Rooting through stacks of old prints for items to form the basis of a unique, low-budget collection, more and more recession-hit Japanese are turning
to the late 19th century advertising circulars. Called hikifuda, many of these full-size sheets are signed by known artists (the ukiyo-e world
being in serious decline at the time) yet rarely cost as much as USD $100 for a good example in perfect condition.
A collector gets an evocative graphic, sometimes lavishly printed, that conveys a feeling for the new, unfettered commercial exuberance of the Meiji era,
plus the name and location, writ large, of a specific (and perhaps still existing) family business.
Examples of plugs for a particular restaurant or face powder can be found in standard Edo era prints, but it was too expensive, and probably meaningless,
for an individual entrepreneur to commission a unique woodblock artwork to promote his firm. With the growth of urban center and all manner and new
businesses, however, came a greater incentive to advertise, and along with that appeared the cost-cutting idea of many shopkeepers sharing a single
Typically, merchants favored designs that were essentially elaborate, eye-catching borders. This left ample space for the name, description and location of
the business. At times, however, they allowed the artist's work to run over most of the page, perhaps hoping customers would appreciate the added beauty.
Shopkeepers had a large variety of borders to choose from — immensely popular were the 7 Lucky Gods, ancient symbols, auspicious creatures, images
that conveyed Japan's new "internationalism," and of course beautiful women — and new variations of these feel-good themes were added every
Curiously, today antiquarian stalls have numerous sheets with the message area left vacant. This suggests that salesmen must have scurried around town
with "stock books" of blank samples for store owners to peruse.