Well, not quite. I wanted to look at a new print at the Toshidama Gallery; a superb Yoshikazu image of a teahouse in Yokohama from 1861. It’s an outstanding image, it opens up an impossible series of spaces, bridges, walkways, vistas, rooms within rooms, murals of Chinese waterfalls, and of course westerners in ‘overseas’ gear and hapless and compliant Japanese – recently defeated by the agressive 1858 trade agreement with ‘the five nations’. Of course the teahouse above is not from that time at all, that is the movie poster from the Marlon Brando movie that comically examines the fallout of American occupation post 1945.
I became fascinated by this triptych of the Gankiro Teahouse from Yoshikazu, and began looking for other images that expand the views suggested by the clashing perspectives and the glimpses of views not fully explained by the drawing. I should like to think that Yoshikazu used this mixture of western and Japanese perspective as a metaphor for the mixing of cultures in these early efforts at international trade.
The architecture that forms a backdrop to the scenes of cavorting struck me as highly unlikely until I came across the following engraving of the same teahouse from 1874, made by an American artist where no such liberties were taken with the perspective.
In the Yoshikazu print we are up on the first floor – the bannisters on the right are the ones at the top of this print, looking down on the bridge and the carp pool. Better still is a print by Hiroshige the second of the Gankiro Teahouse from the same year as the Yoshikazu but from the same ground floor viewpoint as the American print of a decade or more later. Like the Yoshikazu, the scene is one of bustling trade… the clumsy sailor visible in the background is a comical projection on a paper screen.
When we go upstairs, back to the scene of the Yoshikazu, we see a colourful room in the top far right of the picture… this is the ‘fan room’ of the teahouse. The fan room by all accounts was a major attraction and quite famous. I presume this was a kind of museum display. We get a better look at this room in a print by Yoshiiku also from 1860. In the Yoshiiku the ‘Five Nations’ are represented again dancing and drinking. They are being served by ‘geisha’ and here we have a clearer picture of the fans themselves on a blue background.
The Fan room and the long corridor down the side of the upper floor appears again in the print below also from 1860 and again by Hiroshige II. In this version the same peculiar hybrid architecture is seen as in the Yoshikazu and we are also given a sense of the location of the tea house from the view across the bay at Yokohama.
All of these make a nice contrast to a stunning e-sugoroku board that depicts a teahouse in the Japanese Yoshiwara; this traditional teahouse has similar confusing perspectives and a wholly Japanese clientele.
Of course our picture at the top of this post, the poster of Tea House of the August Moon was a play and a movie that promulgated western presumption of Japanese women as exotic, available, promiscuous and so on… albeit in a manner that made the whole business seem jolly and consensual. The last picture in this post is a photograph of the interior of a teahouse from the 1880’s. This perhaps adds a note of realism into the mixed messages of all these images.