Banner Days for Tatebanko
The color photocopier is changing many aspects of print appreciation. Recently, I attended an important exhibition in Japan of Hiroshige landscape prints in which half of one wall was covered with photocopied reproductions. This was not due to the need to rotate Edo-period prints out of the lights to preserve their hues. No, it was simply a matter of the curators not having secured all the originals they wanted.
It occurred to me that, as insurance costs soar and lender restrictions stiffen, Fuji/Xerox copies may soon become a more common museum staple than old woodblock imagery of Fujiyama.
The color copier has also led to renewed interest in Japan in tatebanko
, that is, prints designed to be cut up for making three-dimensional dioramas. This genre, one of several developed to cater to the Japanese love for creative paper craft, seems to have originated in Kansai as early as the 1780s, before spreading to Edo (now Tokyo), where a vogue of sorts continued up to ca. 1920.
Papering the house
The miniature models, designed for display in the home or storefront, originally recreated celebrated scenic spots and classic stage assemblages from the kabuki repertoire.
In time, however, subject matter expanded to encompass historic samurai battles, religious pilgrimage sites, and, most charmingly, vignettes from daily life and the streets: market stalls, the public baths, train stations, etc. Very occasionally, instead of a panorama, only a single large object, like an Obon festival lantern, was the challenge for the hobbyist.
Due to the fact that tatebanko, more than any other kind of omocha-e (toy print), were clearly designed and purchased to be sacrificed, precious few sheets have survived intact. (As you can imagine, the completed dioramas have fared even worse.) As a result, even a profligate collector is loth to further damage the woodblock legacy and fabricate a 3-D model out of a print ... and yet one can't help but want to see the end result of the designers’ingenuity.