Utagawa Kuniyasu, 1794-1832
Fireworks at Sumida River
each sheet signed Kuniyasu ga, with publisher's seal Bun (Maruya Bun'emon of Bunjudo), and censor's seal kiwame, ca. 1820s
oban tate-e triptych 30 7/8 by 15 3/8 in., 78.3 by 39.2 cm
During the hot and humid summer months in Japan city dwellers would escape the heat by taking in the evening cool along rivers and waterways. In Kyoto restaurants would offer kawayuka (riverside dining) on temporary platforms built out over the shallow Kamo River, and in Edo, pleasure boats provided an alternate venue for parties normally hosted at restaurants and teahouses. Beginning in 1731 or 1733, the government began to sponsor an annual presentation of fireworks on the Sumida River at the Ryogoku (Ohashi) Bridge. On evenings when the fireworks were on display, the bridge would fill with spectators and the river would teem with boats jockeying for position for the best view of the show, both in the sky and among the crowds. Like any public event on a grand scale, this was an opportunity to see, and to be seen. Naturally, this also became a popular subject among competing ukiyo-e artists; several artists produced prints depicting this subject (adapting similar aspects of nearly the same composition), most often in a triptych format, but both Kitagawa Utamaro (1753-1806) and Toyokuni I (1769-1825) produced double triptychs (6 panels) displaying figures above on the bridge, and below, in the boats on the water.
In this depiciton three famous actors are in attendance: Ichikawa Danjuro VII (1791-1859) stands prominently in the center sheet in the largest and most well-known yakatabune (palace boat), the Kawaichi-maru, which is identified by the name, Kawaichi, marked on the red lanterns. He is accompanied by the onnagata Segawa Kikunojo V (1802-1832) who is seated, and a geisha providing musical entertainment with her shamisen. In the smaller skiff just beyond the restaurant boat is another major actor, Nakamura Utaemon III (1778-1838). The presence of these kabuki luminaries causes a bit of commotion, all eyes are turned in their direction, and even the laborers poling the boats away from each other seem to be scrambling to catch a glimpse of the stars. And in good turn, a beauty standing in the bow of her yanebune (roof boat) to the left seems to have caught the attention of Danjuro himself, the pair lock eyes, more interested in each other than the spectacular display in the sky.
Tokyo Metropolitan Library (archive.library.metro.tokyo.jp), acquisition no. 577-C19
Scholten Japanese Art is open Monday - Friday, and some Saturdays by appointment only
Contact Katherine Martin at
(212) 585-0474 or email
to schedule a visit between 11am and 4pm for no more than two individuals at a time.
In order to adhere to New York State guidelines visitors are asked to wear face masks and practice social distancing.
site last updated
February 25, 2021
Scholten Japanese Art
145 West 58th Street, suite 6D
New York, New York 10019
ph: (212) 585-0474
fx: (212) 585-0475
Join our mailing list...