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Kitagawa Utamaro (ca. 1753 – 31 October 1806)

Twelve Hours of the Green Houses (1794–1795)
(Photo credit: Wikipaintings)

These are Utamaro’s depiction of each of the twelve hours of the traditional Japanese clock. The Hours constitute a series of ukiyo-e (“pictures of the floating world”) prints. Utamaro is the first of the three Japanese artists I have featured. His bijinga (“beautiful person picture”) earned him fame. 


Each hour is named after an animal. Japan has its bestiary, except that the symbolism attached to Oriental animals often differs from the symbolism attached to animals inhabiting the Western bestiary. The significance of each animal has little to do with the “real” or mythical animal.  These animals are anthropomorphic, i.e. humans in disguise.


In the Western world, we have Books of Hours based on the Liber Usualis and the Rule of Benedict. The Liber Usualis is a compendium of Gregorian chants rooted in Western monasticism. There are eight Canonical Hours observed by monks.

As for Books of Hours, they are religious in spirit, but were made for lay Christians. Les Riches Heures de Jean de France, Duc de Berry features exquisite illuminations, from enluminures (FR), and fine calligraphy. The Fitzwilliam Book of Hours is also an exceptional work of art.

Human beings have chronicled time, beginning with hours. However, months are also chronicled as are seasons: soltices and equinoxes. Meisho (“famous places”) prints show not only famous places, but people going about their everyday activities or domestic duties and some are divided according to seasons. Utagawa Hiroshige‘s series One Hundred Famous Views of Edo is divided into seasons.

  1. The Hour of the Rat: 23 – 1h
  2. The Hour of the Ox: 1 -3h
  3. The Hour of the Tiger: 3 – 5h
  4. The Hour of the Hare: 5 – 7h
  5. The Hour of the Dragon: 7 – 9h (alternate image)
  6. The Hour of the Snake: 9 – 11h (alternate image)
  7. The Hour of the Horse: 11 – 13h (altermate image)
  8. The Hour of the Sheep: 13 – 15h (alternate images)*
  9. The Hour of the Monkey: 15 – 17h
  10. The Hour of the Rooster: 17 – 19h (alternate image)
  11. The Hour of the Dog: 19 – 21h
  12. The Hour of the Boar: 21 – 23h
The Hour of the Ramin
(Twelve Hours of the Green House)
*Twelve Hours of the Yoshiwara (to my knowledge, an alternate title)
& Twelve Hours of the Yoshiwara

Image at the foot of this post

‘Midori of the Hinataka’
from The Hour of the Rat


1. (above) 2. 3. 4. (below)


5. 6. 7. 8.the-hour-of-the-dragon (1) 9. 10. 11. 12.






© Micheline Walker
17 July 2013