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The Magical Carpenter of Japan:  with 70 full-page woodcuts by Hokusai

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The Magical Carpenter of Japan: with 70 full-page woodcuts by Hokusai

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Author: Rokujiuyen
Publisher: Tuttle Publishing, 1965
Original English publication, 1912
Original Japanese publication, 1808

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Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
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The Magical Carpenter of Japan was first published in 1808, but it was one hundred years later that a translated edition appeared in England. The Magical Carpenter of Japan is a fast-moving adventure story with a love-interest, the supernatural, and wicked villains filling the misadventures of Suminawa. The book is lavishly illustrated with woodcuts by one of the greatest 'ukiyo-e', Hokusai.

Hokusai, according to Rokujiuyen, "pestered" him to write the story of Suminawa. Hokusai, who was at the time forty-six, had already published his Famous Sights of the Eastern Capital series, and two years before had started working on his Fifty-Three Stages Along the Tokaido. Why was he so anxious to have Rokujiuyen write the story of Suminawa? Did he simply want work to do? Almost certainly not. Hokusai, who all his life was dogged by creditors, wasn't the kind of man to worry about such things as security and comfort. When a fire destroyed his home, and all his notes and sketches, he could philosophically remark "I came into the world without much." Many of the books illustrated by him bear signs of having been executed in a hurry. Not so in this case. Without wishing to read too much into them, these prints suggest that the artist did not consider them a task to be done as quickly as possible, so he could go back to drawing what he wanted. It seems more likely that the well-known folk tale appealed to his artist's imagination, and that he considered it a challenging assignment. "I find that in all representations of Japanese and Chinese warriors," he wrote, "there is a lack of power and of movement, which are the essence of such subjects. Disappointed by this imperfection, I have been on fire to remedy it and so to supply what was lacking." Although he might not agree, he seems to us to have admirably caught these elusive qualities in some of the illustrations here.

If the Story of Rokujiuyen seems now to be overshadowed by the prints of Hokusai, this is not as it should be. Together they form a delightful combination, and this adventure story, fairy tale, love story, call it what you will, can be read today with a good deal of the excitement and pleasure it must have given its original readers in 1808.


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