Glossary of Terms

Bijinga (美人画): lit. “beauty picture”; prints depicting women; often the women portrayed were courtesans of the licensed quarters, but the term is used also for depictions of other classes of women

Chūban (中判): a standard ukiyo-e format, corresponding to half an ōban sheet; approx. 18 cm. x 25 cm.

Mitate (見立): a vexing term, since its range of meanings is fluid. Literally it means to set up a comparison, to liken one thing to another. More generally, it is the creation of an analogy or allusion, such that the particular print in question can be read on two or more levels. The basis of the comparison can run the gambit from the obvious to the fanciful or esoteric. Mitate can also be used to structure a series, as in the many examples of women or actors compared to the “thirty-six immortal poets.” Mitate was also employed as a way around censorship laws, especially during the years of the Tempō reforms. While actor prints at the time were banned, artists continued to produce them in large numbers under the guise of being about something else.

nishiki-e (錦絵): lit. “brocade picture”; the term used to distinguish the full multi-colour print from its earlier hand-coloured or partially coloured counterparts. The first nishiki-e were produced in 1765 by Harunobu.


Shin-hanga (新版画): lit. “new woodblock prints,” refers in general to prints created in the modern, i.e. post-Meiji (1868-1912) period. More specifically, it denotes the movement to revitalize the art form during the Taishō (1912-1924) and early Showa (1925-1988) eras. Repesentative artists include Yoshida Hiroshi (1876-1950) and Kawase Hasui (1883-1957). Shin-hanga artists continued to make use of the traditional collaborative process comprising the artist or print-designer, the block-cutter, printer, and publisher. They also often adhered to the traditional genres of fukeiga, meisho-e, and bijinga. The prints usually incorporate certain Western stylistic elements such as contrasting light and shade, however, and have a heightened sense of realism.
ōban (大判): a standard ukiyo-e format, sometimes as large as 26.5 cm. x 39 cm., but often trimmed to approximately 25 cm. x 36 cm. (10 in. x 14 in.)
ōkubi-e: lit. “large-head picture”; a portrait print showing only the head or upper half of the subject; many yakusha-e take this format, and Utamaro also used it for bijinga.


Sōsaku-hanga: lit. “creative prints”; prints created by an artist who undertakes all aspects of the (創作版画 ) process, including, design, block cutting and printing. The earliest examples of sōsaku-hanga appeared at the very beginning of the twentieth century and represented an attempt to sever the commercial connection and turn the print into a truly individual work of art. With the subsequent rapid decline of commercial woodblock printing and the demise of the traditional professions of block cutting and printing, however, this kind of printmaking eventually became more a necessity than an artistic choice. Virtually all printmaking since the mid-twentieth century or even earlier can be characterized as sōsaku-hanga.


Yakusha-e  (役者絵): lit. “actor picture”; a depiction of an actor of the kabuki theatre. One of the oldest and most popular genres of ukiyo-e.