Artist: Utagawa Kuniyoshi (歌川国芳)

Print: Now on Show at Okuyama, Asakusa: Lifelike Dolls of Foreign Strangers and the Maruyama Courtesans (浅草奥山生人形)

Bookmark and Share
Dates: 1855,created
Dimensions: 10.0 in,14.5 in,Overall dimensions
Medium: color woodblock print

Signed: Ichiyūsai Kuniyoshi ga
Publisher: Kamaya Kihei (Marks 201 - seal 11-024)
Censor seal: aratame
Date seal: 5/1855

Related links: The Kuniyoshi Project; Muzeum Sztuki i Techniki Japońskiej Manggha, Krakow - a variant diptych;

Physical description:

"The area around Asakusa was one of the main venues for misemono (sideshows). In February 1855 a life-size display of dolls representing 'people from strange lands' was staged. They had abnormally long arms and legs, and holes in their chests not unlike people visited by the wandering Asahina... Made by Matsumoto Kisaburō from Kumamoto, the figures were essentially high quality papier-mâché on bamboo frames and were said to be astonishingly lifelike. Artists including Kuyiyoshi are known to have visited the spectacles and the prints portraying what they had seen were published a few months later - timed. no doubt, to profit from their popularity."

Quoted from: Japanese Popular Prints from Votive Slips to Playing Cards by Rebecca Salter, p. 35. (This entry is accompanied by a variant diptych by Kuniyoshi.)


The figure with the long arms is Tenaga (てなが) and the one with long legs is Ashinaga (あしなが). Click on the print and then enlarge it. Pay specific attention to the title cartouche with the white elephant in the upper right corner. Next to and behind the elephant is a man with an incredibly long tongue sticking out of his mouth. It hangs half-way down to his waist. At the elephant's long equally long tongue is a small seated or kneeling figure. Odd.


This print was also published by Izutaya Shokichi. The carver was probably Hori Shōji. His seal shows up in the print that forms a diptych with this one.


The figures in this print are 'living dolls' or iki-ningyō

Andrew Markus wrote of these automotons in the Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies in 1985: "An outgrowth of these simple static ningyō 人形, "dolls," or "figures," was the phenomenon of karakuri-ningyō 絡繰人形 "contraption dolls," or more commonly, iki-ningyō 活偶人 "living dolls." From the descriptions I have seen, these were spring-driven automata, capable of a limited range of repetitive motions. The earliest mention of iki-ningyō in Bukō nenpyō appears for the year 1853, although the exhibit of automata is clearly far older. The same source records that in 1813, an old woman made dolls dance and play instruments "without any human agency" by connecting their mechanisms to a water wheel in Asakusa. A figure of the "Laughing Buddha" Hotei 布袋, exhibited in 1822, would rouse himself from slumber when called, take up his fan, dance, and laugh (the same figure was still being exhibited in 1859). An 1833 misemono in Fukagawa 深川, to judge by an ornamental description in Edo hanjōki 江戶繁昌記 (Chronicle of the prosperity of Edo, 1832-1836), displayed lavish tableaux of iki-ningyō in climactic scenes from the Chinese vernacular novel Shui hu chuan 水滸伝, complete with narrator, orchestra lodged in the rafters, special effects of smoke and colored lights, and mechanical scene changes on each of the four stages surrounding the audience."


Among the living dolls in this print are a man from the Land of the Hollow-chested People and men from the Land of Long-armed and Long-legged People. Not shown are representatives of the people from the Land of the Feathered People, nor ones from the Land of the Crossed Legs, nor from the land of the Long Ears.


Illlustrated in a small black and white reproduction in "L'ukiyo-e come arte «di uso e consumo»" by Manuela Capriati, Il Giappone, Vol. 41 (2001), fig. 8, p. 53.