The Hokusai Sketchbooks ; selections from the manga by James A. Michener
Rutland, Vt. : Charles E. Tuttle Co., 1959. Fourth printing. Hardcover. 286 pages ; illustrated ; 25 cm. Very good copy; no underlines or markings within the pages. Satisfaction guaranteed!
BETWEEN the years 1814 and 1878 there was published in Japan a series of woodblock-printed volumes entitled "Hokusai Manga," or "Hokusai's Sketches from Life," which was destined to be one of the most popular art publications ever issued anywhere in the world. With its rich tapestry of life as it was lived in the boisterous Tokyo of the day and its magical evocation of the beauties of the Japanese countryside, it was an immediate best-seller in Japan, and then, upon the West's discovery of Japanese art, went on to win the hearts of people everywhere. While the critics have often disagreed on the artistic value of the "Manga"—with judgments ranging all the way from "a major art treasure" and "worthy of Rembrandt" to "an outpouring of sketches lacking organization or meaning"—the art lovers of the world, no less than the man in the street (for whom Hokusai worked), have felt the supreme vitality and life-loving force of the sketches and have always delighted in the fifteen volumes of the book.
It is from this amazing book—amazing both in execution and breadth of scope—that the 187 fullpage plates and the hundreds of text decorations of the present volume have been assembled. For many years now the sketchbooks have been available only in costly or tattered form or else in inferior reproductions. Here, at last, they are given worthy format— with many original volumes examined to find the best pages for photographing and every effort made to reproduce the actual feel of the originals. The charmingly soft line of woodblock printing may well come as a surprise to readers more accustomed to the mechanical sharpness of most modern book illustration. Two plates printed from actual wood blocks - provide a standard for judging the faithfulness of the three-color offset technique used for the rest of the plates.
Lending additional significance to the sketches themselves is the able editing of James A. Michener, author of "Tales of the South Pacific," "The Voice of Asia," "The Bridges at Toko-ri," "Sayonara," etc., and a leading collector and student of Japanese prints. Having made a masterly survey of the Japanese woodblock print in "The Floating World," he now turns with manifest love and enthusiasm to an appraisal of one of his favorite examples of that remarkable art form. In his selection and meaningful organization of the plates, as well as in his brilliant essay and informative captions, he provides new insight into the quality of Hokusai's art in general and the "Manga" sketchbooks in particular. Impartially, he points out Hokusai's defects as well as his towering stature among artists of all times and places, and finds in the man's astounding vitality and inquiring mind an answer to the riddle of his often technically defective art but alwaysincreasing popularity.
Especially rewarding for the student and connoisseur of Japanese prints is Mr. Michener's final section on Forerunners, which concerns the creative process as manifested in Japan, particularly as regards legitimate borrowing and downright plagiarism, and points the way to a fuller understanding of Japanese art. And throughout the book, both in Hokusai's sketches and Mr. Michener's writing, the student of Japan will find a treasure house of information concerning Japanese history, customs, superstitions, psychology, life, and pleasures. Botany, zoology, architecture, agriculture, astronomy—all these and many more subjects are touched upon, to create a veritable encyclopedia of Japan. And, through the captions—themselves the result of wide research into little-known subjects—the lover of the "Manga" is for the first time able to understand what Hokusai was seeking to depict, and why.
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