Tsutaya Jûzaburô is today the most famous and celebrated publisher of the Edo period. He is known for having worked with many now-famous ukiyo-e artists, including Utamaro, Sharaku, and Kitao Masanobu, and for having been the publisher for many of their most famous works.
The publisher, commonly referred to as "Tsuta-jû," an abbreviation of his full name, was born and raised in the Yoshiwara; his father was the owner of a brothel, and when he was young he was adopted by the owner of a teashop. He thus grew up with an intimate knowledge of and familiarity with the pleasure district, and in the earlier years of his career, beginning in 1773, operated out of a shop located just outside the district's main gate. Jûzaburô was actively involved in prime social circles of his time, maintaining close relationships with the likes of Santô Kyôden, Hiraga Gennai, Ôta Nanpo, and even sharing his home with Utamaro and Takizawa Bakin for a time.
The 1776 publication Seirô bijin awase sugata kagami, featuring images of courtesans by artists Katsukawa Shunshô and Kitao Shigemasa, was his first large-scale publishing venture. In 1782, he purchased the exclusive rights to produce Yoshiwara saiken (courtesan directories), and moved his base of operations to the Nihonbashi area, the chief merchant district in Edo, moving again the following year to Toriabura-chô, the heart of Edo's publishing district.
Tsutaya did not simply publish works given him by artists, but played a very active role in guiding artists; like most publishers of the time, more often than not, it was he who chose what sorts of works he wished to publish, and then hired artists to design them. After he began working with Kitao Masanobu (aka Santô Kyôden), he advised the artist to move away from single-sheet print design and into book illustration; as a result, the majority of Masanobu's oeuvre as it is known today consists not of individual prints, but of illustrated books.
He ran afoul of the authorities, however, in 1791, when a number of sharebon and kibyôshi by Santô Kyôden were found to be in violation of censorship stipulations of the Kansei Reforms. Kyôden was manacled for fifty days, and Tsutaya had half of his total wealth confiscated. He continued to be active, however, publishing all of the works by the print designer Sharaku, during the artist's brief 10-month period of activity, along with numerous works by Utamaro and others.
Tsutaya died in 1797, but passed on his business to heirs.
- Roger Keyes. Ehon: The Artist and the Book in Japan. New York Public Library, 2006. pp94-95.
- Christine Guth, Art of Edo Japan, Yale University Press (1996), 109.