the unfolded side, made a pamphlet or book called "hanshibon" (半紙本) because of the paper size.

Some broadsheet newspapers were printed on sheets of hanshi, printed two pages on both sides then folded to make a four-page folio paper. The first daily issues of the Yūbin hōchi shinbun were of this format. See Hochi early issues for images.

Paper size specifications vary

Paper sizes are a bit of a maze. Descriptions considerably vary with source. The following data is collated from various sources.

hōsho (奉書) embraces two lines of paper sizes. One line is related to ōbōsho (大奉書) or "honmasa" (本柾), which is roughly 53.0 x 39.4 cm. The other line is related to "goshomotsu" (御書物) or "aiban" (間判), which is about 50.0 x 33.3 cm.

hōsho (奉書) is about 51.5 x 36.4 cm.

ōbōsho (大奉書) is about 53.0 x 39.4 cm. Kōjien says 40 x 55 cm. Also called "honmasa" (本柾), this size of paper is the source of the so-called "ōban" (大判) standard, a vertical half cut about 27.3 cm wide.

hanshiban (半紙判) (hanshiban) paper is about 34.8 x 26.1 cm. Kōjien says "hanshi" (半紙) originally referred to paper that was 1-shaku 6-sun (1尺6寸) -- about 48.5 cm -- or longer on its wider horizontal side, but later became the general name for paper between 24-26 cm vertically by 32.5-35 cm in width.

chūban (中判) is about 26.5 x 19.1 cm.


ori, nakaori

ori (オリ, 折, 折り)   A fold or folds.

nakaori (中折)   A fold in the center.

Some woodblock prints, such as newspaper supplements and magazine frontispieces, may be found only folded, because they were folded when inserted.

See also shiwa and orishiwa.








recension   A revision of a text through vetting it against other editions and correcting what appear to be copyist and other errors. Many "standard" versions of classical and other older works are scholarly recensions of the best known extant edition of the work.




shimi (シミ)   (1) A stain resulting from any form of contamination, whether solid or liquid, or microorganisms. (2) Soiling or staining. (3) Foxing -- i.e., browing or discoloring -- caused by cellulosolithic fungi and bacteria in paper fibers. (4) Condition of being soiled, stained, or foxed. (5) Synonym for yogore.


shinbun, shinbunshi

shinbun (新聞)   (1) "new tidings" or "news", in contrast with "new tales (新談 shindan) and "new talk" (新話 shinwa). (2) abbreviation of 新聞紙 (shinbunshi) or "newspaper".

shinbunshi (新聞誌, 新聞紙)   Common terms for "news magazine" and "newspaper" during the late Edo and early Meiji periods. 新聞紙 is still a technical term for "newspaper" today.

"journal" and "paper"

誌 (shi) means something which has been written -- inscription, notation, record, jotting, account, journal. It mostly commonly appears today in the term 雑誌 (zasshi) -- meaning "miscellaneous accounts" or "magazine". 紙 (shi), which means "paper" as a material or a "document" thereof, came to replace 誌 (shi) as a suffix with 新聞 (shinbun) in reference a newspaper. Today 紙 (shi) and 誌 (shi) are abbreviations for newspapers and magazines, and the term 紙誌 (shishi) refers to both media.

The first Japanese "newspapers" were woodblock-printed, string-bound, magazine-like volumes. The first broadsheets, though also woodblock-printed, were single unfolded sheets. Folio "news magazines" were gradually replaced by broadsheet "newspapers".

Meiji and present-day usage

Then and now, 新聞 (shinbun) in the title of a newspaper or nishikie means "news" -- "Tokyo daily news" (Tokyo nichinichi shinbun), "Postal dispatch news" (Yubin hochi shinbun), "Yomiuri news" (Yomiuri shinbun), "Asahi news" (Asahi shinbun).

During the early Meiji period, when human insterest news reports were being recycled in nishikie, the physical media were referred to as "nishikie" (color picture) or "shinbunshi" (newspaper).

Today, 新聞 (shinbun) as an object of "buy" or "subscribe to" or "take" or "clip" or "recycle" means "newspaper" -- while the word for "news" as the content of someone one reads or hears is ニュース (nyuusu). Well, why not. Uncooked rice is "kome" (米), steamed and served in a proper bowl and eaten with chopsticks it becomes "gohan" (ご飯), and ingested from a plate with anything, including your fingers, it is "raisu" (ライス).



shitae (下絵)   A preliminary sketch or drawing.

Several such drawings survive that were clearly made for a nishikie that was never produced.


shiwa, orishiwa

shiwa (シワ)   Wrinkles, wrinkling.

orishiwa (折シワ)   Folds and wrinkles, i.e., creases, creasing.

See also ori and nakaori.


shunga, osokuzu no e

shunga (春画 shungwa)   Literally "spring pictures" meaning images of men and women (but at times men and men, women and women, and humans and other animals) engaged in some form of sexual intercourse.

While shunga has become the most widely used and familiar term for such pictures, there are many synonyms.

osokuzu no e (おそくずの絵, 偃息図の絵) -- literally "pictures of images of laying and resting". See Kokon chomonju account of esoragoto for a full translation of a 13th-century story in which this expression figures in the argument that drawing something in an exaggerated way -- in this case larger-than-life sexual organs -- is what makes a picture worth seeing.

makurae (枕絵) -- "pillow pictures". Booklets of erotic tales illustrated by "pillow picture drawers" (枕絵師 makuraeshi) are called "makurazōshi" (枕草紙). A drawer of such pictures

waraie (笑い絵) -- "laugh pictures" -- were "comical drawings" (滑稽な絵 kokkei na e) intended to make people laugh. The term was also used as cant for shunga.

higa (秘画 higwa) -- "secret picture" -- is commonly used in titles of articles and books about erotic images.

A book containing erotica was called a "secret book" (秘本 hihon, 秘書 hisho) or "spring book" (春本 shunbon).

Shunga censorship past and present

Because explicit erotic was generally forbidden during the Edo period and later, shunga and shunbon were usually published and circulated privately. Until the 1990s, books on shunga published overseas were not easily imported into Japan, and books published in Jaapn were censored.

Today a number of mainstream publishes produce uncensored art books and magazines, which are sold at ordinary neighborhood bookstores. Kanda woodblock print dealers, who used to encounter difficulties showing shunga in their catalogs, now openly feature shunga.



sure (スレ, 擦れ)   Damage, such as marks, resulting from rubbing or chafing.


suri, atozuri

suri (刷り, 刷)   (1) Printing, impression. (2) Counter for such.

atozuri (後刷)   In reference to woodblock prints, a later printing or impression of a work made from the same blocks.

Later printings of blocks typically show evidence of damage to the blocks, as from wear, chipping, and warping. They may also use different, and sometimes fewer, pigments.

Warping affects registration

See also han and atohan.




torimingu, tachi

torimingu (トリミング)   Trimming of outer edges of a print or other document.

tachi (裁ち)   A less common expression for cutting something, especially to fit.

Both terms are used by tailors and publishers. Prints mounted in albums or scrap books were often trimmed to the size of the mounting medium.




ukiyoe (浮世絵)    A very broad category of mostly woodblock-printed pictures (hanga) but also including some hand-drawn pictures (肉筆画 nikuhitsuga). Such pictures, as called, first appeared in the late 17th century and continued to thrive to the end of the 19th century. Some present-day artists continue to draw in what could be called the ukiyoe style.

Ukiyoe or "floating world picture" are historically associated with the transient enjoyments and pleasures of the world of entertainment. The genre developed and flourished especially in Edo, hence contemporary synonyms like Edoe (江戸絵) ["Edo picture"] and azumae (東絵) ["eastern picture"].

Ukiyoe typically portrayed courtesans and other beautiful women, famous kabuki actors and scenes, heroic warriors, erotica called shunga, scenes from classical Japanese and Chinese literature, comical scenes from contemporary life, parodies of familiar stories, landscapes, and pictures of birds and flowers, among other motiffs.

Though some ukiyoe were produced as works of art for collector-conneusers, most were mass produced as souvenir commodities. As such they were sold with books and other publications by their publishers or by itinerant vendors, mostly to townspeople of better than average means.

Woodblock publishers, called hanmoto, were generally responsible for the entire production of a woodblock publication, whether a book or picture. They commissioned or hired all the artisans involved in the production of a publication -- drawers and writers, carvers and printers -- and also oversaw sales.

Drawers and writers were more likely to be free lancers who made their services available to publishers who commissioned their work. Carvers and printers were more likely to be employed by a single publisher, though some carvers appear to have worked for more than one publisher.

Woodblock-printed pictures almost always showed the name and logo of the publisher, and usually also the signature and seal of the drawer, and the name and seal of the writer if there was text, and sometimes the name of the carver. Established drawers and master carvers were assisted by students and apprentices and might put their own name on work done under their supervision. At times a drawer would acknowledged the assistance of a disciple.



urauchi (裏打)    (1) Backing of fabric or paper, especially using washi. (2) Backing on a woodblock print or other printed matter, usually resulting from pasting the item into an album or scrapbook.





wabon, watoji, minchotoji

wahon (和本)   "Japanese book" -- (1) Any book made in Japan (和書 washo), as distinct from a book made in China (唐本 tōhon, 漢籍 kanseki). (2) Any book printed on "Japanese paper" (和紙 washi) and bound in "Japanese style"(和風 wa&fū), aka "Japanese-bound book" (和装本 wasōbon, 和綴じ本 watojibon). (3) As opposed to "western book" (洋本 yōhon).

watoji (和綴じ)   "Japanese binding" in reference to the method of sewing the folded leaves of a Japanese-style book, in a manner transmitted from China in antiquity. Also called "Japanese sewing" (和装 wasō).

minchōtoji (明朝綴じ)   "Ming court binding" in reference to the most common kind of watoji, in which a string is threaded through four holes made on the binding edge of a gathering of leaves. Also called "four-eye binding" (四つ目綴じ yotsumokutoji) and "Tang binding) (唐綴じ tōtoji).



washi (和紙)   Japanese paper.

Mistranslated "rice paper" even in better dictionaries.

Washi is generally made with the long fibers of a number of plants, from mulberry to hemp. Paper making methods were introduced from China around the 7th century. Local innovations resulted in a distinction between "Japanese" and "Chinese" papers, and later "overseas" (European, western) papers. There are many kinds of washi, named after the kinds of fibers used to make them, or the places where they are made.

Nishikie newspapers were published at a time, centuring on the 1870s, when European paper-making methods had not yet had made a significant impact on the manufacturing of papers used for woodblock prints.






yake (ヤケ, 焼け, 焼)   Literally "burning" from exposure to sun or other light, resulting in fading or related changes in saturation or hues pigments.



yogore (汚れ)   (1) Soiling caused by dirt, dust or other such impurity. (2) State of being soiled, dirty, or dusty. (3) Synonym for shimi.