Authors: Scott Skinner
Date Submitted: March 31, 2009
Article Type: Discourse

A sugoroku is a Japanese woodblock print meant to be used as a game board. They were usually produced to be New Year’s gifts and depicted popular subjects to make them appealing to parents and children: scenes from the Tokaido Road, views of Mt. Fuji, neighborhood maps of old Edo districts, and so forth. The game was much like “Chutes and Ladders” with a die to send players to sugoroku squares on which instructions would send them forward or back. Like the New Year’s kites that this particular sugoroku depicts, I suspect they were ephemeral objects, probably worn out within a year or two and replaced with a new edition.

This is what I wrote in the introduction of Soaring Kite Sugoroku:

This book is the result of a 20-years collecting-mania. I walked into a Japanese antique store in Newport, Rhode Island and found a Hokusai ukiyo-e that happened to have a kite. Thinking that these would be an obscure but interesting addition to the rest of my kite collection, I began in earnest to search them out. Timing is everything, and it turned out that that trip to Rhode Island took me to Japan for the first time – I won a trip to Nagasaki, courtesy of the Blackships Kite Festival. Through the nineties I was lucky to travel to kite festivals almost a dozen times, and each became a quest for new ukiyo-e. With a few free hours, I could always find a store specializing in the prints, and with an hour’s work would often find one or more. As with any collection, these took on a life of their own in the late 1990s, as dealers solicited my business and more and more prints came my way.

The sugoroku herein is likely the “Hope Diamond” of my collection; itis exceedingly rare, surprisingly specific, and subtly beautiful. It was produced at a time when kites were exceedingly sophi s t icated and beautiful and is of an ukiyo-e genre that is just as ephemeral as its subject, kites. These New Year’s games were meant to be played – just as kites were – and in so doing must have been worn out by the next New Year’s edition. Many of the kites and their decorations are seen often in ukiyo-e, yet some of the scenes reflect the artist’s humor and attention to the pastime (I have never seen the lineclimbing monkey depicted in an ukiyo-e!).

Page Number: 24
PDF Link: Discourse Issue