One thing + another thing

I bought this postcard while in Japan last month.


Fireworks at the Ryogoku Bridge, an 1858 woodblock print by Utagawa Hiroshige, from his series ‘From One Hundred Famous Views of Edo’. Image: Minneapolis Institute of Arts

The text on the MIA page says: “Situated on the shores of Edo Bay, the city of Edo [renamed Tokyo in 1868] was defined by a network of rivers and canals. Bridges became vital links for travel and communication and also gathering places comparable to the plazas of Western cities. Erected over the Sumida River in 1659 or 1661, Ryōgoku was Edo’s second major bridge. In the early 1730s, the government sponsored an event commemorating citizens who had died in a cholera epidemic. The memorial, which included a display of fireworks, became an annual observance. Hiroshige devoted more than half of this composition to the night sky, illuminated by sparkling fireworks. On the river below, pleasure boats from which people view the pyrotechnics are festooned with red lanterns that form tiny points of light on the deep-hued water. At first glance, Ryōgoku’s broad arch is a dark silhouette against the river, but a closer look reveals a crowd of tiny figures, each casting a fleeting shadow.”

The Japanese word for fireworks is hanabi, which translates to fire flowers. The season for fireworks is summer – July and August – when big public shows are put on. Apparently, the Sumida River in Tokyo was first chosen as a site for fireworks because of the reflections on the water and the cooling breezes that might be had during the city’s hot, humid summers. The first public display was in 1733. Here’s a nice blog post about attending a fireworks display in Japan.

Hiroshige is one of Japan’s most famous woodblock artists. Here’s a brief profile of him. Interestingly, his father had been a fire brigade warden! Serious fires were so common in the city that the locals had a saying, “Fires and quarrels are the flowers of Edo”.

ichi mon no hanabi mo tamaya tamaya kana

even one-penny
fireworks …
ooo! ahh!

Issa, tr David Lanoue (written in 1825)

From David Lanoue’s website, Haiku of Kobayashi Issa, comes this extra information: Tamaya is the name of a company that made fireworks in Issa’s day. Praising the fireworks, the crowd shouts, “Tamaya!” Issa’s humour lies in the fact that even cheap fireworks that cost only one mon are praised wildly. (The mon was the basic currency of Issa’s time, a coin with a hole in its middle so it could be put on a string. In Issa’s day six mon could buy a bowl of rice.)

I took this photo at an exhibition in Melbourne last year.

escher-fireworks 1933 - Copy

Fireworks, a 1933 lithograph print by M C Escher. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The accompanying text said: “For this lithograph, rather than building the composition with black lines and shading on white, Escher began by spraying a tint on to the entire surface of the lithographic stone, resulting in a smooth black finish. He then scratched away the lighter parts of the print – the flares of the firework piercing the night sky and the people below who look up in wonder at the spectacle, briefly lit by its glow. This unusual method was taken up by Escher during a period of experimentation with the lithographic technique and is well suited to depicting dark interiors and night scenes.”

The photo has been taken at an angle to avoid light reflection off the surface of the print.

To my eye Escher had more than a bit of a Japanese aesthetic about his work. Read more about the life of the Dutch artist, famous for his mind-bending illusions.

suddenly the ocean wind
is warmer

Jane Reichhold, from A Dictionary of Haiku (2013)

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