JAPANESE PRINTS

A MILLION QUESTIONS

TWO MILLION MYSTERIES

 

Ukiyo-e Prints

浮世絵版画

Port Townsend, Washington

 

 

TSURUYA KOKEI

光渓

つるやこうけい

Born 1946

Portrait of Ichimura Uzaemon XVII as Seno Jurō Kaneuji

市村羽左衛門代目

いちむらうざえもんじゅうしちだいめ

瀬尾十郎兼氏

おじゅうろうかねうじ

From the play Genpei Nunobiki no Taki

"The Genji and Heike at Nunobiki Waterfall"

源平布引瀧

げんぺいぬのびきのたき

Printed on Tosa ganpi paper made in Kochi Prefecture
Blocks carved from Magnolia obovata (Thun.)
Number 65 of an edition of 90

Seal: "A work by Kokei, 90 impressions"

Listed as seal 36

1995, 11th Month

Heisei 7

平成7

15 1/2" x 10"
 
$740.00

 

The term Genpei (源平 or げんぺい) means

the Heike and Genji clans or two opposing sides.

Nunobiki (布引 or ぬのびき) means stretching of cloth, but here is a place name. Some sources say that this waterfall got its name because of its similarity to a stretched piece of cloth. A view of the falls gives total credence to this concept.

Taki ( 瀧 or たき ) means waterfall

 

Frontal View

Rear View

Printed right above the figures right shoulder is the number 156.

This was to indicate that this was the artist's 156th design.

 

KOKEI AND HIS ART

Kokei mastered two separate aspects of Japanese prints: one was the traditional okubi-e (大首絵 or おくびえ) or large portrait head and the other was the production of sosaku hanga (創作版画 or そうさくはんが) or creative print. Born in 1946 he began his artistic career at the age of 32 and retired twenty-two years later in 2000.

 

Like artists everywhere his success was slow in coming. It wasn’t until some years after he began selling his images at the Kabuki-za (歌舞伎座 or  かぶきざ) in Tokyo that his success was assured.

 

It took at least 40 days to produce a print from start to finish. Like other sosaku artists he drew, carved and printed each of his works entirely by himself. After the editions were printed he destroyed the blocks. In time this would give him better control over his market and guaranteed the rising value of individual prints due to rarity. Every time one of his images entered a public collection such as the British Museum (大英博物館 or   だいえいはくぶつかん)there would be fewer copies in the open marketplace and the competition for the remaining examples would be fiercer.

 

His works are printed on ganpi which is a remarkable thin translucent paper and they are enhanced by the use of mica. Each of these traits speaks volumes about his remarkably skillful mastery of his craft and his art.

 

Kokei is said to cancel his woodblocks when he has finished an edition by carving his name prominently across them.

 

This particular image represents Seno Juro from the kabuki play Genpei Nunobiki no Taki. It is also commonly known as the Sanemori Monogatari (実盛物語 or  さねもりものがたり). Like so many other kabuki plays this one is complex and convoluted: there are mistaken identities, role reversals, self-decapitation, abandoned children, attempted infanticide, supernatural body parts and much, much more. The crux of the story is very loosely based on an aspect of the Heike-Genji conflict of the twelfth century. The first theatrical production took place in 1749 in a puppet play.

 

This print is accompanied by a Japanese certificate of authenticity.

 

 

THE WOOD USED

 

MAGNOLIA OBOVATA (THUN.)

 

朴の木

HŌNOKI

ほおのき

 

Above is an example showing the grain of the Magnolia obovata tree.

First off, let me tell you, I am not a wood worker. I am not even good at identifying different kinds of woods by their grains. But I am a wood lover and appreciate their beauties and their wonderful qualities brought out by  great craftsmen. When I was very young my parents took me to Chicago where we visited the Museum of Science and Industry. I remember all kinds of things about that visit: The Colleen Moore dollhouse; the coal mine; the submarine; the crystals and how they grow; but most especially I remember the examples showing the richness of all kinds of wood grains from all over the world.(1) My favorite at the time was Brazilian rosewood. So, I don't have to know the different woods to appreciate them. (You don't have to be a gourmet chef to enjoy an incredible meal, do you?)

 

Now I work with Japanese woodblock prints and naturally the topic of the various woods being used comes up frequently. Here my knowledge is more academic than real. Credible sources tell us that the most commonly used wood came from the wild cherry tree or yamazakura (山桜 or やまざくら). Rebecca Salter in her Japanese Woodblock Printing states that "Japan was particularly fortunate in having plentiful supplies of yamazakura (wild mountain cherry, Prunus serrulata) which was perfect for the technique. The yamazakura has few flowers or fruit and the pith on the inside lining of each annual growth ring is the same density as the ring itself. The best planks come from trees grown on mountains near the sea, particularly on the Izu peninsula near Tōkyō."(2)

I always thought that the standard oban woodblock size might possibly be governed by the more diminutive size of the wild cherry wood trees, but I was wrong. One authoritative botanical site states clearly that some of these trees would grow up to 60' in height with 12' diameters. More than large enough even with wastage for prints oban or larger. Once felled the logs of this tree are left to dry for two years before being cut into planks. Then those planks are left to age in the shade for several more years. "During this time, planks which warped or split were discarded."(3)

 

Salter notes that the cherry wood was "fine and even" and relatively easy to carve without splintering. However, "Cherry from too far north in Japan was considered tougher to carve and did not take the color well."(4) On page 17 she discusses other types of wood used for carving woodblocks. One of these of course is hō, a shortened form of the word hōnoki. "Hō is quite lightweight  and good for small prints, having an easily carved, soft and uniform texture."(5) However, Toshi Yoshida and Rei Yuki in their book Japanese Print Making: A Handbook of Traditional & Modern Techniques do make one clarifying point: "Although Japan has a rich variety of trees and although many kinds of wood have been tried through the centuries, it is only yamazakura...that has proved to [have all of the] requirements  for ukiyo-e printing. Other woods such as hō and katsura...are good for making modern prints, but do not fill the requirements  for making the traditional type of prints."(6)

 

Above is an example showing the grain of the wild cherry tree or  yamazakura.

1. Don't be too quick to judge me for mentioning Colleen Moore's dollhouse. Miss Moore was a silent screen film star who devoted a lot of time and money into the creation of this masterpiece. When we visited there was an extra charge just to see it. According to museum authorities approximately 1,500,000 people view it every year on an average. I can remember many different things about it like its kitchen, lighting, fountains, but most of all I remember its library filled with miniature books. If my memory doesn't escape me that was the same room that contained a reliquary holding a splinter from the 'True Cross' given to Ms. Moore by Clare Booth Luce. Mrs. Luce had received it from the Pope Pius XII when she was the American Ambassador to Italy.

2. Japanese Woodblock Printing, by Rebecca Salter, University of Hawai'i Press, 2001, p. 15.

3. Ibid., p. 16.

4. Ibid., p. 15.

5. Ibid., p. 17.

6. Japanese Print Making: A Handbook of Traditional & Modern Techniques, by Toshi Yoshida and Rei Yuki, published by Charles E. Tuttle Company, 1966, p. 30. (Katsura - 桂 or かつら)

 

Above is an example showing the grain of the  Katsura.

WHAT DOES THE THUN. OF

MAGNOLIA OBOVATA (THUN.) MEAN?

As you can probably tell from my previous comments I am no botanist. However, I am always inquisitive and eager to learn. That is why once I had begun to research Magnolia obovata and found the 'Thun.' after it I wasn't going to rest until I figured it out what it meant. I had a general idea, but had trouble discovering the specifics. I looked it up on the Internet. Nada. I looked it up in the Oxford English Dictionary and found several references, but they were all listed as 'Thun.' and that was no help. So, I went back to the Internet and the funny thing is that if you keep trying and it is out there you will find it and I did.

 

A student of Carl Linnaeus (1707-78) Carl Peter Thunberg (1743-1828) was a Swedish physician and botanist who visited Japan for a year in 1775. As an employee of the Dutch East India company he lived in Nagasaki which was the only port allowed to foreigners at the time. During his sojourn he catalogued more than 800 plants and lectured to Japanese scholars on European medicine, astronomy, botany and zoology. What a remarkable man. After Thunberg returned to Sweden he taught at the University of Uppsala and published books about his research including the Flora Japonica (1784) and the Icones plantarum Japonicarum (1794-1805).

 

Thunberg was permitted a visit to Edo to the shogun's court where he met one of his most significant Japanese contacts Katsuraga Hoshū (桂川甫周 or かつらがわほしゅう / 1751-1809). In 1777 Hoshū was the sixth member of his family to be named as private physician to a shogun. During his career he collaborated on a translation of the first European volume on anatomy to appear in Japan.

カール.ペーター.トゥーンベリ

 

I READ THIS ON MAY 28, 2008:

HIROSHI YOSHIDA'S DISPARAGING REMARKS ABOUT

HŌNOKI

 

"Hōnoki is rather soft. Its surface with the rough fibre produces an impression not altogether pleasing. But beginners use it mainly on account of its being easy to cut. Sakura and katsura have a harder grain, but they are more satisfactory than hōnoki. In olden times other kinds of wood, such as keyaki (Zelkowa serrata, Mak.), were inlaid in the block in order to give the benefit of the grain in special selected parts of the print."

Quoted from: Japanese Wood-block Printing, by Hiroshi Yoshida, 1939, p. 17.

These comments are all that much more remarkable considering how ably Kokei mastered his craft using this wood.

 

 

AS IF THINGS WERE CONFUSING ENOUGH

GANPI vs. GAMPI

雁皮 vs. 雁皮

These are the same thing. When doing research look them both up. They are interchangeable.

 

GANPISHI

雁皮紙

がんぴし

 

"The Heian Period (794-1185) was the 'golden age' of papermaking, not so much for quantity but for quality and variety. With the flowering of courtly culture...there developed a wider demand for both official papers and luxuriously decorated sheets on which to keep diaries, write poems and so forth. Little, if any, however, found its way into the hands of the common people." (1)

"It is the paper equivalent of silk" (2)

Numerous sources make it very clear that ganpi is different from other papers not only by its qualities, but also because its source plant can --- or could --- not be cultivated. (3) "The seven or eight varieties of gampi are collected from February to May when the branches are still saturated with water. They are then stripped of bark without prior seasoning and are dried. Their long, fine fibres are totally resistant to insect damage." (4)

 

During the Heian Period Hizen Province "...paid a tribute of gampi to the [Court]..." (5)

 

In sixteenth century literature the village of Kawakita is mentioned for its thin gampi  used in the production of hakuuchigami, a "...paper used as a base sheet for the beating of gold and silver foil. A little clay is added to increase the paper's heat resistance, and the surface is made especially smooth with carefully chosen materials." After World War II production fell off sharply: "Nearly all the workers in her mill are women; it is said that it takes the skilled hands and eyes of women papermakers to produce a perfectly smooth and even gampi paper." (6)

"To increase its durability and smoothness, gold foil beaters soak hakuuchigami in straw ash mixed with eggs and kaki-shibu for ten hours or more, dry it, and give it an additional beating." In recent years it has become popular for painting and calligraphy because of its outstanding qualities. (7)

 

There is a type of gampi paper called torinoko (鳥の子) which was first mentioned in the literature of  circa 1330. "It is called torinoko ('child of the bird') because the color of the paper is like that of the shell of an egg."  It is this type of gampi paper which was being acclaimed as "the king of papers" by 1684. (8)

 

"Since Omi torinokogami is strong and durable, it was once made into paper money by the local clan. It was particularly useful as a base paper for gold and silver leaf, which was processed in Kyoto into thread for weaving and embroidering." (9)

 

"The court ladies of the Heian Period preferred gampi paper for the poem-writing, and large quantities of Omi torinokogami were used at poetry parties." Local artisans  learned the secret of decorating the gampi with flecks of gold and silver.  Few examples of this paper exist today. (10)

 

If you were to see comprehensive exhibitions of Rembrandt (レンブラント) or Whistler (ホイッスラー) etchings you would occasionally see  prints which  exhibit a warm, yellowish glow. These are often printed on remarkably thin paper which almost defy the process and which stand apart from the rest of these artists' oeuvres. These are often described as being etched on papier japon. Perhaps at times this papier japon is ganpi like that used by Kokei.

The most instructive element of these prints comes through a personal handling outside of frames. However, even framed it is also instructive to see the same image printed on two distinctly different types of paper: one japon and one European.

REMBRANDT AND GANPI

レンブラント

雁皮

"From about 1647 onwards, Rembrandt frequently printed on papers of non-European origin. Although these papers vary in weight and color, study and analysis have shown most of them to be of Japanese manufacture and composed entirely of the fibers of the inner bark of the gampi plant." (11)

The Dutch had exclusive trading rights with the Japanese at this time. However, there is only a record of two small shipments of paper to Europe: one in 1643 and the next one a year later. This would have been the source of Rembrandt's papers and must have been extremely expensive. This gampi ranged in color from almost pure white "...through pale yellows to dark golds [and] there are shades of warm and pearly greys as well." (12)

"Aside from the pleasures of color and texture it affords, the quality that makes gampi paper so unusual and eminently appropriate for pulling prints is its soft surface which receives ink readily under minimum pressure, and so does not wear down fine drypoint lines and burr as quickly as rougher paper surfaces tend to do. Japanese paper expands when dampened and shrinks when dried, more so than European papers." (13)

 

(1) "Washi", Kodansha Enclyclopedia of Japan, entry by Brian Hickman, vol. 8, 1983, p. 232.

Heian period (Heian jidai 平安時代 or へいあんじだい)

Washi (和紙 or わし) = Japanese paper

George Hoffmann (ジョージ.ホフマン), in his award winning Montaigne's Career published in 1998, wrote about the great essayist's life at his chateau near Bordeaux including a description of the contents of his library and how expensive and rare these volumes were. Generally, today, we tend to think of Gutenberg's press as having liberated the masses with the newly availabile printed matter. But such was not the case. Like so many other inventions the early costs of production were truly dear and  added to that literacy was the domain of the nobility and the church and they were the only ones who could afford such precious items. The same would have been true of the acquisition and use of paper in Heian Japan.

(2) The Art of Japanese Paper, by Dominique Buisson, published by Terrail, Paris, 1992, p. 10.

(3) Some contemporary sources state that with time and patience ganpi can be farmed, but only on a very limited scale. In this age of immediacy it is hard to believe anyone would even try.

(4) Ibid., p. 26.

(5) Tesuki WASHI Shuho: Fine Handmade Papers of Japan, by Yasuo Kume, published by Yushodo, Tokyo, 1980, vol. I, p. 99.

(6) Ibid., p. 31.

(7) Ibid.

(8) Ibid., p. 35.

(9) Ibid. p. 56

(10) Ibid.

(11) Rembrandt: Experimental Etcher, Hacker Art Books, New York, 1988, p. 180.

(12) Ibid.

(13) Ibid.

 

A LITTLE MORE ABOUT

GAMPI

 

During the Heian Period "...male aristocrats used danshi and female ones thin hishi (a fine grade gampi paper) for their poetry. (p. 13)

 

There is a special kind of gampi paper made for both writing and elegant decorative purposes. It is called mizutamagami or  'water drop paper'. "A plain base sheet is formed with gampi, and another gampi paper dyed with indigo is beaten and reduced to short fibers; this solution is thinly scooped onto the base sheet. A small whisk dipped into water is flicked over the paper, and where the drops fall holes form in the indigo sheet to reveal the white sheet underneath." (p. 38)

 

Gampi dates back to as early as the Nara Period (710-794). (p. 51)

 

One gampi maker working at the foot of Mt. Fuji used only boards of horse chestnut to dry his long fibered sheets in the sunshine. (p. 52)

 

Shuzenjigami of Izu was first mentioned in 1444. It is dyed a pale pink and is formed by combining gampi with mitsumata.  "The gampi paper made at Atami in the middle of the Edo Period probably belonged to the Shuzenjigami tradition. This paper, dyed to the tastes of calligraphers and the literati, was sold by paper wholesalers in Edo and gained tremendous popularity. It is said to have survived up to the end of the Taisho Period." (p. 53)

 

Omi-torinokogami, a gampi product, "...remains indispensible in the repair of valuable cultural properties..." "The village of Kiryu is located where the Kusatsu River flows down from the mountains to the plain around Lake Biwa. The  gampi trees that grow on the slopes of these mountains were a major factro in Kiryu's development into a center of torinokogami production." (p. 55)

 

"The white bark of the fiber is usually boiled with soda ash, but special papers, for example those used for repairing cultural properties and the base paper for indigo dyeing, are boiled with lye extracted from wood ash." While most papermakers remove impurities only once special papers require a second repitition of this process. "The wet sheets are then placed on boards and dried in the sun." While horse chestnut was mentioned above gampi requires the smoothness of ginko surfaces. "Traces of the drying board's grain can be covered up easily in the case of kozo paper, but gampi requires the smoothest possible surface because its fibers are finer and tend to reproduce the grain." (Ibid.)

 

All quotes are from Tesuki WASHI Shuho: Fine Handmade Papers of Japan, by Yasuo Kume, published by Yushodo, Tokyo, 1980, vol. I.

 

UZAEMON XVII

Born: July 11, 1916 

Died: July 8, 2001.

 

Uzaemon XVII is from a long line of actors going back at least seven generation to the late seventeeth century and probably even earlier. The list of images shown below give a graphic example of that descent.

 

His father was Bandō Hikosaburō VI (1886-1938).

Below he is portrayed by Natori Shunsen in 1928 in the role of Matsuōmaru.

This image is shown courtesy of Kabuki 21.

Click on the image to go to the Kabuki 21 home page.

It is the best and most complete site in English and French on kabuki on the Internet.

His grandfather was Onoe Kikugorō V (1844-1903).

Below is a detail from a print by Kunichika from 1893 in the role of Tetsuzan.

His great grandfather was Ichimura Takenojō V (1812-1851) - aka Ichimura Uzaemon XII.

Below is a detail of a print by Toyokuni III from 1852.

This image is shown courtesy of Kabuki 21.

Click on the image to go to the Kabuki 21 home page.

It is the best and most complete site in English and French on kabuki on the Internet.

Ichimura Uzaemon XII seen above was the son of Ichimura Uzaemon XI (1791-1821).

[No image of Ichimura Uzaemon XII is yet available to us.]

Ichimura Uzaemon XI was the adopted son of Ichimura Uzaemon X (1748-1799).

[No image of Ichimura Uzaemon XI is yet available to us.]

Ichimura Uzaemon X was the son of Ichimura Uzaemon IX (1725-1785).

This detail below is from a print from 1776 by Shunsho.

It shows Uzaemon IX as the umbrella merchant Rokurobei.

Shown courtesy of Kabuki 21.

Click on the image to go to the Kabuki 21 home page.

It is the best and most complete site in English and French on kabuki on the Internet.

Ichimura Uzaemon IX was the son of Ichimura Uzaemon VIII (1698-1762) - aka Ichimura Takenojô IV.

The print of Uzaemon VIII shown below is by Nishimura Shigenaga (1697?-1756) and shown courtesy of Kabuki 21.

Click on the image to go to the Kabuki 21 home page.

It is the best and most complete site in English and French on kabuki on the Internet.

At this point the lineage becomes a bit more muddied. Uzaemon VIII was the younger brother of Uzaemon VII (1681-98) who was the son of Kikuyu Zenbei who was married to the sister of Uzaemon V (1654?-91). When Uzaemon VII's father died he was adopted by Uzaemon V. Before that it gets even more confusing, but if you sit down and make a chart the line can be traced back even further. But for now I am stopping and hope that you have understood the point of this exercise which ends (or begins - depending on how you look at it) with the portrait of Uzaemon XVII featured on this page.

 

 

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ICHIMURA UZAEMON XVII

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ICHIMURA UZAEMON XVII

 

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