Asia Society

Tsutaya Jūzaburō: Master Publisher of Ukiyo-e

Like film producers, ukiyo-e publishers assembled teams of skilled practitioners—artists, writers, copyists, block cutters, printers, and others—to produce and market a vast array of printed materials. Tsutaya Jūzaburō (1750–1797) was the impresario behind many of ukiyo-e’s most acclaimed artists.

Tsutaya’s career attests to the opportunities, associations, and restrictions affecting ukiyo-e during the last quarter of the eighteenth century. Born in the Yoshiwara pleasure district and adopted by a family living just outside the quarter’s great gate, he began his career by acquiring the rights to publish guidebooks to the district. He expanded his business to include guides to the quarter and humorous illustrated books. Using the capital from these popular offerings, he purchased a shop in the heart of Edo, within shouting distance of long-established rivals in the publishing trade. From this base, Tsutaya worked the literary and artistic networks to produce sumptuous poetry albums for limited circulation and to publish fiction by Edo’s most celebrated writers for wide release. With an uncanny eye for talent, he collaborated with Utamaro, Sharaku, Chōki, Eiri, and Hokusai, to name a few, to produce some of ukiyo-e’s finest works.