Catching Sea Otter in Chishima Province from the series Dai Nippon Bussan Zue (Products of Greater Japan)


Japanese Color Woodblock Print

Catching Sea Otter in Chishima Province

from the series Dai Nippon Bussan Zue

(Products of Greater Japan)

by Utagawa Hiroshige III, 1877

Shipping Ice from Hakodate, Hokkaidō from the series Dai Nippon Bussan Zue (Products of Greater Japan)

IHL Cat. #1478

About This Print

One of 118 prints in the series Dai Nippon Bussan Zue (Products of Greater Japan), issued in August 1877 to coincide with the opening of Japan’s first National Industrial Exposition (Naikoku Kangyō Hakurankai) held in Tokyo’s Ueno Park. It portrays Ainu hunters chasing and harpooning sea otters. In the background we see foreign ships who contributed to the near decimation of the sea otter population in the Kurile Islands (Chishima.)

Records of the Ainu hunting sea otters go back to the 1500s. Traditionally the Ainu hunted sea otters with bow and arrow, leister, and harpoon.1 Starting in the 1870s, at about the time this print was published, it was reported that most of the hunting was being done by foreign vessels and by 1897 a British sea captain reported that “sea-otter hunting on the Kurils are practically no longer worth considering…” due to their declining numbers.2

In 1884 and again in 1886 the Japanese government attempted to regulate sea otter hunting in Hokkaido, only allowing hunting by special permit. However it was reported in 1891 by a member of the British legation in Tokyo that the regulations “have remained entirely inoperative.”3 

The sea otter trade at Hokkaido provided pelts for both Japanese and Chinese luxury markets. Sea otter fur was one of the most expensive items traded at Hokkaido.4

Chishima Province (千島国 Chishima no kuni) was a province of Japan created during the Meiji Era. It originally contained the Kuril Islands from Kunashiri northwards, and later incorporated Shikotan as well. Its original territory is currently occupied by Russia, and its later territory was renounced in the San Francisco Treaty (see Kuril Island conflict) except the southernmost four islands. After 1869, the northern Japanese island was known as Hokkaido; and regional administrative subdivisions were identified, including Chishima Province.5

Multiple Editions (Variant Printings)

At least three variant printings (editions) were made of this series.  Each variant printing uses a different colored cartouche, either red, green or rainbow-colored.  Different colored borders were also used and variances in the use of colors and shading are present in the three editions.

Transcription of Scroll

The scroll tells us about "aborigines" (dojin 土人) hunting sea otter (rakko 海獺 ) in the Kuril Islands.

Source: with thanks to Yajifun; notes from National Institutes for the Humanities

大日本物産図会 三代目歌川広重 1877


[備考]中判 横 錦絵   画工:歌川広重3 安藤徳兵衛 大鋸町四番地  版元:大倉孫兵衛 日本橋通一丁目十九番地   主題内容:産業・技術 物産絵  千島 千島 ウルップ島  人名その他:ラッコ 舟

“海獺(ラッコ)は其毛柔にして指をもつて畫するに少時其形ちを存す 皮を帽に造りて人の賞する所なり 千島得撫島に多く産す 土人全体革を以て造し鰹節形なる船に躰が入るべき程の穴を三ヶ所穿け舟乃中へ水の入らぬやう穴よりながく革をからだに結付 一人が櫂をもち両人もりにて海上に浮む海獺を突とるなり”

1 "AinuSea Otter Hunting from the Perspective of Sino-Japanese Trade," Kaoru Tezuka, from Senri Ethnological Studies 72, 2009, p. 120.
2 Notes on the Kuril Islands, Captain H. J. Snow, John Murray, 1897, p. 88.
3 Report of the Behring Sea Commission, and Repor of British Commissioners or June 21, 1892, Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1893, p. 167.
4 "The Sea Otter Islands: Geopolitics and Environment in theEast Asian Fur Trade” Richard Ravalli from Asia Pacific: Perspectives Volume IX, Number 2, University of San Francisco, June 2010, p. 28.
5 Wikipedia

Print Details

 IHL Catalog
 Title or Description Catching Sea Otter in Chishima Province
 千島国海獺採之図 Chishima no kuni rakko to no zu
 Dai Nippon Bussan Zue 大日本物産図会 (Products of Greater Japan)
 Artist Utagawa Hiroshige III (1842–1894)
Andō Tokubei - artist's family name appearing in the bottom of the cartouche in the left margin (partially trimmed on this print)

Full cartouche reads 画工 大鋸町四番地 安藤徳兵エ [gakō Ōga machi yon banchi Andō Tokubei]
 Seal none
 Publication Date 1877 (Meiji 10) 
Ōkura Magobei 大倉孫兵衛 (Kin'eido; 1843-1921) [Marks: pub. ref. 627]

appearing in right margin (partially trimmed on this print)
Full cartouche reads 出版人 日本橋通一丁目十九番地   大倉孫兵衛 (Publisher, Nihobashi-dōri Itchōme 19-banchi, Ōkura Magobei)
 Impression excellent
 Colors excellent
 Condition good - centerfold reinforced by tape on verso
 Genre nishiki-e; kaika-e
 Format chuban
 H x W Paper 
 6 3/4 x 9 3/8 in. (17.1 x 23.8 cm)
 H x W Image
 6 3/8 x 9 1/16 in.  (16.2 x 23 cm)

 Collections This Print
 Waseda University Library Archives 01_04265_0001; National Institutes for the Humanities H-22-1-30-7-25