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Hikifuda: Auspicious Handbills Celebrating the New Year Part II

Welcome to the exhibitionHikifuda: Auspicious Handbills Celebrating the New Year Part II. Hikifuda are printed handbills that merchants would hand out to customers as a form of greeting. During the New Year period in particular, store’s would distribute handbills adorned with auspicious motifs and the store name. Umi-Mori Art Museum’s collection includes over 2,000 handbills dating from the Meiji era to the Taisho era.

The first Hikifuda: Auspicious Handbills Celebrating the New Year exhibition was held in 2021. Part II delves into this world once more to bring us a new selection of handbills, including some never exhibited before.

The exhibition is divided into five chapters themed around handbills with calendars from the early- to mid-Meiji era, handbills with traditional motifs, auspicious handbills incorporating aspects of modern culture, handbills with scenes of war, and handbills with pictures of women, for example.

Hikifuda were first produced in the Edo period (1603–1868) using woodblock prints. A new era of mass production began in the mid-Meiji era with the arrival of new technologies like copper plates, lithographic prints and machine printing. By the end of the Meiji era, over 10 million handbills were being distributed each year, a figure surpassing the number of households in Japan.

These handbills feature a rich array of imagery. Some use traditional auspicious motifs like treasures ships or the deities Ebisu and Daikoku, for example, while others portray contemporary events, customs or fashions. The handbills extol urban culture while also revealing how advertising and communication worked in this bygone age. In this sense, hikifuda serve not only as examples of popular culture but also as important historical and ethnological materials.

Please enjoy this voyage into the colorful and humorous world of hikifuda handbills. We hope the exhibition conveys the sense of excitement people felt back then as the festive season approached amid prayers for business success, prosperity and harmonious households.