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Kunitoshi, Utagawa

Little is known about Utagawa Kunitoshi‘s life. It is reported that his real name was Yamamura Kiyosuke 山村清助, which can also be read as Yamamura Seisuke. A pupil of Utagawa Kunisada I (1786–1865) and Utagawa Kunitsugu (1800–1861); following Kunisada’s death in 1865 he studied under Utagawa Kunisada II (1823-1880). He produced Yokohama-e and kaika-e, depicting horse-drawn streetcars and the like, and meisho-e, illustrating Meiji-era Tokyo. He also made etchings (e.g., Street of Tokyo: Horse-drawn Rail Carriages Crossing the Manseibashi Bridge (Tokyo shigai tetsudo basha Manseibashi tsuko no kei, 1882) and View of the Ocean from Atagoyama (Atagoyama sanjo yori kaijo miharashi), from the set Famous Sights of Tokyo (Tokyo meisho, 1890.)

Utagawa Kunitoshi did not develop a new style of his own nor did he create a new subject; his prints are artisan works in the style of what he had learned from his teachers. Kunitoshi’s prints, like many of the Meiji prints, might not be artistically exciting, but they are instead quite enticing when you look at the stories that these images tell us today. They are a unique documentation of the development of Japan from a medieval country during the Edo period (until 1868) to the dominant economic and military power in Asia at the beginning of the twentieth century.

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