The Floating Bridge of Heaven
(Ama no ukibashi)
complete set of three fukuro-toji ehon (string-bound illustrated books), blue covers with paper title slips (partially missing), originally numbered ten, chi, hito (heaven, earth, mankind) with corresponding frontispieces illustrations: the first with depicting Izanagi and Izamami on a bridge; the second mandarin ducks swimming among reeds, and the third depicting Jo and Uba, each volume with six double-page erotic images, with extensive embellishments such as karazuri ('blind printing'), burnishing and metallic printing, signed on one of the illustrations, Ikkasai Sukinobu (believed to be Shigenobu's 'hidden' name), dated 1830
ohon 9 7/8 by 7 1/8 in., 25.2 by 18.1 cm
Yanagawa Shigenobu I was a pupil of Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) and later became his son-in-law and then his adoptive son. Shigenobu worked primarily in Edo but also in Osaka for a brief period from 1822-1825.
The ohon size format (approximately 27 by 19 cm) was largely reserved for deluxe publications such as this set. The title, Ama no Ukibashi, refers to a bridge in Shinto mythology which connects heaven and earth and was the location of the origins of the temporal world. The ancient male deity Izanagi stood on the bridge with the female deity Izamami and dipped his 'spear' into the primordial waters below, as he pulled it out he shook off droplets which formed the island of Ono-goro-jima, the first island of the Japanese archipelago. The two gods descended to the island and learned how to copulate by watching the suggestive movements of a wagtail bird. The procreation of these two deities begat all other major gods and the imperial line of Japan. A chaste image of the deities on the bridge is depicted in the frontispiece for the first volume (Illustrated p. 90).
In the preface by Detarabo Untsuku and Enkobo Tsukinari (Utei Enba II, 1792-1862), the writers describes the origins of masturbation with Izanagi, and then of copulation with Izamami, and asserts that all of history is governed by these two driving forces: "So, in later times, everything that has occurred can be put down to sex, and we should not laugh at those who act from craving for it..." (Screech, p. 266)
Highlights of Japanese Printmaking Part 4: Shunga, Scholten Japanese Art, 2014, cat. no. 43
Jack Hillier, The Art of the Japanese Book, 1987, Vol 2, p. 907, pl. 176
Timon Screech, Sex and the Floating World, pp. 263-266, pl.133
Chris Uhlenbeck and Margarita Winkel, Japanese Erotic Fantasies: Sexual Imagery of the Edo Period, 2005, pp. 178-179, nos. 66a-66c
Timothy Clark et al., Shunga: Sex and Pleasure in Japanese Art, The British Museum, 2013, p. 48, cat. 1; p. 101, fig. 5
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