Koyama, Noboru
Cambridge University Library, retired

The provenance of Saito Gesshin’s Zoho ukiyo-e ruiko at Cambridge University Library

Saito Gesshin’s manuscript of the Zoho ukiyo-e ruiko is very important for studies of ukiyo-e artists, particularly those of the mysterious Sharaku. Ukiyo-e ruiko itself was a complicated manuscript (or rather, a group of manuscripts). There are several versions of Ukiyo-e ruiko and they had been used in manuscript form until 1889, when the first modern typed version was published. Of the manuscript forms, Saito Gesshin’s Zoho ukiyo-e ruiko was the most comprehensive.

Zoho ukiyo-e ruiko had been kept as a personal copy at his home, when Saito Gesshin (1804-1878, a prominent compiler and scholar) died in 1878. In Japan, Ernest Satow (1943-1929) acquired it shortly after Gesshin’s death. Satow was then earnestly collecting a lot of Japanese books, including art materials from the late 1870s to the middle of 1880s, and was particularly active in these efforts in the early 1880s. Satow had a plan to publish a book of Japanese art with William Anderson (1842-1900, a collector and scholar of Japanese art) and he was helping Anderson to collect art works and books at this time.

Satow acquired Zoho uikiyo-e ruiko shortly after it had been available either through art dealers or through a group of book collectors, whom he had become acquainted with through his secretary or librarian. Satow had three copies of Ukiyo-e ruiko including Zoho ukiyo-e ruiko. By studying other copies of Satow’s Ukiyo-e ruiko, as well as other items of his Japanese collection, we can have a better understanding of the circumstances in which Satow was able to acquire Gesshin’s manuscript.

In the middle of 1880s, Satow decided to pursue a diplomatic career. At this point, Satow mostly gave up his Japanese studies, continuing only with his studies of the Jesuit mission press and while he was stationed in Bangkok, he dispersed his large collection of Japanese books to his friends and the British Museum.  Saito Gesshin’s Zoho ukiyo-e ruiko was sent to F.V. Dickins (1838-1915) in London and it was transferred to W.G. Aston (1841-1911) later. When Aston died in 1911, his collection of Japanese books, most of which had derived from Satow’s collection, was purchased by Cambridge University Library, and among these books, there was a certain Zoho ukiyo-e ruiko. However, Saito Gesshin’s Zoho ukiyo-e ruiko had been unknown among scholars of Japanese art until it was reprinted into a Japanese scholarly journal in 1963-64.