japanese prints

Artist Spotlight and a Giveaway…Ukiyo-e: The Art of the Japanese Print


I’ve been down and out with a bit of a stomach bug the last few days but luckily I’ve had Frederick Harris’s book Ukiyo-e: The Art of the Japanese Print which has been eminently digestible. Harris was a fifty year plus veteran of life in Japan, having come there after serving in the Korean War and staying on to pursue his artistic ambitions. I was lucky enough to know him through the Tokyo American Club before he passed away in 2010.

Ukiyo-e, traditional Japanese prints, have existed since before the 17th century but truly flowered during the Edo period (1603-1868). They were mass-produced and created for mass-consumption by the common man – in effect the postcards and the Instagrams of the day. A four-part team of artist, carver, printer and publisher worked together to produce these images of ‘the floating world’ – impermanent places of pleasure. Geisha and courtesans, kabuki actors and sumo wrestlers, were all common subjects, along with landscape series, flora and fauna and the more unusual shunga (erotic prints) and Yokohama-e (prints with foreigners). Illustrated with only the choicest selections, Harris’s book arranges them by subject rather than chronology or artist, breaking down what can be a very confusing area of work, and highlighting the key issues and players.

He neatly spells out the three great H’s of Japanese scenic prints, Hokusai, Hiroshige and Hasui, spanning a 100 year period. I was not that familiar with Hokusai’s waterfall series which while not as famous as his Mount Fuji series, Harris believed to be his masterpieces. “They are the most contemporary of all his compositions, embracing abstract qualities that do not appear in world art until the twentieth century.” I think he has a point there! Harris highlights the dynamism of what is – in theory – a landscape print by Hiroshige by wondering where the viewer would actually have to be standing to view this Boy’s Day carp streamer. And in Hasui’s shin hanga print, designed to appeal to a Western customer, with its romantic and nostalgic views of Japan, we see a level of craftsmanship and emotional content not seen before. To really appreciate the details, be sure to click and enlarge the images.

Hokusai Hiroshige Hasui

(1) Katsushika HOKUSAI, Kirifuri Waterfall at Mount Kurokami in Shimotsuke Province, c. 1832, (2) Utagawa HIROSHIGE, Sudo bridge and Surugadai, from One Hundred Famous Views of Edo, 1856-58, (3) Kawase HASUI, Snow at Mukojima 1931

Harris is sure to include a chapter on ukiyo-e books, an area that is both dear to my heart and often overlooked. From simple but powerful sumi ink illustrations by the ‘father” of ukiyo-e, Hishikawa Moronobu, in the 1650s to delicate asymmetrical compositions from Watanabe Seitei influenced by European paintings after the turn of the 20th century, Harris’s book is full of numerous rare images from the author’s collection.

(1) Hishikawa MORONOBU, Lovers on the Veranda, c.1650, (2) Watanabe SEITEI, Seitei Kacho Gofu (Seitei's Bird and Flower Album) 1916

(1) Hishikawa MORONOBU, Lovers on the Veranda, c.1650, (2) Watanabe SEITEI, Seitei Kacho Gofu (Seitei’s Bird and Flower Album) 1916

The final chapter is on Yokohama-e, prints about foreigners in Japan and the way in which Japanese artists imagined and portrayed them. Other than the Dutch, who were kept at far arms length, Japan was effectively closed to foreigners from the 1630s until the mid 19th century, until Commodore Perry and the Treaty of Kanagawa forced the opening of the country to outsiders. By far the most interesting image for me in this chapter is Utagawa Yoshitora’s Trial Balloon Launch at the Naval Academy Training Ground at Tsukiji from 1870. Normally a triptych (three sheet print image) I have cropped it to two for a bit of comparison. In it we see a few Western women, in quite accurate dress for 1870, watching the launch of an exciting technical invention new to Japan – the hot air balloon.

Yoshitora Trial Balloon Launch at the Naval Academy Training Ground at Tsukiji

Utagawa YOSHITORA, Trial Balloon Launch at the Naval Academy Training Ground at Tsukiji, 1870

Besides being fascinated by this era in Japanese history and the cross-fertilization happening, I have also had the luck to have seen and held two of the three panels of this print in my hands. Take a few moments to really examine and compare these photos and see if you can find the fascinating major differences, besides some of the obvious coloring in the dresses, between them.

Yoshitoa Trial Balloon Launch at the Naval Academy

These images give you a real sense of the complexity of learning about and collecting ukiyo-e as many of the most popular prints went through multiple printings and sometimes continue to be printed today. Harris makes excellent points about getting educated and using your eye and common sense when buying. Remember, if it is in absolute perfect condition and a bargain, most likely it’s a modern-day reprint.

So? What did you spot? Did you notice how all the flags on the balloons were changed from Japanese flags to American flags? According to Wikipedia, the Japanese officially decreed the Nisshōki or Hinomaru (sun flag) as the national emblem in 1870, although it was already accepted as the de facto flag of Japan. The print itself is from 1870, which makes the timing quite interesting. In all the other examples of this print in museum collections around the world, the flags are American as in my example. Harris’s example is courtesy of the Mita Arts Gallery, a very respected ukiyo-e gallery in Japan. I may have to write to them and see if they have more information. What else?  The seals and stamps are quite different – if anyone’s Japanese is good enough to shed some light on them it would be very appreciated. Other small details include the stairs and walkway in the lawn in the background and the gazebo shape in the trees. I’m sure my eagle-eyed readers will spot many more!

Now on to the good part – the GIVEAWAY!! Tuttle Publishing has kindly offered 2 copies of Ukiyo-e: The Art of the Japanese Print for me to offer to my readers. They will send them anywhere in the world, so everyone can enter. All you need to do is comment on this post, ideally after visiting Tuttle Publishing online and taking a look at their outstanding offerings in Art, Architecture & Design, with a real focus on Asia, and telling me what other books you’d like to see me discuss (and possibly have available for future giveaways :-))

The giveaway closes a week from tomorrow on Friday, September 19 at midnight EST. Winners will be announced the following week.

Related Posts:
Hanga 101…a Quick Primer on Japanese Prints
An Artistic Reflection…The 1860 Japanese Envoy to America and Yokohama-e
Artist Spotlight…Van Gogh: The Adventure of Becoming an Artist
Artist Spotlight…Dancers, Degas and the Demi-Monde in Yokohama
Japanesque: The Japanese Print in the Era of Impressionism
Battledores and Badminton…A History Of Hanetsuki Through Ukiyo-e
Artist Spotlight…58th CWAJ Print Show

Not Just for Grown Ups…Buying Art for Kids

Tami Ramsay girls bedroom

As many of you know I have been writing a column on another blog called Cloth & Kind which is the brainchild of a wonderful pair of designing women. Tami Ramsay, the half of the duo that lives in Athens, Georgia just had her lovely bungalow featured in Lonny Magazine. The entire house is just beautiful (take a look!), but I paused and returned to her children’s rooms as she has highlighted work by local artists in both of them. Real art too, not just kiddie stuff to fill the walls. Pieces that could travel into adulthood with them.

tami ramsay boys bedroom

I’m a huge proponent of buying art for kids. Frankly, I’m a huge proponent of taking them to museums, in small bites at first, but slowly developing a sense of what interests them as well as giving them a chance to stretch their patience. I have a similar theory about art as I do about antiquing with kids, which is everyone gets interested when purchases get made. Art is horizon expanding, question provoking  – whether representational or abstract – and a sense of ownership makes anyone, even children, more interested.

One of the strengths of this year’s CWAJ Print Show is the number of prints that will appeal to kids while having long-term lasting power – call it an investment – in their memory and decor. How amazing would it be to leave home and go off to your first home of your own and actually have some pieces with meaning to take with you? I’m using the Print Show to highlight this particular post, but it would hold true no matter where in the world you are. There are always artists and they are always making work.

The Print Show is full of sweet and obvious prints with childlike appeal, such as CLARK Kevin Lee’s Koinobori. You get Mount Fuji and the fish – two for the price of one – all in the same print. Traditional woodcut technique adds to this Japan memory print.

CLARK Kevin Lee

Nothing cuter than the Small Hairpins seen when little girls dress up in kimono for special days. OHTSUBO Kazue’s silkscreen will charm your daughter now and look wonderful as part of an art wall or in a powder room when she is older.


And SOMEYA Mayumi’s etching is just so cute I could eat it up. This could hang anywhere. Ageless!


But let’s talk about some of the less obvious choices. Instead of brightly colored alphabet blocks, what about learning your kana (Japanese letters) the old-fashioned way? ARAI Yuko’s I-RO-HA-ORDER is based around the traditional syllabary in which each character appears only once based on a 1000 year old Buddhist poem. Animals starting with each syllable help to illustrate the sound and the details grab attention.


GYOBU Fumi’s “P” of print studio–composition for an artist book has a similar graphic quality and is quite question provoking. What does the letter mean? Do the objects in the print start with that letter? Why are things upside down? I see endless questions yet there is nothing juvenile about the work at all.


Sometimes you need to be literal, but it doesn’t mean you can’t be subtle. Have you a little girl who loves ballet? KIRIZUKI Saki’s dramatic woodblock print Weightless Dance-g


…or WATANABE Kanako’s Red Shoes 2 would satisfy that girlish interest, while their monochrome palette and dynamic woodblock technique give them long-lasting maturity. I bought Watanabe’s moody and mysterious print Road last year and it is hanging in my elder daughter’s bedroom now.


There is so much hidden fantasy in Japanese prints, particularly the monochrome mezzotints, etchings and lithographs with their fine details. Do you have one that loves to read? This lithograph from MISAKI Akihiro has the kind of surreal realism kids love to examine and if you look closely, there is a little hidden surprise. The artist had much the same idea; “The person might serve as a bookmark, who seems as if waiting for someone to open the pages. He is probably waiting to be freed. I hope this work of mine will free you into a world of imagination, as one usually does when travelling and visiting historical places. Old remains might undoubtedly inspire you and make you dive into a world of history.”

MISAKI Akihiro

In NAGANO Junko’s It is Beginning to Tell the Story, the fantasy grows larger, much like the magical stag’s antlers do. It seems to me as if the reading boy’s imagination is driving the story forward, but that is my version of the tale. One of the things I remember loving as a child was searching images or wallpaper around my home and others for pictures, shapes and hidden images that would feed my imagination.


And what about the deep inky black tones of RISHO Shigeo’s aquatint?  They make for a very mysterious castle.

RISHO Shigeo

Rather than a Disney icon, consider TOKITA Yuriko’s Infant of Margarita (bee). Your little princess may think of her as her princess picture now, but I guarantee she’ll love the reference back to Velázquez and Las Meninas later.


Quite a bit of Alice in Wonderland can be found this year. NEMOTO Kana’s garden–mushroom– provides a charming toadstool with a single bite taken out of it…


…while IKUTA Koji’s A Cat Called Alice is a picture play on the story.


No need to be limit oneself to black and white either. NISHIDA Tadashige’s The Town of Stars (6) Departure would satisfy any dreamer who longs to be an astronaut or play soccer in a giant stadium.

NISHIDA Tadashige

And can’t you see FUJIMOTO Keizo’s giant silkscreen Watch-BR anchoring a teenage boy’s room and then later, his first “man-cave” apartment?


And my hands-down favorite? It has to be newcomer ITO Ayami’s Tyrolean Japanese fantasy called Friends to Walk With. I love the charming floral design, the sweet mermaid and the seal, but mostly I am obsessed with that onigiri (rice ball) with its matching patterned nori (seaweed). Obsessed!

ITO Ayami
Prints and other works on paper tend to be eminently affordable. So think about birthdays and holidays and consider the difference between another toy, another dress, those things that are easily outgrown. And if you are in Japan right now, take the opportunity to visit the CWAJ Print Show.

Related Posts:
A Little Bit of Tat is a Good Thing…Tips on Antiquing with Kids
Artist Spotlight…58th CWAJ Print Show

Artist Spotlight…58th CWAJ Print Show


For the first time in 9 years I won’t actually be at the College Women’s Association of Japan‘s annual Print Show although I was the Assistant Co-chair for the show until my departure in June. Perhaps because of this I think it is simply the best show in years and for anyone in the Tokyo and Kobe regions, should not be missed. Featuring 188 original prints (hanga), including 34 by debut artists, the show opens in Tokyo on October 10th and runs until the 12th at The Tokyo American Club. The show then moves the following weekend October 18-20th to The Kobe Club for the 3rd time in its 58 year history. Both events are free and open to the public. Tokyo American Club members can also attend a preview and sale for club members only on October 9th, from 8–9 pm. Showcasing the incredible technique and artistry of Japanese printmakers from 20 some years of age to 100 years of age, with the full range of printmaking techniques on display, from traditional woodblock to intaglio to silkscreen, it is a tour de force. Works on paper continue to be one of the most affordable and interesting areas of the art world and all the revenue from sales goes to support the CWAJ Scholarship program and other charitable projects. So you can feel good while buying yourself a treat! If you are new to Japanese prints, I recommend reading my Hanga 101 post for a crash course in Japanese art history and it is always fun to peruse the past years’ shows, links to which can be found at the end of this post.

Everything starts off with a bang as YAMAMOTO Keisuke, an artist I have been championing since co-curating his work in the 2007 Associate Show has the honor of the catalogue cover this year. In my past posts on prior Print Shows, I have highlighted his masterful command of the lithographic process, both in his austere interior chair prints and his romantic views of Japanese temples. His new print Sasanqua Blossoms, shown above, is a departure as it adds a sense of the fantastic – the surreal – to his previously more literal landscape work. It also has a greater subtle meaning; “The red camellias blooming under the snow convey the beauty and strength of life, which emerges and flourishes even in the harshest conditions. This is how we feel about the disaster in Tohoku and the people there. We saw it as a tribute,” said this year’s Print Show co-chairs.

Making beauty from pain is not limited to Yamamoto’s print. SEKHINO Yowsaku’s amazing Beyond the Big Wave looks at first to be an homage to Hokusai’s The Great Wave off Kanagawa. Yet as you look closely you can see all the smashed cars at the water’s edge and the realization of which great wave you are looking at sets in. Up in Tohoku there are still places with hundreds of mangled cars piled along the shoreline. This deeply evocative print is not well served by the photo and needs to be seen in person as the gold leaf and detailing is extraordinary.

SEKINO Yowsaku

The relationship between modern Japanese prints and the print makers who came before is a strong theme this year as is the reciprocal influence relationship with the Impressionists. KAWACHI Seiko’s Frame of Nature (Sunflowers) is another draw-dropping woodcut that refers back to both the Hokusai wave print and Vincent Van Gogh. It is not a coincidence that he chose to illustrate sunflowers in a vase decorated with an ukiyo-e icon.


MORIMURA Ray’s Plum Trees in Tenjin Shrine also harks back to similar masterworks…


…again to Van Gogh and this time, Hiroshige.

Hiroshige Van Gogh Flowering Plum Tree 1887

A more modern take on the same idea comes from ANDO Shinji’s Feeling the Breeze (Spring). Ando is a master at creating botanical etchings so real you think you could reach out and pick them.

ANDO Shinji

MAKI, Kin-ichi has been making mixed media prints featuring that staple of Japanese roadways, the curved mirror. In real life it allows you to see oncoming traffic from hidden directions. In Maki’s Timeslip (Palanquin) it allows for two different viewpoints, in this case looking ahead to the future or back to the past. Again, we have a reflection on the printmakers of the past, as in this case the image in the mirror is from one of Hiroshige’s 53 Views of Tokaido. Like a parody, Maki offers an amusing but serious criticism of this busy and complicated age. His message is also mirrored in his technique as he uses an unusual combination of traditional woodblock with modern digital prints. The woodblock provides soft color and depth, while the digital prints allows for photographic detail as well as added freely drawn shapes.

MAKI KIn-ichi

For the monochrome loves out there – of which I have become one over the years – there is much to choose from this year in every possible medium and style. HASEGAWA Yuki’s BLACK TEMPERATURE PA.01 is a stunning modern lithograph with an organic layering to its starkness. For anyone having a Franz Kline hankering, this is the print for you.


SAKUTA Tomiyuki ‘s witty Bjorn & Kiki is on one hand reminiscent of 18th century scientific studies of coral and on the other a play on horror faces. I just love that the images have jaunty names .

Scan 16

Also not to be missed is the moody story inducing a moment -11-8 by SUZUKI Tomoe. I love prints that make you wonder what is about to happen…

Scan 18

For those looking for something quintessentially Japanese in subject, the memory prints this year are great, running with both old and new architectural icons – Tokyo Tower in MATSUMURA Seiichi’s Snowdome I and the new Sky Tree in NISHIMURA Fumiko’s Moon Light.


There are many great kitchen prints, as I like to call them, but the prize goes to the pop-art like Sea Urchin from newly selected artist MIYAMOTO Shoji.


My absolute favorite piece, which also gets the title for “photo does not even begin to do the work justice”  is by SEO Takako called –Kuh–No 47. The woodcut has been printed on both sides with water and oil based inks. It’s aggressive but soft, linear but whimsical, with a collage-like nature. I know just where I would love to hang this big beauty.

SEO Takako

This year is also special in that it marks the 100th birthday of the doyenne of the Japanese hanga world – SHINODA Toko – and in celebration, a special exhibition of 16 prints produced over the past two decades are available for sale. I cannot choose a favorite and you cannot go wrong with any of them but in the end I succumbed to The Return, perhaps because the title is wishful thinking on my part and also for the unusual use of green in lieu of her signature red.


On the Young Printmaker Award front I could not be more excited to see the return of 2010 winner KIM Kyung Sun, who continues to make dramatic textural woodcuts of “such natural elements as a scent of grass, the sound of rain and the touch of wind.” Her Brief moment of Consolation 10.14 offers up a a brief moment of healing and hope.” That seems to me to be the underlying theme of the entire print show this year.

KIM Kyung Sun

I honestly could post about almost every single print featured and I am very sad not to be there. For those of you who are going, I’d love to hear about what you liked and what you didn’t and any and all purchases made! And be sure to stay tuned tomorrow as I am doing an additional Print Show post, focussing on buying art for kids.

Interested in working on the Print Show? Join CWAJ and get started.  Volunteers are needed for returning day in November and that will give you a chance to actually touch and see the work close up.

Related Posts:
Artist Spotligtht…57th CWAJ Print Show
Artist Spotlight…56th CWAJ Print Show
Artist Spotlight…55th CWAJ Print Show
Hanga 101…a Quick Primer on Japanese Prints

Shrine Sale Stories…Recent Treasures

So I am continuing to love Instagram as it allows me to post shrine sale finds and other interesting items on a real-time basis which is just so satisfying. For those of you who have not taken the leap, I’ve been finding some great treasures for myself recently and I’d love to share them. My blue-green glass addiction is unabated and I found this chubby sake bottle last week.  The two “ears” on either side of the bottle neck would have had a handle running through them originally. I think this one is perfectly shaped to be a lamp, but in the meantime, I will allow him to just hang out with his friends.

blue green sake bottle for lamp

Speaking of lamps, this sake jug with its flowers, unusual in that most rustic jugs just have a manufacturer’s name or mark painted on them like these, is also a wonderful shape for a lamp.

flowered sake jug

I love its implied relation to an American classic, the stoneware jug. It took the floral decoration on it to make me see it that way.

Somerset Potters stoneware jug

Actual lamps have been another find, although I know I paid more than I should have for this purpley-indigo beauty. I have wanted a tiny task lamp for my desk at the beach house and looked everywhere the last two summers for one with no luck.

blue work lamp

It will be absolutely perfect up here, so I had to have it.

hydrangeas in transferware bowl

I also couldn’t resist this minty green metal storage box. Don’t know what it is for or where exactly it will go, but I am sure I will find a place!

vintage metal box mint green

My lavender and blue dreams continue, with the markets fully supporting them. Lavender is not a typical color in Japanese textiles – it really is rare to see it – but I found an extraordinary lavender and blue tsutusgaki furoshiki (a traditional wrapping cloth made with a hand drawn rice paste resist technique) with a soft shibori faded background. I was having trouble convincing myself to buy it (“Do I really need it?”) when I realized I had an item stalker. You know what that is, someone who has spotted something you are looking at and decided they want it, so they follow you around the booth hoping you will put it down so they can grab it. An item stalker always helps to force a purchase!


Since then I’ve found a length of typical shibori (Japanese tie-dye), but in lavender and blue.

lavender shibori

While I’m at it, here’s another really pretty and detailed piece…

blue shibori

…and did someone say pop of color? Obviously May Daouk‘s living room is still on my mind when you look at these colors together.

pink shibori

My spate of finding incredible Japanese prints – impeccably framed no less – at Kawagoe continues unabated. These small lithographs aren’t stand out pieces alone, but as part of a larger gallery wall, I know they will be fantastic.


I am not familiar with the artist and haven’t had time yet to research it, but I do love them.


So have you made any great finds recently? I’d love to hear about them!

Related Posts:
Shrine Sale Stories…Yamamoto’s Steamer Trunk
Shrine Sale Stories…My French Moderne Bar Cart
Shrine Sale Stories…Vintage Matchboxes, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Imperial Hotel and The 1948 London Olympics

Paper for a Thousand Years…Vintage Chiyogami

Jenny’s post the other day on the great Warhol print she got for her little girls’ room reminded me of something – another kind of print – a vintage Japanese woodblock one called chiyogami, that looks a lot like her Warhol on a much smaller scale.

Chiyogami (chiyo meaning “a thousand years” or “through eternity” and kami/gami “paper”) has been made since the Edo era and continues to be popular today. Early papers, like these examples from the Taisho period between the wars were block printed much in the same way as traditional ukiyo-eI think their bright colors and stylized prints, based originally on kimono fabric patterns, would look wonderful hung en masse in a child’s room. While based on traditional designs, these patterns skirt the edges of Art Nouveau and Art Deco.

Simple frames of the IKEA variety are one inexpensive and easy way to complete a wall display…

…while wrapping canvas stretchers is a bit more unusual. These are covered in modern chiyogami examples.

New chiyogami is available all over Japan and online at all the paper sites, but the new pieces are silkscreened or machine printed and don’t have quite the same feel. Maybe it’s because the patterns have become ubiquitous to me, but framed they look too much like scrapbook paper – one-dimensional with no heft to the paper. But actually, still pretty…

I love framing and hanging things that were never meant for that purpose.

Related Posts:
Hanga 101…a Quick Primer on Japanese Prints

Image credits: 1. via Little Green Notebook, 2-9. me, 10. via Style at Home, 11-12. via Apartment Therapy.

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