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Author:Ryoko Matsuba (Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Cultures)
Paper short abstract:
I will explore the production of facsimile reproductions of Hokusai's most famous print series in the context of 'copyright' in the print industry in the 19th Century. This paper demonstrates how print producers republished designs and deepens our understanding of copyright issues at that time.
Paper long abstract:
Thirty-Six Views of Mt. Fuji was Hokusai's most ambitious large-format (ōban), colour print project. The series was so popular that Hokusai finally designed a total of forty-six prints bearing the title 'thirty-six views of Mt Fuji' between 1831 and 1833.
The popularity of Hokusai's works led to the creation of another type of print production－the production of facsimile reproductions (fukusei).
Fukusei played a crucial role in the development of Hokusai's legacy in the 19th century. However, because of the negative image of copies as 'fakes', there has been a reluctance among scholars to explore the production of facsimile prints. Fukusei of the thirty-six views of Mt. Fuji are still being published even today. A miniature version (yatsugiri-ban) of the series was already published in Osaka in the early 1830s shortly after Hokusai's Edo version had appeared. However, it was a new take on Edo prints by an Osaka ukiyo-e artist and is not a perfect example of copying Hokusai's original. Later, in the Meiji period, the publisher Kobayashi Bunshichi (1861-1923) produced proper fukusei of the series in 1880-90s. That was the first attempt to produce fukusei prints that faithfully reproduced the original works.
In the 1880s there was a strong international market for works by Hokusai. In those years, some publishers produced facsimile reproductions of Hokusai's books and prints for foreign customers. In parallel, the woodblock print technology that had dominated the publishing industry in the Edo period suffered a drastic decline. The biggest reason for this decline was the rapid adoption of Western technologies by publishers in Japan. In addition, the supply of woodblocks was declining, which meant that the costs of printing became more and more expensive. It may perhaps have been the higher prices that foreigners were prepared to pay for woodblock prints that made the continued production of prints using cut woodblocks commercially viable.
The context in which reproductions of original prints from newly cut blocks came to be produced casts light on changing ideas of copyright, on publication networks and on the impact of new technologies on the publishing industry.
The concept of copyright in early-modern Japan