Ukiyo-e Prints


Port Townsend, Washington






Foreign Means of Conveyance

Gaikoku kuruma zukushi no zu

 外国 車 盡 (?) 之 圖

10th Month, 1871

Meiji 4


Print Size: 13 3/4" x 9 1/8"

Publisher: Yorozu-ya Magobei



Signed: Oju Yoshitoshi (something)

There is another copy of this print in the collection

of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

















If anyone knows what is used as a covering for the wheels of the cannon would you please write to me and let me know. Is it fur or straw or what? Also, do you know why? Do you know of any other illustrations or early photograph of this practice? Please! please! please! let us hear from you.




So far two [now three] people have told me why they think the wheels are covered. Personally I wish someone would give me some solid documentation, but until they do these two suggestions sound absolutely reasonable to me.


The first was made by a fellow I met who lives on a boat and is a musician. He said he was sure the wheels were covered to muffle the sound of the approach of the cannon. That way one could surprise one's enemies with a sneak attack.


The second suggestion comes from Barbara Mason, an artist,  who contacted me by e-mail and makes an equally thoughtful argument. She said: "It seems pretty obvious that the covering for the wheels in the Yoshitoshi print was to keep the wheels from sliding in mud...the covering would give a lot more traction. It looks like cloth with something inside, maybe straw. I am no historian...so this is a guess."


What do you think?


I'm waiting.




(This might just be the one we have been waiting for.)


In September 2010 we received the following e-mail from Stephanie G. -


From various books, including books about the US Civil war and the Wellington campaigns, the covering for the wagon wheels was whatever was available (straw, brush, rags, small branches) when the need arose for the following purposes:

1 - Traction.
2 - Sound muffling on city streets. Just think of iron-bound wheels and
cobblestones. If you want to quietly move some wagons around you have
to muffle the wheels.
3 - Spark reduction on rocky surfaces because you didn't want to start a
brush fire or set off the powder wagon by throwing a spark from the
wheel to dry leaves.

I blundered into your page while looking for rickshaw origins. [See our rickshaw section below.] One of my distant relatives reportedly designed the first one so his pregnant wife didn't have to put up with the bouncing of the kago. I am pleased to see that a Japanese artist of the era considered it to to be a "foreign" means of travel.

The publication date of the print also pins down the date of invention to before 1871, which ties in with when we know he was there as a missionary. By the time of Enoch Mather Marvin's (Methodist bishop) trip in 1876 there were rickshaws all over the place, and he specifically mentions that the invention was six or seven years old. (Cite: E.M. Marvin, "To the East by way of the West", pub 1878, p. 73) On that same page he mentions that horses and oxen were shod with rice straw. Perhaps it helped keep their feet healthy in the mud, or gave them better traction.


Above is a detail form a Hiroshige print

showing the hooves of the horses and

the feet of a man protected by straw


In a follow up message Stephanie G. added:


Here's one quote about the wheels - Napoleon is sneaking his artillery wagons past an Italian fort (Fort Bard). "Tow" is the waste fibers from flax or hemp, used at that time for swabbing out cannons, filling mattresses - a general purpose fiber.

The campaign of Marengo: with comments by Herbert Howland Sargent A. C. McClurg and company, 1897 , page 10

"Meanwhile a foot-path, leading along the mountain side around the fort, was discovered by Lannes. By a few repairs the path was soon rendered passable for the men and horses, but not for the artillery. How to get the cannon past the fort was the question. Finally, the following method was adopted. During a dark night the road in front of the fort was strewn with manure and straw, and, to deaden the sound of the artillery wheels, they were wrapped with tow and straw; then the soldiers themselves quietly hauled the guns past the fort."

empailler, v. a., to wrap with straw (as, gun-carriage wheels, etc.).





Publisher: Yorozuya Magobei



Signature: Oju Yoshitoshi (something)





Date Seal: 1871, 10th Month












(literally: a man-powered vehicle)


There is much confusion over the origin of the rickshaw. Was it invented by the Japanese or by Westerners? Or both?  The sources vary considerably. The Dictionary of Japanese Culture states: "There are two theories as to its invention: one, that it was an invention of Yōsuke Izumi, and the other that it was invented by Jonathan Goble (died 1898), an American Baptist missionary. They first appeared in Tokyo in 1870 as a public conveyance replacing the kago (palanquin)." (1) The Kodansha Encyclopedia of Japan tells a somewhat different story. "Said to be invented by three Japanese, who claimed to have been inspired by the horse-drawn carriage which had been newly introduced from abroad, the rickshaw was produced on a large scale after the government permission was obtained in 1870." (2) However, on the second point it did agree: "Because of its speed and mobility, it quickly replaced the palanquin (kago)." (3) Julia Meech-Pekarik sides with the Japanese inventor Yōsuke Izumi and notes that with the help of two friends and a government license had a three year monopoly and that by 1872 there may have been 50,000 rickshaws on the streets of Tokyo. She even emphasizes it significance by calling it "...perhaps the most momentous transport innovation of the Meiji period." (4)



The detail on the left of an engraving by Huquier  after a painting by Claude Gillot ca. 1700 clearly shows a rickshaw like carriage drawn by a donkey. In another painting by Gillot, "Les deux carrosses" in the Musée du Louvre, two figures from the Commedia dell'Arte pull two similar vehicles replacing the animal with man power.(5)

1. The Dictionary of Japanese Culture, by Setsuko Kojima and Gene A. Crane, Heian International, Inc., 1991, p. 126.

2.  Kodansha Encyclopedia of Japan, entry by Tsuchida Mitsufumi, 1983, vol. 6, p. 311.

3.  Ibid.

4.  The World of the Meiji Print, by Julia Meech-Pekarik, Weatherhill, 1986, p. 84.

5.  Anyone familiar with these web pages must realize by now that I am intrigued by more than just one narrowly focused subject.  While researching Gillot's representations of these two wheeled vehicles I ran across a surprising term for them: vinaigrette. I knew that a vinaigrette was a mixture of oil and vinegar which I put on my salads, but I did not know that it was also a type of carriage. The first known reference to that term was made in 1660. Harrap's New and Standard French and English Dictionary, vol. II, p. V:18 refers to it as a "two-wheeled sedan" with the notation that it is categorized as an ancient usage. It also notes that faire vinaigre means "to hurry." Perhaps there is a tenuous connection there, but for the life of me I can't figure it out.

***Here is an update: Yesterday, June 15, 2004, I ran across another French dictionary in my library which I had overlooked earlier. According to the Dictionnaire du Français non Conventionnel by Jacques Cellard and Alain Rey and published by Hachette in 1981: "Début du 19e siècle. De 'vinaigre!', injonction par laquelle les enfants invitent un(e) camrade à presser le mouvement de la corde à sauter, dans le jeu. Sans doute convergence de faire vite! et de l'idée d'acidité, de piquant, du vinaigre." (p. 830-1)

According to Meech-Pekarik the kago (篭 or かご), like the one to the left shown here, was the most popular form of comfort transport prior to the introduction of the rickshaw. This detail of a Kuniyoshi print shows a simple kago.  More elaborate earlier ones were called koshi (輿 or こし). The difference would be somewhat comparable in modern terms between riding in a Lexus or a Yugo.




There was a much earlier form of luxury travel reserved for the highest members of the Imperial court: the gissha (牛車 or ぎっしゃ) or ox carriage. These traveled along at the lightning speed of about 2 mph under the best of conditions. The detail of print by Hokusai to the right shows one of these carriages and, although it is not readily visible, a reclining ox in the lower right with its draped back to the viewer.





In A Dictionary of Japanese Artists  Laurance P. Roberts points out that Yoshitoshi changed his family name to Taiso (大蘇) after 1873. In the foreward to Beauty and Violence: Japanese Prints by Yoshitoshi 1839-1892 the first reference is to Tsukioka Yoshitoshi while on the next page is the memorial print by Kanaki Toshikage called "Portrait of Taiso Yoshitoshi."

Koop and Inada in their Japanese Names and How to Read Them (p. 69) refer to art-names as . "Although often quoted in company with the ordinary names in signatures, the is regarded as independent of them - belonging to another and higher life, as it were."

As if all of this weren't daunting enough Andrew Nathaniel Nelson states in his The Modern Reader's Japanese-English Character Dictionary: Second Revised Edition (p. 10) "The readings of characters in personal and place names constitute quite a separate problem from ordinary words, one that could never be adequately treated within  the scope of a portable dictionary, if indeed a fully satisfactory solution can ever be found. Probably, the most thoro study made to date is the Japanese work by Araki Ryozo, Nanori Jiten... As Mr. Araki humorously puts it, this problem of Japanese names  is indeed an eighth wonder of the world."






A friend recently expressed her confusion over Japanese artists' names. She has enough interest to look at prints in books and on-line, but was puzzled by the fact that many of the prints which were obviously signed Toyokuni (III) were labeled as Kunisada. This must be an issue for all neophytes. It was for me.

The problem lies in the scholarship and not in the viewer. Authors have taken for granted that readers will know that Toyokuni III was originally signing his work as Kunisada.

The history of an artist's name can be truly convoluted. Kunisada who was born the son of Kadota Shobei was taught by Toyokuni I. Sebastian Izzard in Kunisada's world (page 20) says: "Like other students, Kunisada was awarded on his debut the last Chinese character of his master's name with which to form his own."

When Toyokuni I died in 1825 Kunisada aspired to become his successor but the name Toyokuni II was bestowed on one of Toyokuni I's other pupils and his son-in-law. "Kunisada suffered his first public setback when, after Toyokuni's death...he was passed over as the new leader of the Utagawa school in favor of Toyoshige..." (Izzard, p. 26).

Toyokuni II, formerly called Toyoshige, died in 1835. In 1844 Kunisada began calling himself Toyokuni II*** --- the true inheritor of his master's art. Although there was some criticism of this action and even though we know him today as Toyokuni III his family and friends referred to him as Toyokuni II even after his death.


Sexton gives a range of dates for when Kunisada dropped his former signature and took up his new one. According to Sexton Kunisada quit using the Kunisada Kōchōrō "...signature on the 7th day of the new year 1844."

The name issue is far more complex than what has been discussed here. In time we will add more thoughts and information which we hope will clarify the matter somewhat.

***(Name confusion is not unique to the Japanese. In the 15th century the Papacy split and for a while there existed competing popes and anti-popes. The first Pope John XXIII reigned from 1410 to 1415, but he was later deligitimized. The "real" Pope John XXIII reigned from 1958 to 1963.)