Hikifuda were general advertisements similar to today's flyers, inserts, and handbills. The etymology of the word is not clear, but one interpretation is that hikifuda were “bills” (fuda) used to “pull in” (hiki) customers.* It is thought that hikifuda came to be more widely used beginning in the Kanbun era of the Edo period because there was increasing commercial activity from around that time.
Hikifuda were produced by adding the name of a store or product to the blank space on a picture that had already been drawn. Whereas woodblock printing was used in the Edo period, more advanced techniques such as copperplate and lithographic printing emerged in the Meiji period, making hikifuda more vivid and beautiful. Many of them are said to have been drawn by the descendants of Edo-period nishiki-e artists.
From the late Edo through the early Meiji periods, some hikifuda were written in a playful gesaku style, the majority of which were greetings by shopkeepers. It is thought that those with greater literary skill were very good at grabbing people’s attention. Writers such as Hiraga Gennai, Kanagaki Robun, and Kawatake Mokuami are known to have written hikifuda at the same time they were writing novels and plays.
*Kokoku bun’an: Senkyaku banrai. Fukui Shunpodo, 1902.

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