In the second half of the nineteenth century, Europeans and Americans discovered the world of Japanese woodblock prints and thus began an enduring love affair. One result has been the publication over the last century of literally hundreds of books and thousands of articles about the prints known as "ukiyoe," with a particular emphasis on such giants of the genre as Hokusai and Hiroshige. How then, in this crowded field, does one manage to create a must-have publication for readers who may already have well-stocked libraries on Japanese art?
One answer is to be found in "Hokusai and Hiroshige: Great Japanese Prints from the James A. Michener Collection, Honolulu Academy of Arts." Issued by the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco in conjunction with an exhibition, "Hokusai and Hiroshige" is typical of a new wave of "ukiyoe" books that combine excellent design (of layout and typography) with clear and interesting text. Every page displaying a print has a near equal amount of space devoted to text, and the book benefits as well from introductory essays by three established experts. The text in particular appeals to me, providing not only insights about the compositional nature of each print but also detail on the locales depicted by these two great landscape artists and appropriate historical information. There is room for improvement in "Hokusai and Hiroshige"--I would have preferred more standard romanizations for some Japanese words and the inclusion of an index covering well more than just print titles--but overall this is an excellent and valuable volume.