Odori Hitori Geiko

How to Dance Like a 19th-Century Japanese Man

Compact, paper-bound, picture-filled books of Japan’s Edo period helped democratize reading — and apparently dance lessons — for those living under the strict rule of shoguns from 1615 to 1868.

These beautiful wood-block illustrated books, called “ehon,” circulated widely, and examples of the volumes are currently on display at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in Washington, D.C., as part of an exhibit called “Hand-Held: Gerhard Pulverer’s Japanese Illustrated Books.”

One of the highlights of this show is an 1815 book called Odori Hitori Geiko,” translated as “Dance Instruction Manual,” or “Practice Dancing Alone.” The manual acts like a step-by-step guide for some traditional dance sequences, and it was illustrated by Katsushika Hokusai, the Japanese artist credited with one of the most recognizable images of the past 200 years: “The Great Wave off Kanagawa.” Read more.


Smithsonian Gov Doc: Odori Hitori Geiko (Dance Instruction Manual)

This image is from Odori Hitori Geiko (Dance Instruction Manual) by Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849) and was in the exhibition, “Hand-Held: Gerhard Pulverer’s Japanese Illustrated Books.” The exhibition highlights The Gerhard Pulverer Collection, which was acquired in its entirety by the Freer in 2007 and includes many of the rarest and most pristine illustrated books from the Edo period.

This object is one of 137 million artifacts, works of art and specimens in the Smithsonian’s collection. To learn more about ehon, the exhibition and the Pulverer Collection, visit the Freer and Sackler galleries’ website.