6. How do you analyze these prints?
One of the prints in the series is called The Know-it All which depicts a woman reclining, reading a book. The positioning of the body is interesting here because shes shown lying down with her head propped up with a book in front of her. And the fact that shes reading a book is reflective of the fact that Japans urban areas are becoming increasingly literate. Higher status women would be literate and be able to enjoy the print culture. This woman is depicted negative in some ways, not completely. Shes reading a book called the Ehon taik-ki, which is a military tale, one of the common genres of popular literature during the time. The commentary depicts a woman who becomes engrossed in matters that the artist views as being irrelevant to her life and neglects household affairs, losing her sense of discretion and propriety.
So the traditional responsibilities of a woman are described here as devotion to parents, devoting ourselves to the exchange of letters, needlework, and so on. These are conveyed as the right responsibilities of the woman, yet she is abandoning these in her interest in other things. And yet her cleverness allows her to disguise her neglect of these other duties.
Within both these prints and early modern Japanese literature in general, theres the strong assumption that people are going to get these allusions, and once you call the allusion to mind, then everybody knows what it is, and they know all the implications of it. Thats what makes reading these rather difficult, because we dont understand exactly where the allusions come from and what the message of those allusions would be to this contemporary audience.
Therere two prints which illustrate this point, one of which is this Know-it All print. Its a mass-produced book that was read widely. The fact that the artist would assume that the viewer would be familiar with the book illustrates the shared set of common reference points.
The print on the Wanton womanher kimono displays the trademarks of different saké brewers. And again, the artist would assume that the viewer would be able to pick up on that visual clue. The viewer knows their trademarks at first glance. So it reflects this increasing commercialization of society, the growth of a commercial market and a consciousness of that commercial market.
It also reflects the growing body of shared visual knowledge, textual knowledge, and cultural knowledge. The growth of that shared body of knowledge was really instrumental in the relatively rapid creation of a shared national identity during the Meiji period in the late 19th century.