Collector and art dealer Richard Douglas Lane (1926–2002) was a leading figure in the field of ukiyo-e research. In 2003, the museum obtained his collection of approximately 11,000 Japanese woodblock-printed books and manuscripts and 3,000 Chinese, Korean and Japanese paintings. Most of his Japanese woodblock-printed books and manuscripts were published during the Edo period (1615–1868)—and several are rare. For some of the rare books, the museum holds the only known extant copy in the world. The collection also includes beautifully illustrated examples by ukiyo-e masters such as Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849), Kitagawa Utamaro (1753–1806) and Utagawa Hiroshige (1797–1858).
Today we will introduce some fascinating Lane Collection books that will make you feel as if you are briefly traveling back in time to the Edo period. Although they are written in kuzushiji, or cursive calligraphic Japanese script, don’t worry—we promise you won’t need any specialized knowledge to enjoy these works.
Lo and behold, a 200-year-old fashion magazine! Fashion trends at the time were based on styles favored by fashion leaders such as popular Kabuki actors and Oiran (high-ranking courtesans). This book can teach us all about trendy Edo-period make-up and hairstyles.
The image on the above is of a rare and valuable math book published 400 years ago. Not surprisingly, only a few copies exist in the world today. The book uses rats to illustrate geometric progression, as well as how to calculate the volume of 3D figures.
This is a recipe and etiquette manual for beginning cooks. Its pages describe how to set a table, what food was enjoyed during the Edo period, and how that food was prepared 200 years ago.
This type of collectible miniature book is known as a mamehon (bean-sized book). This example contains poems and tiny paintings. People often brought books like this to enjoy while traveling because they were lightweight and easy to carry. Look how tiny this one is—its dimensions are only 1 3/8 × 1 3/16 in. (3.5 × 3 cm)!
The word manga is common throughout the world now; it has even made its way into the Merriam Webster Dictionary. But can you guess who used this word as a book title for the first time in history? If you answered “the famous ukiyo-e artist Katsushika Hokusai,” you are right. Hokusai Manga is a drawing manual. In it, he demonstrates many aspects of sketching, for example, how to draw people going about their daily lives, or, how to depict differences in nature, such as high or low tide. It is said that many Impressionist/Post-Impressionist artists, such as Claude Monet, Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin, were influenced by Japanese ukiyo-e. You never know— they could have studied a copy of this very book!
This concludes our quick visit to the Edo period—we hope that you enjoyed this glimpse into the past. As our world steadily becomes more and more reliant on technology, it is a nice reminder that not only can our books from the past be entertaining, but sometimes contain snippets of historical wisdom that may still be useful to us today.