In the Edo period when Japan was nationally isolated, only the city of Nagasaki flourished as a portal to foreign contact. Ever exotic and lively, it was a captivating place. The printed materials that depicted things connected with this Kyushu port town are called Nagasaki woodblock prints. These prints are regarded as having been sold as souvenirs to travelers that came there from all over Japan during the Edo era. Foreigners, including the Dutch, Russians, and Chinese, Dutch ships, camels, elephants, and ostriches were all taken up as subject matter in Nagasaki woodblock prints.
The printing techniques used in their production were also unique. The polychromatic printing process that recalls the vivid colors of ukiyoe employ the stencil method called kappazuri. If one looks closely at the details, a slight misalignment in the superimposed colors is noticeable. In the Edo period, when woodblock printing techniques were in the mainstream, the Nagasaki woodblock prints must have been something of a curiosity. The names of such publishing houses as Chikujuken, Hariya, Toshimaya, Bunkindo, Yamatoya, and Baikodo, all based in Nagasaki at that time, can still at least be seen in old Nagasaki woodblock prints, the rough sketches of which are thought to have been mostly made by downtown painters. It is estimated that they were published from the mid-eighteenth century until the last days of the Tokugawa shogunate, although they were largely produced between 1780 and 1830. Six Nagasaki woodblock prints are in the collection of the Printing Museum, Tokyo.