Yokohama: Okura Magobei, 1877. Item #401
Three-part coloured woodblock print (not attached, each part with printed artist’s name stamp ‘Yoshitora ga’), together ca. 35,5x73,5 cm. Minor residue of the old glue on the left and right extremities of each leaf, otherwise the print is in very good condition.
Attractive Yokohama print with a colourful scene of the launch of hot air balloons at the Imperial Japanese Naval Academy in Tsukiji, Tokyo. On the left part of the triptych is shown the American embassy (which is historically correct as it was located in the foreign settlement of Tsukiji in 1874-1980); the embassy has an American flag waving above, and two officials and several ladies are watching the launch from the porch. The launching of the balloons is shown in timeline: on the far right the balloon has just lifted above the ground, and the central part depicts two balloons already high in the sky; all three balloons are decorated with Japanese flags. The scene is fictitious and is a slightly changed version of an earlier print by the same artist, showing ‘‘Launching of Balloons in Philadelphia during the First Japanese Diplomatic Mission to America’’ (Yokohama: Shimizuya Naojirô, 1867). ‘‘The architecture rendered here appears to be based not on pictures of America but of India, specifically buildings in Agra. Japanese artists, confused about the localities of architecture portrayed in Western illustrations, often produced incongruous representations of foreign lands’’ (Yonemura, Yokohama Prints, no. 67). On the original print showing the launching of balloons in Philadelphia the American person on the far left was apparently portraying Thaddeus Lowe (1832-1913), a noted American aeronaut who operated one of the balloons during the launch. According to the National Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institution, the portrait was based on Lowe’s portrait published in the Harper’s Weekly.
‘‘Yoshitora, pupil of Kuniyoshi, made many prints of foreigners in Yokohama and of foreign scenes. He never saw any of the foreign scenes he depicted and probably copied them from Western engravings’’ (Metropolitan Museum of Art online). Tsukiji was ‘‘the location from 1869 of the Imperial Japanese Navy technical training facilities, renamed in 1876 as the Imperial Japanese Naval Academy. In 1888 the Naval Academy was relocated to from Tsukiji to new, larger facilities at Etajima in Hiroshima Prefecture. The Tsukiji naval buildings next to the Akibashi bridge then became home, until 1923, of the Naval War College, a postgraduate staff college for senior naval officers’’ (Wikipedia).