This color illustration is entitled “The Chiyoda Inner Palace.” This series of triptychs (three panel color woodblock prints) depicts the annual festivals and events that took place in and women who lived in the Edo palace, also known as the Chiyoda Palace. The artist, Yoshu Chikanobu, was a popular ukiyo-e artist well known for his historical illustrations as well as illustrations of beautiful women, etc. This series was produced between the 27th~29th year of Meiji (1894~1896) by the art dealer Gusoku-ya, located in the Nihonbashi district of Tokyo.
This scene is the kagami mochi-tugging that takes place on the 7th day of the 1st lunar month. The women of the Inner Palace watch as huge mochi are placed in a boat and tugged while men in festive dress cheer from the sides.
This scene is a poetry contest. The garments of the women of the highest rank in the Inner Palace are drawn using vivid imported colors; including carmine red, deep purple, and rose pink. Even in places that seem to be plain white paper, patterns were pressed into the paper leaving delicate embossed designs. This technique is called “kara-zuri” which literally means “empty printing.”
The Taiga TV Drama, Atsuhime, which was produced several years ago, was set in the Inner Palace of the Edo palace where the Shogun’s principle wife, concubines, and more than 1,000 women were said to live. During the Edo period itself, the Inner Palace was hidden behind a veil of secrecy and no one was allowed to depict anything they saw or heard inside. However, in the Meiji period, after the fall of the shogun, many color illustrations were based on the testimony of women who had formerly worked and lived in the Inner palace and these illustrations became tremendously popular with common people.
What were the common people who enthusiastically collected these color illustrations thinking? Perhaps it was curiosity that spurred them to peak into the glory that was the Inner Palace. Or perhaps it was nostalgia for the vanished age of the Tokugawa Shoguns.