Kanagaki Robun's Aguranabe

Beef, sake, news, and Westophiles in Early Meiji Japan

By William Wetherall

First posted 20 January 2008
Last updated 23 March 2010

Aguranabe    Bunko  |  Facsimile  |  Particulars  |  Signatures  |  Beef eater  |  Cow and horse  |  Reading news  |  Westophiles

See Kanshiro hirome tebikae for a look at Kanagaki Robun in Takahashi Katsuhiko's Kanshiro series.

Kanagaki Robun's Aguranabe

Kanagaki Robun (1829-1894) was one of the most important writers of both fiction and reportage in the late Edo and early Meiji periods. He was closely associated with sketch artists like Yoshiiku and also worked with Yoshitoshi. See Kanagaki Robun in the Who's Who in the Almanac section for more about him and his writing.


Kanagaki is best known for a collection of parodic stories called "Ushiya zōdan / Aguranabe" (牛店雑談 / 安愚楽鍋) or "Beef-shop small-talk: Cross-legged [at a beef] pot". The stories are humorous takes on people who flock to "beef shops" (牛店 ushiya, gy#363;ten) or "beef-pot shops" (牛鍋屋 gyūnabeya) to sit around pots of beef (牛鍋 gyūnabe, ushinabe), drink sake, smoke tobacco, and read the news or gossip.

"Aguranabe", as the story is usually called, was published as three volumes (編) in five fascicles (冊). The first volume (one book) and second volume (two books) came out in 1871, and the third volume (two books) appeared in 1872. Here I will refer to the five books in three volumes as 1, 2a and 2b, and 3a and 3b.

The word "agura" is usally graphed 胡坐 or 胡座 (both of which are read "koza" in Sino-Japanese) if not 胡床 (koshō). It derives from Japanese "a" meaning "foot" or "leg" and "kura" meaning a mount or platform on which one sat, usually while folding the legs and crossing the ankles. In time the word designating the seat became the term for the manner of sitting. The term "kura", which also means "saddle", is a suffix in a number of words, including -- possibly -- "makura" or "pillow" which seats or rides the head (atama).

Why Robun graphed the word 安愚楽 (a-gu-ra) is a bit of a mystery. On the surface it is an example of the sort of visual wordplay that gesaku writers in particular loved. Here it might (according to some people) imply that sitting cross-legged at a pot of beef was "cheap, simple-minded, and pleasurable" way to put on airs of civilization and enlightenment.

The story pokes fun at the rush to abandon the native in favor of the exotic -- particularly men who sit cross-legged before a steaming beef pot while drinking conventional sake and reading "news" (shinbun) in a newfangled "newspaper" (shinbunshi) For details on this important reference to the growing popularity of newspapers the very year Tokyo's first daily papers appeared, see On "nishikie shinbun".


Aguranabe has been published in numerous editions, beginning with its original woodblock-printed booklets, followed by moveable-type editions, compact bunko editions, and now electronic text editions. In addition, there both printed facsimilies and electronic scans of early woodblock editions.

Here I have used the Iwanami bunko edition to facilitate reading a paper facsimile edition, while also consulting high resolution color scans of a similar edition available on-line through the Old and Rare Materials Collection database at Waseda University Library.


Cover of bunko edition

Iwanami bunko edition

Aguranabe is most accessible in the following fully annotated and illustrated bunko edition of Kobayashi Chikahira's recension of the Seishidō text.

Kanagaki Robun
[Cross-legged pot]
小林智賀平 (校注者)
Kobayashi Chikahira (proofer and annotator)
東京:岩波書店 Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten
岩波文庫 (Iwanami Bunko), 142 pages
1st printing, 1967
5th printing, 1997


All images except where otherwise noted are scans of
Yosha Bunko copy of facsimile edition of Aguranabe

Front cover of Volume 1
Box of facsimile edition

Facsimile edition

Aguranabe was first published in five folio booklets by Seishidō in 1871-1872. In December 1968, the Nihon Kindai Bungaku Kan (日本近代文学館) published a boxed facsimile edition of an early Seishidō printing of the booklets. Nihon Kindai Bungaku Kan calls itself "Museum of Modern Japanese Literature" in English though "kindai" means "recent-era" and refers especially to the Meiji, Taisho, and early Showa periods.

Misbound leaves

According to a slip of paper accompanying the facsimile edition, the facsimile is faithful to the point of reproducing the ranchō (乱丁) or "confusion [of order] of leaves" in the source copy. Specifically, leaves 21-26 of Volume 3a (Book 1 of Volume 3) are misbound at the end of Volume 3b (Book 2 of Volume 3), while leaf 21 of Volume 3b is misbound at the end of Volume 3a.

How many copies of the Volume 3 booklets were misbound is not known. Misbinding does not, however, seem to have characterized the early editions. Waseda University Library's Yanagida Izumi Bunko has one complete set (Volumes 1-3) and one partial set (Volume 2) of Aguranabe, and the leaves in its copies of 3a and 3b are not misbound.


Colophon inside front cover and title page (Volume 1: 1a)

Publishing particulars

A decorative plate showing the title, and the names of the author or compliler, drawer, and publisher, is sometimes pasted inside the front cover. Only Volume 1 of the facsimile edition of Aguranabe shows such a plate, printed black-on-green. Note, also, that the publisher on the decorative plate, and the publisher on the opposing title page (1a), appear to be different.

Three of the five books in the complete set in the Yanagida Izumi Bunko collection at Waseda University Library -- Volumes 2a, 3a, and 3b -- have decorative title plates inside the front cover. The plate in the facsimile edition resembles the plate in Volume 3b of the Waseda set in both its design and particulars.

All books in the the facsimile set have green covers. The first four books of the complete Yanagida (Waseda) set have green covers, while only the last book (Volume 3b) has a brown cover. The covers of the both books (Volumes 2a and 2b) in the incomplete Yanagida set are brown or tan.

Title page on first leaf (1a) Decorative plate inside front cover

Kanagaki Robun cho [author]

安愚 / 楽鍋   牛店雑談  初編
Ushiya zōdan   Aguranabe  Shohen
[ Beef shop small talk
Cross-legged (at a beef) pot

一名 奴論建 / 東京 誠之堂梓 OWU / MIYA
Ichimyō Doronken [Also called Drunken]
Tōkei: Seishidō shi [blocks (printing)] Ōmiya

Kanagaki Robun saku [maker (writer)]

安愚 / 楽鍋   牛店雑談  一名 奴論建
Ushiya zōdan   Aguranabe  Ichimyō Doronken
[ Beef shop small talk
Cross-legged (at a beef) pot
Also called Drunken ]

Shōjō Kyōsai ga [drawer]



Bankūkaku, a Tokyo woodblock printer and bookseller, was also, at the time, publishing Kanagaki's comic saga Seiyō dōchū hizakurige (西洋道中膝栗毛). This work, begun in 1870, ran to 15 volumes in 30 fascicles (booklets) when finished in 1876. The final volumes, 12-15, are attributed to Kanagaki's friend, the gesaku writer Fusō Kan (総生寛 1841-1894), signing as "Misugi Yosugi Fusō Kan" (七杉子総生寛).

Apparently Book 2 of Volume 6 of "Hazakurige" published an excerpt from "Aguranabe" by way of promoting the forthcoming work, but the excerpt never appeared in the finished version (Kobayashi in Kanagaki 1997:6).

doronken (奴論建) is a transliteration of ドロンケン from Dutch "dronken" meaning "drunk". This word, also written ドリンケン (dorinken) and トリンケン (torinken), appears to have been part of the port lingo of the time (Kojien). The characters Kanagaki used to represent the word could be taken to mean "construction of debate by slaves/servants".

Tokei reflects the furigana provided for 東京 at the end of the preface (see below) and elsewhere. It would be several years before the name of the city was standardized as Tōkyō.

black botan reflects 黒牡丹 (kurobotan, kokubotan) -- a dark purple peony. Here the expression is cant for cow, steer, or water buffalo.

The decorate plate inside the front cover of the facsimile edition attributes the drawings to Shōjō Kyōsai (猩々暁齋畫). While some descriptions of Aguranabe -- including Kobayashi's (Kanagaki 1997:8) -- state that Yoshiiku was the illustrator, several pictures bear one or another of Kawanabe Kyosai's signatures. However, Yoshiiku was clearly a principal illustrator.

Variations in decorative plates and title pages

The left column of the tripart title page of the facsimile edition shows first (right) the subtitle "Ichimyō Doronken" and the second (left) the city and publishing company "Tōkei   Seishidō shi" and a seal reading "OWU / MIYA" (Ōmiya). The hand is clearly different from that of the columns for the author's name and the main title.

The left column of the title page on the Yanagida Izumi Bunko copy in Wasuda University Library, however, shows only the subtitle "Ichimyō Doronken" -- in larger script, laterally centered, justified at the bottom with the main title in the adjacent column -- and in the same hand.

Decorative title plates on Waseda set

While the facsimile edition has only one decorative title plate, the set of booklets in the Yanagida collection at Waseda has three different plates, as follows.

Volume 1  No decorative plate
No publisher's name on facing title page

Volume 2a  Black-on-white decorative plate
惠齋芳幾画 Keisai Yoshiiku ga [Drawings by Yoshiiku]
誠之堂梓版 Seishidō ban [Published by Seishidō]

Volume 2b  No decorative decorative plate

Volume 3a  Black-on-whited ecorative plate
猩々暁齋畫 Shōjō Kyōsai ga [Drawings by Shōjō Kyōsai]
誠之堂梓 Seishidō shi [Blocks (Printing) by Seishidō]
[Here 梓 is written 木+亠+羊 rather than 木+辛]

Volume 3b  Black-on-yellow decorative plate
猩々暁齋畫 Shōjō Kyōsai ga [Drawings by Shōjō Kyōsai]
萬笈閣 Bankyūkaku [(Published by) Bankyūkaku]


End of preface and Yoshiiku's frontispiece (Volume 1: 2b-3a)
(Copped and cropped from Waseda University Library)

Yoshiiku's signature


Kojin Ichigyūsai monjin
Yoshiiku girefude

Disciple of
the late Ichicowsai
Yoshiiku frivolous brushing

Yoshiiku's deceased mentor, Kuniyoshi (國芳 1798-1861), known also as "Ichiyūsai" (一勇斎), has been reborn a cow (ぎう giu > > ぎゅう > 牛 < ushi), of higher status than a mere sketcher of playful pictures.

Most of Kuniyoshi's students had such names. Yoshiiku was Ikkeisai or Keisai, and Yoshitoshi was Ikkaisai or Kaisai. Kawanabe, who also originally studied under Kuniyoshi, was first 狂斎 and then 暁斎, both of which are read Kyōsai.

Preface and frontispiece signatures

Aguranabe begins with a four-page preface which Kanagaki dates, signs, and seals like this (Volume 1: 2b).

假名垣魯文題   善悪 [印]

Meiji yotsu-no-toshi kanoto hitsuji no udzuki hajime no itsuka
Tōkei Honkokuchiyau Bankiukaku no inkiyo ni oite
Ushi no neriyaku kokubotan no seishiyu
Kanagaki Robun dai   Zen-Aku [Seal]

Meiji 4-3-5 [24 April 1871]
At the hidden residence [retirement home] of [called] Bankyūkaku in Honkokuchō in Tōkei [Tōkyō]
Manufacterer of black botan liniment for cows
Kanagaki Robun titles   Good-Evil (Seal)


Kanagaki appears to be practically living at Bankyūkoku, the Tokyo woodblock printer and bookseller which was publishing another of his stories (see above).


The seal reads, right to left, white 善 (zen, "good") on black, black 悪 (aku, "evil") on white. Kanagaki was known for using a seal that read 善 in white and 悪 in vermilion -- when using cinnabar ink. The preface is printed with a woodblock that would have been cut from a sheet of paper on which Kanagaki had brushed the text and affixed his seal -- with cinnabar ink. The red parts of the seal are thus printed as black.


Both copies of the first book of Volume 2 in Waseda's Yanagida Bunko credit Keisai Yoshiiku with the drawings, and indeed his hand is seen in a number of the illustrations in Aguranabe. The kuchie or "frontispiece" following Kanagaki's preface in Volume 1 (is clearly signed by Yoshiiku -- in a manner that exemplifies his well-known sense of humor (Volume 1: 3a).


Beefeater with sake and tobacco (Volume 3b: 20b)


A young man who likes the west sits cross-legged at a beef pot simmering over coals in a hibachi. He holds a cut of sake in one hand while spooning beef broth with the other. A pipe and smoking box sit on the floor.

The menu in the upper right reads as follows.

Beer 18 monme [silver]
Sanpan 20 monme [silver]
Superior sake 230 mon [copper]

Note: 60 momme = 4000 mon.


Horse transporting rising cow (Volume 3a: 6b-7a)
Horse: You've come up in the world.
Cow: Yeah, but they're going to eat me.
Horse: You'll be reborn a higher animal.

Cow and horse


Man reading news over beef pot (Volume 3b: 16b-17a)

Man reading news


Catching the talk of a westophile
A partial translation from Kanagaki Robun's Aguranabe (1871-1872)

Japanese text

The graphic transcription, including the furigana, reflects the text in the Kindai Bungaku Kan facsimile edition of the Seishidō fascicle edition (1968, Volume 1, 6a-10a). The punctuation, however, is based on the Iwanami Shoten bunko edition (5th printing, 1997, pages 28-29), which also informed some of the commentary.

Furigana are shown in (small parentheses) following the graphs they appeared beside in the facscimile edition. The bold emphasis for purposes of commentary is mine (Wetherall).

English translation and commentary

Both the structural translation and the commentary are mine mine (Wetherall).

Beginning of "Seiyozuki no kikitori" text (Volume 1: 6a-7a)



「モシ あなたヱ、牛(ぎう)は至極高味(しごくかうみ)でごす子。 此肉がひらけちゃアぼたんや紅葉(もみぢ)は、くへやせん。こんな清潔なものを、なぜいままで、喰はなかつたのでごウせう。西洋では、千六百二三十年前から、専(もつぱ)ら喰ふやうになりやしたが、そのまえは、牛や羊はその國の王か、全權と云ツて、家老のやうな人でなけりやア、平人の口へは、這入(はいり)やせんのサ。追々我國も、文明開化と號(い)ツて、ひらけてきやしたから、我々までが、喰ふやうになつたのは、實にありがたいわけでごス。それを未だに、野蠻の弊習(へいしう)と云ツて子、ひらけねへ奴等が、肉食すりやア、~佛(しんぶつ)へ手が合されねへの、ヤレ(けが)れるのと、わからねへ野暮(やぼ)をいふのは、窮理學を辨(わきま)へねへからの、ことでげス。そんな夷(ゑびす)に、もVの著(かい)た肉食の説でも、讀せてへ子。モシ西洋にやア、そんなことはごウせん、[この人ござりませんを、ごウせん、ござりますを、げスなど、いふくせあり。] 彼土(あつち)はすべて、理でおして行(ゆく)國がらだから、・・・」

Catching [the talk] of a westophile

A man some thirty four or five in years, his color [complexion] was light black, but he appears to use soap mornings and evenings, [as] the grime is gone and the luster of his color [complextion] is good . . . .

To be continued.

"Hello there. Beef is extremely delicious, no? When this meat spreads, we won't be able to eat peony or maple leaves. Why until now haven't we eaten anything so clean? In the west [western sea], [people] came to mainly eat [beef] from one-thousand six-hundred and twenty or thirty years ago, and before that, beef and mutton -- if one wasn't the king of the country, or someone like a house elder, involking complete authority -- never entered [crept toward and into] the mouths of ordinary people. Step by step [in] our country too, in the name of civilization and enlightenment, [beef] has come to spread, so even we have come to eat [it], a truly thankful situation.

To be continued.

Notes and commentary

spreads reflects ひらけちゃア (hirakechaa < hirakete wa) -- opens out, unfolds, progresses, develops, blossoms -- said of roads, civilization, opportunity, hope, computer files, even flowers. This resonates not only with the flowerful metaphors for venison and wild boar, but also with the later phrasing -- "step by step . . . in the name of civilization and enlightement, [beef] has come to spread" (追々 . . . 文明開化と號ツて、ひらけてきやした bunmei kaika to itte, hirakete kiyashita). Note that "step by step [gradually] spreading" (追々開け oioi hirake) was a common expression, found also in TNS-876.

peony and maple leaves reflects ぼたんや紅葉 (牡丹や紅葉 botan ya momiji) == "boar meat (猪肉 shishiniku) and deer meat (鹿肉 shikaniku). The term "beef pot" (牛鍋 gyū nabe) was inspired by expressions like "boar pot" (牡丹鍋 botan nabe, 猪鍋 inoshishi nabe) and "venison pot" (紅葉鍋 momiji nabe).

Another oblique reference to boar -- to get around prohibitions and taboos about eating meat -- was "mountain whale" (山鯨 yamakurjira). Similarly, horse flesh for human consumption was (and still is) called "cherry blossoms" (桜 sakura). Horse meat sashimi is just "sakura" and a "horse meat pot" is "sakura nabe" (桜鍋).

During the Tokugawa period, farmers around Edo would shoot boar and deer as pests, and ship them to shops in Edo called "momonjiya" (ももんじ屋) among other names. People would cook such meat in iron pots, much like sukiyaki today, or on iron plates like teppanyaki.

clean reflects 清潔な (seiketsu-na) -- as opposed to being dirty (穢れる kegareru) in the sense of being defiled, polluted, soiled, impure, unclean.

house elder reflects 家老 (kaō), the highest ranking (chief) retainers serving the lord of a domain.

ordinary people reflects 平人 (hirabito, heijin, heinin). Between 1869 and 1871, shortly before Robun wrote this, Tokugawa laws concerning status were revamped or abbrogated, so that formal distinctions between warriors, farmers, craftsmen, merchants, and outcastes were generally reduced to "samurai descendants" (士族 shizoku), meaning disenfranchised, hence former, samurai -- "ordinary folk" (平民 heimin), meaning ordinary or common people -- in addition to members of the imperial family and the titled nobility.

To be continued.