Unboxing Japanese Woodblock Prints
Welcome to all woodblock print collectors and enthusiasts. I received this large box containing 18 prints I purchased over a period of a few months from an auction house in Japan. I handpick the prints based on the artist, print quality, the composition and the subject matter. Many of these prints will end up for sale on this website, some will be kept in our private collection. The exciting part is that I’m never sure exactly how the prints will look in-person, so let’s open this up and see what we have.
First I have to remove the paper padding, the auction houses always do a good job of packing the prints. I also have to triple check and make sure I've pulled out all the prints - once I was one short and I realized I was about to throw it out with the packaging. Okay let’s begin.
This first print looks like it’s backed. This is an image by Kunisada III from a hard to find series called "Smash Hits on the Kabuki Stage". It shows the actor Bandô Hikosaburô V as the Wetnurse Otsuji, she’s praying under the waterfall so that the young Buddhist orphan, whom she believes to be mute, may regain his speech and become skilled in the martial arts, in order to avenge the death of his father. This is a popular scene that many artists made versions of.
Ok, onto the next print. The color and impression on this one is really nice. This is also by Kunisada, from 1843 From the series “100 Poems by 100 Poets”. It’s called “Sugawara no Michizane” and this was a collaborative series by Kunisada, Hiroshige, and Kuniyoshi. It has been backed and there’s a fold crease down the middle because it was in an album at some point.
Next we have an interesting print from Hiroshige III. From the series "Humorous Scenes at the Famous Places of Tokyo” 歌川広重三代 東京滑稽名所 両国広小路 鳶のとまどひ I didn’t realize he made any humorous prints and looking online I could only find a couple of prints from this series. Here we can see this hawk that’s flown down and stolen this man’s hat. It’s not backed and the condition is very good albeit a bit dirty.
Moving along, let’s see what we have here. If you watched my previous unboxing video you saw that I acquired several from this series last month. This is a great image from the famous 1852 series by Kunisada II, called "The Book of the Eight Dog Heroes". This is the Priest Bungyû. The 8 dog heroes was a strange supernatural novel that spanned 106 volumes, making it one of the world's longest novels. I love this guys evil expression as he’s getting ready to stab someone.
This next print is from Kunichika. I didn’t find much information about this one online. All I know is it’s a female Shiranami (Bandit) played by actor Nakamura Shikan. I liked the simple image and this really cool dragon she has on her kimono. Unfortunately, on the back, someone has tried to repair the sword area with tape.
This next one is by Kunichika from a series I discovered recently called the “Good and Evil Demon Mirror" This depicts Banzuiin Chobei who was a gangster in Japan's Edo period who, supposedly fought against injustice, and protected the common people. He established himself in the Asakusa district of Edo, where he founded an employment agency for rōnin. He trained as a warrior, and was renowned for his swordsmanship. What a great image, the contorted pose, the realistic blood splattered on his kimono and flowing down his arm.
Now for something different, also from Kunichika. I couldn’t find much on this series but it’s called “The Pride of Glossy Makeup”. All the prints in this series feature a very stylized background with a woman in the foreground beautifying herself in some manner. Even though she’s partially dressed, she looks quite elegant. She’s getting ready to smoke her pipe in front of her makeup mirror. What an interesting composition and pose.
Ok next, it looks like they mounted this on some old notepaper. This is another print by Kunichika, from a 1865 series called "36 phrases of Kabuki" this is called "Onijin Omatsu Tanosuke" 「歌舞伎三十六句」「鬼人お松 田之助」Loosely based on the true story of Omatsu, an outcast who used her beauty to rise socially, marry and then poison her older wealthy husband, a blind samurai. She became an outlaw and gang leader. I love all the elements here, the snake kimono, the baby at her breast and the sword in her hand.
Next is a print from one of my favorite series of all time. This is Kunichika’s 36 Good and Evil Beauties. In this print, Kunichika shows princess - Midai Jōkōin - in an act of vengeance in front of a folding screen. The Tokugawa clan crest, is the triple hollyhock and has been a readily recognized icon in Japan for centuries. The margins on this print are great and the color and condition is excellent.
This next print is from that series by Kunichika “Good and Evil Demon Mirror" 善悪鬼人鏡」相馬平太郎良門 I think this is Heitaro Soma Ryomon but I don’t know anything more about this. You can see it doesn’t have any margins but the color and printing quality is really good.
This next print is by Kuniyoshi from 1847. It’s from that collaborative series "One Hundred Poems by One Hundred Poets" 小倉擬百人一首」喜撰法師 入道頼政 綴穴 In this scene we see the historical figure of Minamoto No Yorimasa wounded by an arrow, composing a farewell poem on a fan before committing seppuku. This may be the earliest recorded instance of a samurai's suicide. This is a famous story and many artists have depicted this scene.
Next we have a print by Kunisada from his 1852 series "Fifty-three Stations of the Tokaido". This scene is of Seki Station, and depicts the actor Iwai Shijaku as Koman. If you remember, Kunisada took the background scenes from Hiroshige’s prints. I’ve noticed that many of the prints that depict Seki have horses in them. The quality of this print is really nice.
Up next we have another print from the 8 Dog Heroes series by Kunisada II. This shows Actor Ichikawa Danzô VI as Jûjô Shaku-hachi-rô. This is a wild scene with his hair flying in all directions and his hand on his sword, ready to get into a fight. I love the detail on this one.
This print is by Kunichika, from his series “Thirty-six Famous Restaurants in Tokyo” 東京三十六会席 亀と川 東両国青柳 This is Aoyagi Restaurant. This series pairs famous geisha with famous Tokyo eateries. the square panel at top left shows either speciality dishes or views from the eatery. The large yellow cartouche on the right shows the series' title, name of the geisha and the restaurant's address. In the background you have this brilliant red cloth pattern in the top half and a monochrome sumi-e or ink style painting in the bottom half.
This next print is from the same series. This is Some-hachi Masu-daya Mochiya (東京三十六会席 花屋染八 増だや おもちや) - or rice cake shop - here we see a woman and child going to the restaurant, their purses in hand. In the background on this one, you can get a better look at the monochrome sumi-e style painting I mentioned.
And here is a third print from that same series, this is Kuruma Ogi Restaurant with the courtesan Hotoku. It’s a bit dirty but the colors are so vibrant. This series is growing on me.
Now the last print - congratulations to those 65% of you that made it this far. This print is most definitely backed. And it is a print by Yoshitoshi called The Matsumoto Restaurant in Fukagawa, from the 1878 series "Comparisons of Fancy Dishes in the Restaurants of the Imperial Capital". Where the “fancy dishes” didn’t mean the food, it meant the beautiful women that worked in these places. Besides the fancy dishes, this series also has an emphasis on Western perspective as is seen in the depiction of the architecture.
I hope you enjoyed this unboxing. I always learn so much about Japanese history and tales through collecting woodblock prints. Look for many of these prints to be available on this website. I have another batch of prints arriving in a few months, so until next time, happy collecting!