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Friday, December 28, 2012

Yotsuya Naitō Shinjuku

I wanted to share with you one of my most favorite ukiyo-e woodblock prints done by Ando Hiroshige.

Welcome to Yotsuya Naitō Shinjuku (New Station at Yotsuya) done in 1857. This is print number 86 of Hiroshige's One Hundred Famous Views Of Edo (Meishi Edo Hyakkei in Japanese). Edo was the old name for Japan's capital city of Tokyo.

The viewpoint is about one meter off the ground, where the most eye-catching view is the horses legs!

But what a view. Look at how the horses are shod! No metal horseshoes for them! No! They get straw shoes!

And check out the knotted horsetail... if it wasn't knotted, we might not have a view at all.

And what's that under the horse... those round bits? It's apparently horse crap. High art, indeed.

And... while critics in Japan and Europe deemed the scene vulgar, it's obvious they missed the whole point. They looked at the scene and questioned its hygiene. Poo on the ground? Ugh.

But really... Naitō Shinjuku which was near the Yotsuya Gate to Edo was originally supposed to be a designated area for prostitution when it was founded in 1698.

At that time, it was the first station stop along the Kōshū Highway for travelers leaving the strict confines of Edo, and who wouldn't want to blow off some steam.

Anyhow... Hiroshige may have known even in 1857 that the prostitutes at this station were described as being "flowers blooming in the horse droppings of Yotsuya."

While I am unsure about the state of prostitution in the area in 1857, either Hiroshige tipped his hat to its current state, or to its 160-year-old description.

Of course, it could simply have been a nod to the fact that here at these stalls one could purchase the then-expensive human and horse poo for farming fertilizers as one left Edo for the rest of Japan, IE the farmlands...

In fact... if you were to actually look at the trail of excrement - all five balls - you might think them a tad small to have been plopped out of a horse... and considering Hiroshige's attention to detail with the horse shoes... why would he make a mistake regarding horse dung? Afterall, even if the size is wrong, shouldn't there be some grass or other matter poking out?

Could the excrement have come from the groom leading the two horses? Could it have been present before the caravan passed over it? The excrement is kind of green...

Sinjuku was created from land owned by the Naito clan back in 1698, hence the name of the area (and print). It was, as a Station of rest along the highway, a horse stop. Then, as in the now of 1857, one had to watch their step in Shinjuku.

Can you believe that I am spending so much time talking about excrement?

Well... we are talking about art, after all. And Shinjuku which is currently a major commercial and administrative center that is also home to the busiest train station in the world and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. If you catch my drift.

Andrew Joseph

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