Generally speaking, nishiki-e refers to multi-colored woodblock ukiyo-e prints as perfected by Suzuki Harunobu and others in the mid-Edo period. In other words, by developing a printing technique equivalent to today’s tonbo (“dragonfly”), which is referred to as “register,” it became possible to produce prints with various colors and mass produce them, leading to the rapid growth of nishiki-e. With their origins in ukiyo-e, nishiki-e initially focused on images of kabuki and the pleasure quarters, but they later became popular for the wide variety of works produced, including those depicting the daily lives of townspeople. While it cannot be said that nishiki-e in the Edo period were an advertising medium, there were some nishiki-e that subtly included signboards in their pictures of famous places, those that depicted scenes of stores themselves, those that seem to have intentionally depicted the names of stores and products, and those that included products in portraits of popular kabuki actors or placed product messages in speech on kabuki prints. Given this, it is thought that Edo merchants, who took note of nishiki-e as an information medium, collaborated with publishers of nishiki-e in using them for advertising. In the Meiji period, whereas nishiki-e began to show signs of gradual decline, there emerged nishiki-e newspapers that functioned like newspapers to inform people about the world, as well as nishiki-e that were a kind of precursor to today’s posters that function as advertising.

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