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New Year's Eve Foxfires at the Changing Tree

Number 118 from the series One Hundred Famous Views of Edo

Date: originally published 9/1857; this is a particularly accurate 20th century impression from recarved wood blocks
Size: approx. 10.5" x 15.75"
Condition: VG, no flaws of note
Impression: Fine, faithfully detailed when compared to other editions which often leave out the green leaves on the trees by substituting black
Color: Fine, deep saturated color, and excellent bleed. Very accurate color to the first edition.
Documentation: One Hundred Famous Views of Edo Brazillier, 1986, print 118

BOTH IN TECHNIQUE AND EXPRESSION, this haunting masterpiece is a unique achievement in the history of Japanese woodblock prints, providing a fitting concluding print to the series One Hundred Famous Views of Edo. Although it is conventionally considered to be one of the best three prints in the series, it really falls into a class of its own. In particular, it is the only print in the entire series that involves fantasy. In the late substantial, when the print first appeared, the world of Japanese color prints was in fact dominated by themes of the fantastic, but the aging Hiroshige held fast to his ingrained reliance on the certainties of the observed world. Here alone he adventured into the world of spirits.

The theme depicted had been widely reported in Edo essays and gazetteers since the mid-17th century. It was said that on New Year's Eve, all the foxes of the eight Kanto provinces would gather at a particular tree near Oji Inari Shrine, the headquarters of the regional Inari cult. There they would change their dress to become presentable for a visit to the shrine, where they would be given orders for the coming year. On the way, they gave forth distinctive flames kitsunebi by which local farmers were able to predict the crops of the coming year -- some say by the shadows they cast, others by their numbers. It is an interesting coincidence that the word "foxfire" exists in English as a literal translation of kitsunebi. Although the cultural nuances differ, both words were used to explain strange lights at night, such as the burning of swamp gases or the glow of luminescent fungi, and both were ascribed to the fox, the animal that in both East and West, fools people.


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