Tag Archives: japanese prints

Happy New Year, again

My tree is more than 26 feet in circumference. About 20 feet away is one that is 12 feet around. Between the two is one window. This photo taken from my back deck.

utagawa kuniyoshi, business card, 2.5 inches by 3.5 inches, artist: utagawa_school

Men Acting Like Women

Artist Kuniyoshi (1797-1861) shows a Kabuki actor dressed as a woman from the series “Index of Favorite Actors Showing Off”. The face reflected in the battledore -shaped mirror is identical. The feet are too large and masculine for a woman in this beautiful Japanese print.

Why did Kabuki theater have only male actors? Because women were punished by legislation that was intended to curb the prostitution that followed the first performances (later, young boys were also banned from performing for the same reason). The history of Kabuki began in 1603 when a woman, Izumo no Okuni, who was an apprentice at the Temple of Izumo began performing with a troupe of female dancers a daring new style of dance drama, on a makeshift stage in the dry bed of the Kamo River in Kyoto according to the Encyclopedia Brittanica.
The older Noh style of dance was formal, gracefully stylized and with a tradition influenced by Buddist doctrine. Noh was stately, for aristocratic samurai audiences while Kabuki was wild, shocking and flamboyantly dramatic; appealing to the average citizen. Kyogen is a third form of ancient comedic theater for the masses with an influence on Kabuki (See youtube.com, NHK Kabuki Kool 2016, Discover Kabuki Based on Noh and Kyogen Documentary). Kabuki was the first entertainment conceived for the masses.
I propose that it is Okuni’s revenge that male actors have had to study femininity closely for hundreds of years. Walking miles in the shoes of female warriors, poets, ghosts and all types of heroines on stage has surely led to a unique understanding and respect for women by the actors and by the artist.

Information from kuniyoshiproject.com

Series: Index of Favorite Actors Showing Off, Yakusha kidori hi-iki-biiki,
Subject: Female standing in front of calligraphy
Actor: Ichikawa Hakuen
Publisher: Maru-ya Jimpachi, c. 1840
Size: Oban, about 14″ x 10″
Artist: Kuniyoshi

Charming Creatures: Sennin Shohei (初平)

From Kuniyoshi’s 1847 series: Sixteen Female Sennin, Charming Creatures. Sennin is a loan word from Chinese, where they were Taoist wise immortals. Pictured on this print, a beautiful woman holds a cloth while her cat eats a fish. An overturned bowl is on the floor behind her. She seems happy and serene but I am unable to find any information on the Sennin Shohei, so part of the meaning is lost on me.

(Enshi jû-roku josen, 艶姿十六女仙)

From Kuniyoshiproject.com:

In addition to the eight principal male immortals, some texts also mention eight female immortals.  This series pair beautiful women with each of these sixteen immortals, with a poem inscribed on each print.  The series is listed as number 58 in Kuniyoshi by Basil William Robinson (Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1961).

Samurai hunt, tiger hunt

I own the far left panel of this triptych by Kuniyoshi. Today I was very interested to see the entire image. From knowledge of the left panel only, the subject was samurai being ripped apart by tigers and a leopard. Kuniyoshi has shown both sides of the savagery in his art.

Information from the Fujiarts.com online gallery:

Original Kuniyoshi (1797 – 1861) Japanese Woodblock Print
Watonai Chasing Tigers, 1855

Comments – Incredible triptych of the renowned samurai Kato Kiyomasa (here called Watonai) and his men chasing tigers in Taiwan which have carried off some of his men. Kiyomasa was a leader during Japan’s Seven Year War with Korea in the 16th century. Fully armed and clutching a spear, the warrior watches from a cliff overhanging a river as two tigers swim away with soldiers in their mouths, a young cub perched on the back of one animal. On the opposite shore, another tiger mauls its victim. The dark night sky and craggy rocks heighten the tension of the scene. An amazing woodblock with a great dramatic subject, beautifully detailed and shaded. A wonderful choice for collectors interested in the samurai tradition.

Artist – Kuniyoshi (1797 – 1861)

Image Size – 14 1/4″ x 29 3/4″

Condition – This print with excellent color and detail as shown. Three separate panels. A few small wormholes, repaired. A few creases. Please see photos for details.

At the Barbershop

A pleasant scene from artist Kuniyoshi from the life of a mid-19th century Japanese man. This genre ukiyo-e is fascinating. It explains how the men of the time acquired their fancy topknots. The customer is relaxed and serene as the barber concentrates on the job before him. The tatami mats and the beautifully marbelized toolbox create marvelous detail.

Information from Fujiarts.com:

Kuniyoshi (1797 – 1861) Japanese Woodblock Print
Barber Styling a Man’s Hair, 1848

Barber Styling a Man’s Hair, 1848 – Handsome kabuki scene of a barber styling the hair of Nosaku no Kyusaku, who sits on a straw mat, his legs crossed before him. The barber leans over as he combs the man’s hair, frowning angrily. A wooden chest at lower left holds the barber’s tools and a basin of water for shaving customers. Nicely detailed with an interesting setting.

Artist – Kuniyoshi (1797 – 1861)

Image Size – 13 7/8″ x 9 3/4″

Samurai Bunny Rabbit scream

Master of the incongruous, artist Kuniyoshi (1797-1861), must have laughed at his own creation. The threatening, screaming samurai with a cute bunny rabbit helmet. The first time I saw this print as a small black and white illustration in B.W. Robinson’s excellent book, Kuniyoshi: The Warrior Prints (1982 Cornell University Press), I laughed out loud. It makes me wish I lived 200 years ago so that I could have known such a hilarious person.

Information follows from Fujiarts.com website:

Original Kuniyoshi (1797 – 1861) Japanese Woodblock Print
Hare: Shinozuka Iga no Kami

Series; Japanese Heroes for the Twelve Signs, 1854

Hare: Shinozuka Iga no Kami – Terrific portrait of the legendary samurai Shinozuka Iga no Kami, a retainer of the Nitta Clan renowned for his great strength. He is shown standing on the shore during a battle, the sea raging behind him as he grips a spear with both hands. His mouth is open in a ferocious yell, the flowing white mane of his battle helmet adding to his fierce appearance. The rocky ground below is littered with broken arrows and a fallen standard. Beautifully detailed with subtle burnishing on the black armor and delicate embossing on the flowing white wig of the helmet which is topped with Shinozuka’s emblem of a golden hare. A bold Kuniyoshi warrior design.

Artist – Kuniyoshi (1797 – 1861)

Image Size – 14 1/8″ x 9 5/8″

Poetess as parrot, actor as poetess

Artist Kuniyoshi presents actor Ichikawa Danjuro VIII representing poetess Ono no Komachi in a legendary act (explanation below from the Fujiarts.com website). It’s intriguing that a male actor portrays a woman writer. Any excuse to use the popular actor helped print sales. As with so many works of Kuniyoshi, layers upon layers of association are wrapped in beautiful imagery. Danjuro VIII is an actor who “parrots” a playwright ‘s words. The actor was a famous beauty, and so was the poetess Komachi. Komachi was a historical figure; Kabuki plays are often based on history.

Parrot: Ichikawa Danjuro VIII

Series; Modern Seven Komachi, 1851

Modern Seven Komachi – Handsome design from an 1851 Kuniyoshi series depicting kabuki actors in scenes associated with the famous ninth-century poetess Ono no Komachi. The subjects are taken from a series of seven Noh plays (Nanakomachi) dealing with legendary events during the beauty’s life. A rarely seen series and an interesting choice for a Kuniyoshi collector.

Parrot: Ichikawa Danjuro VIII – Terrific image of Ichikawa Danjuro VIII sitting on a platform over a river, painting folding fans. He looks over his shoulder with a sly expression, a brush in hand and a portable writing set on the tatami mat next to him. Misty clouds rise form the swirling water, with mountains in the distance. The “parrot” episode refers to a poem of pity that the emperor sent to the elderly Komachi. She changed one word of the verse, completely altering its meaning, and returned it to the emperor, demonstrating her wit even though she was “parroting” his words. A lovely composition with beautiful color and detail, and fine bokashi shading.

Artist – Kuniyoshi (1797 – 1861)

Image Size – 13 3/4″ x 9 1/2″

Horoscope signs

Selection (or parody) for the Twelve Signs (Mitate jûnishi no uchi, 見立十二支の内) is artist Kuniyoshi’s series by publisher Kakumoto-ya Kinjiro from 1852. Information on this print is from the highly recommended KuniyoshiProject.com. I added this to my collection a while ago because of its beautiful condition and subject matter. Kabuki theater, actor Ichikawa Danjuro VIII, the male actor Bando Shuka I in a female role (onnagata), and horoscope signs make for an intriguing mix. Without seeing the play, it’s hard to figure out what this has to do with the qualities of the Year of the Hare. But the adorable rabbits drawn around the cartouche containing the series name are irresistible.

Sign: Hare (卯)

Foreground bust: Bandô Shuka I as Kosan the bathhouse girl (小さん) holding a letter. Due to govermental regulations, no women were permitted on stage.

Smaller figure: Ichikawa Danjûrô VIII as Omatsuri Kingorô (金五郎).Ichikawa Danjuro VIII was the Elvis of his day in Japan, handsome and wildly popular until his shocking suicide in 1854.

PlayChikai Musubi ukina no Tategaku (盟結艶立額)


Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861) is my favorite Japanese print ukiyo-e artist. His draftsmanship, color, and imagination alone mark him as a genius. Although he lived in a time when Japan, as many countries, attempted to subjugate women … Kuniyoshi seems to be, if not a femnist, sensitive and respectful.

This print, that I bought today, is described on the Fujiarts.com website as:

Urazato, Katsumi, and Midori, 1847 – 1852 – Interesting kabuki scene of the courtesan Urazato and her two young kamuro or child apprentices in the snow. Urazato’s employer had forbidden her to see her sweetheart, Tokijiro, and when he discovered they had been meeting, he beat her and left her tied up in the garden in winter. Here, the beauty smiles as she looks up as the couple’s daughter, Midori, shelters her mother from the falling snow with a large hat. Her other kamuro, Katsumi, clings to her knee. A sweet moment between the mother and daughter despite the circumstances, nicely captured with expressive figures and an attractive setting.

Artist – Kuniyoshi (1797 – 1861)

Image Size – 14 3/8″ x 9 3/4″ + margins as shown

Condition – This print with excellent color and detail as shown. Diagonal folds. Creasing and wrinkling, slight toning and soiling. Please see photos for details.