Kunichika, Twelve Hours Parodied - Hour of the Cock

Toyohara Kunichika (1835-1900) Twelve Hours Parodied (Mitate Ju-ni Toki no Uchi): Hour of the Cock, 1867. Oban.

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Here is change written very large - from the last print of Nikki Danjo… so Edoesque in its style and subject, to this genius work of parody (self-parody even!). The print here is very complex in its own way. Kunichika was a child of Edo, born and bred into the dense suburbs and the long feudal traditions of the Edo culture. His work, his life his apprenticeship was focussed upon the busy comings and goings of the kabuki stage door, the print workshops, the block cutters and the publishers. Before his young career got going there came the revolution that would see Japan propelled into the modern world, dragging its citizens with it and leaving some people and some institutions behind. Kabuki theatre and the attendant world of woodblock printing were two such casualties - although their slow deaths would take a further fifty years to complete.

Kunichika’s response was to come to the rescue of his beloved kabuki by endlessly reinventing the woodblock in support of his favourite actors and theatres. This print is a small essay in the dilemma of the Edo artist entering the Meiji. The series presents a different, traditional character of the kabuki, in front of a modern, western clock with roman numerals. The actors seem helpless and a little foolish in front of the symbol of the great changes taking place. There is something ridiculous here about this ferocious samurai (I can’t identify the specific role), glowering at a station clock… an inert witness to his redundancy.

Kunichika uses the hours of the traditional, Buddhist day and sets them against the innovative and imported western timekeeper. In this case it is the hour of the cock, traditionally between 17.00 and 19.00 - the hour when roosters return to the coop. The old Japanese day was thus divided into "temporal hours" which altered in length with the seasons, as against western fixed-length hours. The actor wears a lavishly decorated kimono, showing the cockerel. The clock is showing roughly the correct time, although either the block cutter or Kunichika were unfamiliar with roman numerals because some are incorrectly drawn.

A great print, colour, impression and condition are all fine. Embossing to the hem of the samurai's robe.

Published by Masada-ya.

24 x 36 cm.