Shini-e or “Death print” is a genre of ukiyoe which was popular in the late Edo period. It featured celebrities of the time such as famous Kabuki actors. Most of them were created with the aim of announcing the death of the celebrity or to express condolences. Even though the theme of Shinie is death, they were often depicted to be somehow humorous and colorful. The bright images might have provided consolation for the family of the deceased.
For example, this is a Shinie of Ichikawa Danjuro Vlll, a popular kabuki actor who committed suicide on the night before an important theatrical play. Surrounding his portrait, many women in all ages and ranks are depicted lamenting his death.
The inscribed poem written by a comic poet named Umeya, reads as follows:
“Many women, including a female cat, are crying and wiping their tears with their sleeves.”.
As this poem suggests, this picture of death doesn’t express seriousness or sorrow, rather, it is warm and comical. This drawing depicts not only the popularity of Danjuro the actor, but also the way people viewed death in the Edo period.
This exhibition displays about 30 death drawings from our museum’s collection. Please don’t miss it!