Making Wax in Iwashiro Province from the series Dai Nippon Bussan Zue (Products of Greater Japan)

Wild Horse Capture in Iwaki Province from the series Dai Nippon Bussan Zue (Products of Greater Japan)

Japanese Color Woodblock Print

Making Wax in Iwashiro Province

from the series Dai Nippon Bussan Zue

(Products of Greater Japan)

by Utagawa Hiroshige III, 1877

Shipping Ice from Hakodate, Hokkaidō from the series Dai Nippon Bussan Zue (Products of Greater Japan)

IHL Cat. #2395

About This Print

One of 118 prints in the series Dai Nippon Bussan Zue (Products of Greater Japan), issued in August 1877 to coincide with the opening of Japan’s first National Industrial Exposition (Naikoku Kangyō Hakurankai) held in Tokyo’s Ueno Park. This prints illustrates the steps in producing bleached wax, often called Japan Wax, made from the fruit of the Japanese wax tree (hazenoki). 

Refined wax was a significant export to the West, but its value as an export was under pressure from the growing use of kerosene. Considered in the early Meiji era as "one of the chief industries of Japan"1, the process of its creation was detailed in the below 1874 report to London's Asiatic Society of Japan by Henry Gribble, merchant and, later, editor of the Japan Mail.2

By Henry Gribble, Esq., of Nagasaki
Read before the Asiatic Society of Japan on the 23rd December 1874

The process of producing wax suitable for export to Europe is a tedious one, requiring the outlay of some capital on the part of the manufacturer, who has to keep the berries on hand for at least one year, and, in order to obtain a very superior product, does so frequently for six or seven years from the time of their being picked and sold by the farmers.

The berries ripen in October and November, and are picked by hand... 

When sufficiently ripe, the berries are thrashed with bamboo flails and thus separated from their stalks. They are then crushed... They are then well steamed over an open kettle, the water in which is kept boiling by a wood fire underneath.
From the steaming sieve the mixture is placed “all hot" into the press bags... and quickly as possible placed in the press... Wedges are driven home by repeated blows of a mallet, and the liquid runs off into its receptacle at the bottom.

After being fully pressed, the “cake" or residue of the wax fibre is broken up, again steamed and once more put through the press, thus yielding all its available wax.  

Meantime the liquid quickly solidifies into a large block of a dark green, coarse and tallowy substance, which is at once boiled down and run off into small earthenware saucers...

In order to purify and bleach the wax for export, it now becomes necessary to re-boil it in its present stage mixed with water and ashes (either shell or charcoal ashes), and again run it off into large blocks. These blocks are then cut up into thin strips or stored, placed on mats and exposed to the air, during fine clear weather only, for a period of fifteen days, and occasionally sprinkled with water. The material is then again boiled down, mixed with water only this time, and run into large blocks. Once more are these blocks cut up into thin strips and again exposed to the air; this time for a period of about five days. Again boiled down, with no water, the impurities rise to the surface and are skimmed off, leaving the residue to be run into saucers, assuming the shape and colour of sample No. 4, which is the vegetable wax as known to the European consumer.3 

Iwashiro Province (岩代国 Iwashiro no kuni) is an old province in the area of Fukushima Prefecture. It was sometimes called Ganshū (岩州). The province occupies the western half of the central part of Fukushima Prefecture; the eastern half is Iwaki Province. More precisely, Date and Adachi Districts in the north belong to Iwashiro and Higashishirakawa and Nishishirakawa Districts in the south belong to Iwaki. The border between the two provinces is the Abukuma River.5

Multiple Editions (Variant Printings)

At least three variant printings (editions) were made of this series.  Each variant printing uses a different colored cartouche, either red, green or rainbow-colored.  Different colored borders were also used and variances in the use of colors and shading are present in the three editions.

Variant with "rainbow-colored" series cartouche. Also note the yellow
cartouches in the lower left and right margins containing the artist's
name and publisher's name, absent from this collection's print.

Transcription of Scroll

The scroll outlines the steps in refining wax - melt the wax and place it in a box with a hole and let it drip into a large vat filled with cold water. Squeeze the water out and then spread it on a mat. Expose it to sunlight for fifteen or sixteen days. Pack it and then ship it.

Source: website of the Art Research Center, Ritsumeikan University

個別解説:「しぼりたる液を鍋にて溶し 大なる桶へ冷水を汲 その上に穴の穿たる筥を置き とかしたる蝋を筥の内に入るれば 穴より漏れてひや水の中にながるゝを 手をもつてつよくもみ 筵へちらして日光に曝しかわかす事十五六日のち たわらにつめて諸国に出す

1 Transactions of The Asiatic Society of Japan, Vol. III, Part 1, 1875, p. 101
2 website of Bernd Lepach "Meiji Portraits"
3 op. cit., Transactions of the Asiatic Society extracted from the full report p. 98-101

Print Details

 IHL Catalog
 Title or Description Making Wax in Iwashiro Province
 同蝋ヲ製ス dō (Iwashiro no kuni) rō o seisu zu
 Dai Nippon Bussan Zue 大日本物産図会 (Products of Greater Japan)
 Artist Utagawa Hiroshige III (1842–1894)
 not signed Note: the prints in the series are not signed but the artist's family name Andō Tokubei is printed in a cartouche in the lower left margin on some prints 

 Seal none
 Publication Date 1877 (Meiji 10) 
Ōkura Magobei 大倉孫兵衛 (Kin'eido; 1843-1921) [Marks: pub. ref. 627]
 Note: publisher's information does not appear on this print.
 Impression excellent
 Colors excellent
 Condition good - vertical centerfold and minor marks
 Genre nishiki-e; kaika-e
 Format chuban
 H x W Paper 
 6 15/16 x 9 1/2 in. (17.6 x 24.1 cm)
 H x W Image
 6 3/8 x 9 in.  (16.2 x 22.9 cm)

 Collections This Print
 Waseda University Library 請求記号 Call No.ヨ01 04265; National Institutes for the Humanities (National Museum of Japanese History) H-22-1-30-7-25; Chiba City Museum  
last revision:
2/13/2021 - created