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Though the artist of Kojima zu is unknown, the specific subject matter of this edition gives scholars good reason to suspect that it was created during the last hurrah of ukiyo-e. Japanese style ukiyo-e woodblock printing took shape in the 17th century. From its early days through its peak popularity as an art form, it focused on city life, courtesans, and actors. Economic policy changes in the 1840s sought to suppress displays of luxury. As the culture changed, ukiyo-e adjusted its subject matter: focusing on scenes of nature like landscapes, birds, and flowers. This final era of ukiyo-e is perhaps its best known in the Western world, though of course there's a long history ukiyo-e masters that predate this thematic shift.
It’s easy to make the connection from Kojima zu to our other ukiyo-e woodblock editions. As with our Uehara Konen images, a focus is given to one element of nature: water. Like Hiroshige and Hiroshige II, masters of that same era, fine lines show the movement of the water. The scene is serene, but the water swells with life force. It's an island image with a distinctively ukiyo-e energy.
We couldn't say which island is depicted in this print. The sound “ko” in Japanese means “small”, and the sound “jima” (also spelled “shima”) means island. Thus, many islands dotting the waters off the coast of Japan are called Kojima, written as 小島, or “small island”. Most of these islands are uninhabited, but a few have gained notoriety: one for being the home to many wild monkeys and another for being a wildlife monument.
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