The largest collection of original Japanese woodblock prints in Austria.

Japanese & European woodblock prints, Japonism, Asian Objects

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This glossary will provid you with the basic expressions used when talking about original Japanese woodblock prints.

We will expand this glossary frequently. Please contact us if you are missing a term!

Aniline dye

Synthetic dye discovered by William Henry Perkin in 1856. The dye became widely used in woodblock printing in Japan after its introduction in 1864.


A seal used by censors to approve the design of a woodblock print.


A circular pad used in woodblock print production to apply pressure to the paper’s reverse.

Benigirai-e; Beni-e; Beninuki-e; Murasaki-e

A print in which red hues predominate, a term generally applied to the two-color prints, making use of more subdued color combinations, generally purples, greys and yellow; immediately preceding the polychrome period.


Prints and paintings of beautiful women, mostly courtesans.  A genre that originated in China and has established itself in Japan as one of the main themes in visual arts, especially in woodblock prints.


A printing technique in which a single (or several) colors are printed in gradation of the color intensity.


The puppet theatre, popular entertainment in early modern Japan. Many famous Kabuki plays have been originally written for the Bunraku theatre.


Tail of the Loyal Retainers (also known as The forty-seven Ronin). A popular story loosely based on actual events about a group of masterless samurai (ronin) trying to take revenge in the name of their late master.


An early Japanese warlord and leader of a fief subordinate to the shōgun.There were hundreds of daimyō at all times, and their influence and expansion of power varied greatly.


A figure based on a semi-legendary Indian monk known as Bodhidharma who travelled through China. Popular in visual media, depicted as a bearded monk in a red cape. Daruma dolls are originated from this imagery.


A type of lacquered paper headpiece worn by aristocrat court as well as by sambasō dancers and other entertaining artists.


Present-day Tokyo, capital city of Japan. In romanized writing also written as Jedo, Yedo or Yeddo; Under the rule of the Tokugawa regime, Edo became one of the largest cities in the world and home to an urban culture that focused on the idea of a „floating world“. After the Meiji Restoration in 1868 the Meiji government renamed Edo as Tokyo.

Edo period

A period in Japanese history (1603 – 1867), named after the capital city of that time.


Calendar prints. They contain hidden references to the short and long months of the lunar calendar, from whose combinations the year can be deduced. Apparently these prints have been made to avoid buying an official calendar, on which the government had a monopoly.


A picture book. The books contain woodblock prints and are comparable to Leporello books.


The ruler of the Underworld. An accessor of the dead in the Buddhist underworld, generally considered the overlord of hell.


Prints or painting depicting landscapes. As an older genre in Japanese visual art, it gained popularity again in the work of Hokusai and Hiroshige in the 1830ies particulary through  the use of Prussian Blue (Berlin Blue).


A professionally trained woman entertaining in conversation and the fine arts. A profession that in the western world is often confused with prostitution.

Genji monogatari

The Tale of Genji. Author: Murasaki Shikibu, early 11th century. Considered to be the world’s oldest novel. The work describes the live in the imperial palace.


Prints based on episodes from the novel The Tale of Genji (Genji monogatari).


A print that includes visual jokes.


“Eight Views”. An old Chinese tradition of depicting eight different views of a specific location. Many titles of woodblock print series have been based on this tradition.


Sheets of two or more subjects or designs printed on one sheet and intended to be cut afterwards; very uncommon.

Heian period

An era in Japanese history (794 – 1192). A high standard of court culture developed under the rule of the emperor. Considered a very glorious period in Japanese history.

Heike monogatari

An epic chronology of the Genpai War (1180 – 1185), a struggle of power between the Taira and Minamoto Clans.


Japanese cypress, evergreen tree. Used in building and manufacturing furniture.

Hyakuin isshu

“One hundred Poems by one hundred Poets”, anthology of famous waka poems, compiled in the mid 13th century.

Ichikawa Danjūrō

Famous family of kabuki actors. The 7th generation of Danjūrō was especially influential in the 19th century, the last Danjūrō died in 2013.

Ise shrine

The main Shinto shrine, located in central Japan. Destination of pilgrimage.


A traditional form of theatric drama including music. All roles have been played by male actors. Originated in 17th century it became very popular. Actors and their roles have been an important genre in Japanese woodblock prints.


Prints or paintings of birds and flowers. The term derives from China and included also fish and mammals.


A young servant to a high ranked courtesan of the Yoshiwara. Usually working in pairs, dressed in matching kimonos and accompanied the courtesans. Often depicted in woodblock prints of the bijing-ga genre.

Karazuri; Gauffrage

“Blind” printing – printing without the use of color. In this process the print is placed on the block face upwards (thus reversing the process when a color impression is taken), which, underpressure, gives the design an embossed appearance. Used frequently on parts of dresses, blossom of trees, flowers and other details.


“Pass mark”, these marks have been used in woodblock printing to perfectly align the various color blocks, thus the matching of the coloring layers.


The general term for clothing, mostly made from cotton or silk. The patterns have been printed on with stencils (katagami).


“Golden Boy”, a legendary boy with supernatural powers. Raised by a mountain witch, he became a great samurai general.


One of the five main travel routes. Connection between Edo and Kyoto, leading through mountains in the northwest of Japan.


A seal used by woodblock print censors to approve the design.


sprinkling of powdered minerals or metals.


A comparison or parody. Often used in a humoristic or comic way.


“Brocade print”, this term was first used in the time of Harunobu, but afterwards allied to all polychrome prints.

Classical form of Japanese theatre, originated in the 14th century, performed by men with extravagant costumes and wooden masks.


A belt worn by men and women.


A non-stop favorite kabuki play: Oiwa, mistreated by her husband, turns into a malicious ghost (onryō) after her death.


Very close-up portrait (bust), at least half of the print's space is taken by the face of an actor or courtesan. This format gave artists free rein to personalize or exaggerate the characteristics of their subjects.


also sumi-ta (black ink block); jizumi-ita; sumizuri-no-ita or daihan

The most important woodblock carved to create the outline. Also called the key-block. Cut by the engraver from the artist’s original drawing.


A male kabuki actor who specialized in female roles. Wears a purple headband.


A roughly painted sketch, the forerunner of the print; first produced by Matabei at the village of Otsu on the Tōkaidō, hence their name. This Matabei (or Matahei [died c. 1720]) should not be confused with the better-known Iwasas Matabei.

Prussian blue; Berlin Blue

A synthetically blue dye produced in Europe  and brought to Japan in the late 18th century. In regards of Japanese woodblock prints, its use is part of the success of the landscapes of Hokusai and Hiroshige.


A masterless samurai.

Ryōgoku Bridge

The most famous of the five major Edo bridges, crosses the Sumida River. A popular place to get together, for example to watch fireworks.


A well-trained warrior, excellent in sword fighting and skilled in fine arts.


A string musical instrument, often associated with the geisha, also a played in kabuki theater.

Shin hanga

“new prints”, an art movement in the early 20th century in Japan, during the Taishō (1912 – 26) and Shōwa (1926 – 89) periods. The movement flourished from around 1915 to 1942, though it resumed briefly from 1946 through the 1950s. Influenced by and very popular with the Western collectors.


A memorial portrait, for example after the death of a kabuki actor; typically unsigned by the artist.


De-facto leader of the empire. He was in control of the many Daimyō, he ruled from his castle in Edo.


“spring picture”; erotic prints. Probably all woodblock print artists produced shunga prints, usually not signed

Sōsaku hanga

“creative print”, a 20th century art movement. The artist takes over the carving and printing process.


“Water margin”, 14th century Chinese novel, very popular theme in kabuki theatre and woodblock printing. Based on the exploits of the outlaw Song Jiang and his 108 companions.


also suibokuga or bokuga, from sumi (ink).

A painting or print which is created only with black ink. Gradiations of the ink can create the sense of light and shade.


A Japanese form of wrestling.


A print issued for private circulation, like our Christmas, New Year, birthday or invitation cards. They were lavishly embellished with gold, silver, bronze and mother-of-pearl dust and were printed on a thicker and softer paper than was usually used for ordinary prints.


The most travelled route of the five main routes in Edo-period. Connection between Edo and Kyoto. The 53 stations of the Tōkaidō have been an extremely popular topic of many woodblock print series.


A print intended for mounting on a fan. Fans had two shapes, the uchiwa, a round non-folding dan, and the ogi, or folding fan. Prints designed for fans are not common owing to the uses to which they were put; the uchiwa shape is the most frequently.


Prints designed after European canons of drawing, with perspective; also means “bird’s-eye view pictures”


"floating, fleeting or transient world", describes the urban lifestyle, especially the pleasure-seeking aspects of the Edo-period.


“picture of the floating world”


Prints in which transparent laquer is used to heighten the color-effect, a process said to have been invented by Okumura Masanobu.


Traditionally produced Japanese paper.


Prints picturing kabuki actors, on stage as a character in a play or offstage.


Images of arrivals in Yokohama (the only place where foreigners have been allowed). Mostly made-up and comic images of strangers.


The yūkaku (the officially sanctioned pleasure district) in Edo.

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