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Hikifudas were designed and sold by publishers. The most common motifs placed on cards were those of cranes, gods of fortune, as well as Mount Fuji. Designs depicting a specific type of activity were hardly ever made, as such orders were much more expensive. However, while creating a design, an empty space was left where a merchant could place some information about his shop or workshop. Such inscriptions, most often stylised as calligraphy, were usually written by hand. However, they could be also printed with woodcut matrix, almost like stamps.

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What do you associate with the word advertising? Typical forms of advertising include TV commercials, neon lights, website banners, billboards, and leaflets. Leaflets can be found in every post box and are also handed out on the streets. Everywhere in the world, from Paris to Tokyo, it looks similar. The same advertising forms of products, services and corporations can be seen worldwide. While thinking about the roots of advertising, one should revisit ancient history, as advertising is as old as trade. It has taken many forms, but it has always served the same purpose – to attract potential customers and to convince them that they should buy what the seller is offering. Hikifuda [引き札] is one of the advertising forms used in Japan since the Edo period (1603–1868). These are advertising handbills made by the publisher with the use of woodcut or lithographic techniques and sold to shopkeepers or owners of workshops who filled them in with their own information (name, address, brief description of offered goods and services) and handed them out to their customers. In the earlier periods, those advertising handbills had no illustrations, but they were the most popular during the Meiji period (1868–1912), when they had the form of a picture. They were still present at the beginning of the Shōwa period (1926–1898). It is worth mentioning here that the names of the Japanese historical periods are derived from the names given posthumously to the emperors ruling during those periods. The Meiji period is the period of the reign of Emperor Mutsuhito. During the Shōwa period, Hirohito was the Emperor, and at present, we are in the period of the reign of Emperor Akihito. 2014 is the 26th year of the Heisei period. Dates of reigns determine the initial and final dates of a given period.
The presented hikifuda dates back to the Meiji period (1868–1912) and it was bought in Japan along with a group of 35 other prints of that kind, marking the beginning of the hikifuda collection of the Manggha Museum. They are an interesting phenomenon in Japanese popular art of that period, which has not been researched in detail yet, and which is a source of information about a bourgeois society and about the changes occurring in Japan after it had been opened up to the influence of western culture. In the stratified Japanese society, which was divided into classes, only the burghers were allowed to occupy themselves with trade. Although they were the lowest social class, they had money at their disposal, and they could spend it on entertainment such as drama performances, or on buying woodcuts referring to those performances. Hikifudas of the 19th and 20th centuries often resemble those very popular forms of paintings. They are of similar style and size (about 25 x 35 cm), and they have similar themes.
The presented print depicts a warrior sitting at the edge of the forest. Next to the warrior, there is travelling headgear and a cover made of rice straw. The left side of the card is filled with smoke hovering over a burning torch placed near the warrior. Against the background of the smoke, there are some inscriptions advertising a pharmacy.
Some hikifudas were stylised as calligraphies. On some of them seals can be found with the word trademark written in the Latin alphabet.
Hikifudas were designed and sold by publishers. The most common motifs placed on cards were those of cranes, gods of fortune, as well as Mount Fuji. Designs depicting a specific type of activity were hardly ever made, as such orders were much more expensive. However, while creating a design, an empty space was left where a merchant could place some information about his shop or workshop. Such inscriptions, most often stylised as calligraphy, were usually written by hand. However, they could be also printed with woodcut matrix, almost like stamps.

Elaborated by Aleksandra Görlich (The Manggha Centre of Japanese Art and Technology), editorial team of Małopolska’s Virtual Museums, © all rights reserved

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“Hikifuda” advertising handbill with a depiction of a warrior on his way

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