Thursday, May 09, 2013

Yukawa's Utushi-e

When I read the English translation, by L. Brown and R. Yoshida, of Yukawa's autobiographical book Tabibito, I found many errors and sent a list of corrections to Brown. The list included shadow pictures as the translation of "うつしえ (utsushi-e)." Yukawa mentioned it together with ground-cherries and Kintaro wheat-gluten bars, etc. as things sold at street-stalls at a fair in his childhood. Utsushi-e meant both shadow pictures (写し絵) and transfer pictures (移し絵), but shadow pictures are played rather than sold. So, I thought the correct translation of utsushi-e should be transfer pictures but was not confident about this. In my childhood transfer pictures were surely popular among children. In the days when Yukawa was a child, however, sheets for shadow pictures (the equivalent to slides of the present days) might have been sold, and they might have enjoyed a picture show by passing lamplight through them. (This story was given in Part I, Chapter 1, of my book Passage through Spacetime.)

Recently I read Soseki's autobiographical novel Michikusa and found the following passage:
Of course, he was able to get whatever toys he wanted. Tools for utsushi-e (写し絵) were also included in it.
In Notes section at the end of Michikusa, the following description is given about utsushi-e:
The thing that reflects pictures drawn on glass onto a screen made of cloth or paper, in the dark; a magic lantern.
These indicate that the shadow picture was one of popular toys in Meiji period, to which childhood days of both Soseki and Yukawa belonged. Soseki was born in 1867; Yukawa, in 1907; and I in 1935. As for the year of birth, therefore, Yukawa and I are closer than Soseki and Yukawa. However, there was a big change of cultural environments when electric lights spread through the country [an almost full spread in Tokyo was achieved in 1912 (Ref. 1)]. In my childhood, I saw a projector of 8-mm film in a nearby home already being used instead of a magic lantern. Thus, Soseki and Yukawa had much in common in their childhood, and I have to admit that the translation, "shadow pictures," by Brown and Yoshida was quite right.

  1. Chronology of electricity from Taisho to Showa, A Web page of the Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan.