Yoshikazu, Foreigners from the Five Nations Enjoying a Banquet

Utagawa Yoshikazu (active 1850-1870) Foreigners from the Five Nations Enjoying a Banquet, 1861. Oban Triptych.

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A rarity, this tremendous triptych. Quite early for such a confident Yokohama-e... the port of Yokohama was opened to trade in 1859, and artists including Yoshikazu made prints that showed the novelty of foreigners to many Japanese for the first time. During the first years the foreigners were restricted to area around the harbour of Yokohama. These prints are known as Yokohama prints or Yokohama-e. Initially, the foreigners were not allowed to travel more than twenty-five miles outside Yokohama. The restriction was more of a precautionary measure to protect the foreigners against hostile attacks by the samurai class.

The title, Foreigners from the Five Nations Enjoying a Banquet refers to the signatories to the 1858 treaty: England, France, Russia, the Netherlands and the USA. In a show about ‘Fighting Spirit’ why include a print about a trade agreement? In 1853, Commodore Matthew C. Perry of the United States Navy steamed into what we now call Tokyo Bay. The Japanese told him to leave and go to Nagasaki. He ignored the directive and was surrounded by the Japanese fleet. He presented a counter demand to have a letter from U.S. President Millard Fillmore presented to the de facto ruler of Japan at the time, the shogun. When this demand was not met, he shelled a few buildings in the harbour. The letter was presented. Perry returned a year later to sign the Convention of Kanagawa, a treaty that opened the Japanese ports of Shimoda and Hakodate to U.S. trade. The terms were dictated by the Americans, and the Japanese had little choice but to agree, seeing that they were seriously technologically outmatched. Essentially the Japanese had seen the effective subjugation of the Chinese as an imperialist act and they feared a similar fate. The fighting spirit in this print is masquerading as a cream tea.

This is a very fine Yokohama-e; there is much to look at and enjoy. The figures of the different nations are carefully delineated but the Japanese relied so much upon the traditions of representation that formed the core of their style that these new subjects left them adrift, hence the foreigners seem ugly, their forms not fully realised… these are wraiths seeking bodily form. Elsewhere, notice how Yoshikazu has thought to use western perspective to draw the room... the unfamiliar style has led to an impossible drawing in the left hand widow akin to Hogarth’s witty Satire on False Perspective. The trappings of the exotic foreigners are carefully shown but all of them with the sense of the new and the unfamiliar… the ornate chairs, the classical columns, fancy dishes and coffee pots and most ominously the serried ranks of the black gun ships at far left, visible in the bay at Yokohama that imposed these treaties on a restive and resentful populace.

A very important print. A few examples are known, one in the Harvard Museum. Colour here is slightly faded, otherwise impression is fine and condition is very good, with some wear. Unbacked and with margins. A rare survivor.

Published by Aritaya Seiemon.

74 x 36.5 cm.