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Family of Thieves, No. 822 Tokyo Nichi Nichi Shinbun

Japanese Color Woodblock Print 

Family of Thieves

No. 822 Tokyo Nichi Nichi Shinbun

by Utagawa Yoshiiku, 1874

Showing the Flag, No. 849 Tokyo Nichi Nichi Shinbun

IHL Cat. #401

About This Print

At the top of this "news nishiki'e" in the banner held aloft by two cherubs is the name of the newspaper who sponsored it, the Tokyo Nichi Nichi Shinbun 東京日々新聞.  The print is about "a married couple who are professional thieves. Reversing the 'usual' gender roles, here it is the wife who breaks into houses wearing a sword and clad in a male attire. The husband keeps watch at the door, their baby strapped to his back. The picture shows the family happily making their way home after a 'job.'"1

For a summary of the brief life of nishiki-e shinbun (newspaper color woodblock prints) see the article Nishiki-e shinbun and Newspapers in Meiji Japan.

1 Waseda University Library website http://www.wul.waseda.ac.jp/kosho/bunko10/b10_8059_22/index.html

Story Summation and Commentary by William Wetherall

Source: Nishiki-e Shinbun website of William Wetherall http://www.nishikie.com/stories/TNS-0822_family_of_thieves.html

The wife wears the sword in this family and burglarizes homes while her husband watches the street with their baby on his back. Here the family is going home after a successful heist. If caught in the act, she would probably say she was just cleaning house.

According to the seal, this nishikie was approved for publication the same month the article appeared in the newspaper.

The writer, Dondon, identifies himself as a "News bureau employee" (Shinbunkyoku no yatoido). Dondon is more fully Tentendo Dondon, aka Tentendo Shujin or just Shujin, among other pennames of the writer Takabatake Ransen, a popular writer hired by Tokyo nichinichi shinbun in 1873.

Japanese Transcription of Text

Source: University of Tokyo website http://t4.iii.u-tokyo.ac.jp/archives/digital_archives/ono_collection/contents/item.6.N035.html [note: website is no longer active]

衣類(いるゐ) 調度(ちやうど)

新聞局の雇人 鈍々述

This installation features more than 30 loans from two remarkably rich local resources, the Lavenberg Collection of Japanese Prints, and the Lee & Mary Jean Michels Collection. It was co-curated by Professors Akiko Walley (History of Art and Architecture) and Glynne Walley (East Asian Languages and Literatures) and JSMA Chief Curator Anne Rose Kitagawa. QR codes on selected labels allow visitors to access translations and explanations of the complex wordplay, imagery, and cultural context of these fascinating objects.


UTAGAWAYoshiiku (歌川芳幾,1833-1904)

Japanese;Meiji period, 1874

Family of Thieves, No. 822 of The TokyoDay-by-Day News (Tōkyō Nichi NichiShinbun)

Ukiyo-e woodblock-printed “brocade newspaper” (shinbun nishiki-e) in vertical ōban format; ink and color on paper

TheLavenberg Collection of Japanese Prints, IHL.0401

The prints on this wall all deal with the Satsuma Rebellion of 1877. The new Meiji government, founded in 1868, spent its first decade consolidating power by dismantling the samurai class that had constituted its predecessor, the Tokugawa shogunate. Soon the loss of privilege as well as the dislocations brought by rapid modernization provoked a reaction, and in 1877 former samurai and sympathizers in Kyushu rose up against the central government. They were led by Saigō Takamori (1828-1877), hero of the Meiji Restoration, whose career is recounted on this print. The rebellion was unsuccessful, and the defeat of ex-samurai at the hands of the Meiji government’s modern military was a turning point for the new government.

Translation of text on print:

They say Liuxia Hui sees candy and thinks it’s good fornurturing children, while Dao Zhi thinks candy good for opening locked doors.This proverb means that you see things differently depending on whether you’relooking for good or evil. A sweet metaphor, but not too sweet for this couple,who extended it to cover their own matrimonial misdeeds. Thieves by night, byday they walked around peddling shiratamacandy. At night the wife would disguise herself as a man and sneak into wealthyhouses everywhere while her husband would hold their child and guard the door.Then they would sling their stolen clothing and goods over their shoulders andgo home, talking merrily as they went. Their reversal of men’s and women’s rolesinspired a theatrical adaptation, for she reminded people of no one so much asDemongod Omatsu of Kasamatsu Pass. But while Omatsu may have evaded Natsume’sgaze, these thieves could not evade the Law’s net: Heaven’s punishment camedown upon them, and these days they are in jail in Tochigi, in Yashū.

By Dondon, an employee ofthe Newspaper Bureau


The first sentence is a proverb that is usuallygiven as “Liuxia Hui [a virtuous statesman] sees candy and think it’s good fornurturing old people, while Dao Zhi [a famous robber] thinks it’s good foropening locks.” “Candy” in the world of the proverb was a sugary syrup that, the thinking went, wouldmake a lock easier to pick. Demongod Omatsu (Kijin Omatsu) was a popular kabukiheroine, a bandit who avenged herself on her husband’s murderer, Natsume (thetext puns on Natsume and ami no me or“holes in a net”).

(Glynne Walley, Associate Professor of East Asian Languages& Literatures)

Print Details

 IHL Catalog
 Title or Description Family of Thieves (八百廿貳号 No. 822)
 Tokyo Nichi Nichi Shinbun  東京日々新聞
 Artist  Utagawa Yoshiiku (1833-1904)
Ikkeisai Yoshiiku ga 一恵斎芳幾画
 Seal  芳幾 Yoshiiku (see above)
 Writer of Text
 Takabatake Ransen 高畠 藍泉 (1838-1885), a Tokyo nichinichi writer who wrote most of the stories that accompanied Yoshiiku's pictures for Gusokuya's Tokyo nichinichi shinbun.1
 Publication Date
October 12, 1874
Gusokuya Kahei 具足屋嘉兵衛, [Marks: pub. ref. 085; seal ref. 24-031]

seal reading:
top: 人形町 Ningyōchō
bottom: 具足屋 Gusokuya
Watanabe Horiei (渡辺彫栄)
 Impression excellent
 Colors excellent
 Condition excellent
 Genre ukiyo-e; nishiki-e shinbun
 Format vertical oban
 H x W Paper
 14 x 9 1/2 in. (35.6 x 24.1 cm)

 Collections This Print
 Waseda University Library 10 08059 0022; Art Research Center (ARC) Ritsumeikan University AcNo. MSZB07-01-31_00001(13032)
The University of Tokyo Digital Archives Ono Hideo Collection N035; Tokyo Metropolitan Library 008-029-1; ARC 国会109-03-033; Hagi Uragami Museum U01164

1 Nishiki-e Shinbun website of William Wetherall http://www.nishikie.com/almanac/Almanac_whos_who.html

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