On the Grand Canal, Osaka

On the Great Canal, Osaka by Mortimer Menpes. 1901. Watercolor. Source: Japan: A Record in Colour, facing p. 48. Menpes describes his experience of Osaka at some length:

It was not until I arrived in Osaka, the Venice of Japan, that I gave up dreaming and seriously began to work. Here was scope indeed! Osaka is the city of furnaces, factories, and commerce, — the centre of the modern spirit of feverish activity in manufacturing and commercial enterprise. Western ugliness has invaded certain quarters; yet the artistic feeling predominates. The Ajikawa is still the Ajikawa of the olden time, and on the eastern side of the city is the Kizugawa, into which — thanks to the shallowness of the bar — no steamer ever intrudes, while the city itself is intersected by a vast network of canals and waterways, all teeming with junks and barges, and crossed by graceful wooden bridges which lend themselves admirably to line. The Kizugawa fascinates the painter. Away from the bustle of the factories and the shrieking of the whistles, the great junks from northern Hakodate or the sunny Loochos lie sleepily silent. They are the Leviathans of their kind. Intermingling with them are innumerable barges and fishing-boats, stretching far up the river, their masts and cordage seeming one vast spider’s web. Not a single vessel is painted — from the huge sea-going junk to the narrow-prowed barge. Near the water-line the wood has taken a silvery tone; but above, it looks in the sunlight like light gold. And the cargoes of rice in straw bales, piled high over the bulwarks, are 103 also golden. A steam-launch has in tow half a dozen barges, which, with their unpainted woodwork, rice bales, and straw-coloured connecting cable, appear against the dark water as a knotted golden thread. In the endless perspective of junks the golden tone predominates; but it is relieved by the colouring of the buildings on the river banks. There is no monotony, for no two houses are similar either in tint or in design; and there is no stiffness of line. The builders are all artists, to whose instincts repetition would do violence. [46-47]

It is hard to imagine this scene now, just as it is hard to imagine the area of the Pool of London in those days. Osaka Port has been massively developed in modern times. But the dynamic (if also, often, frenetic) spirit of Osaka is not only still alive and well; it has been ratcheted up a few notches. However, the Ōkawa (Kyū-Yodo River) which flows past Osaka Castle is still very scenic. — Jacqueline Banerjee

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Related Material


Menpes, Dorothy. Japan: A Record in Colour. London: Adam & Charles Black, 1901. Internet Archive version of a copy in the University of California Libraries. Web. 23 June 2019.

Created 22 June 2019