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VJP title
Utamaro print showing


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YOSHIKAWA Kanpô (吉川観方)


Yoshikawa Kanpô (吉川観方; given name Kenjirô), 1894-1979, was born in Kyoto made his name as a Nihonga-style painter and writer, as well as a stage designer and advisor to the Shôchiku kabuki theatrical company in Kyoto. He studied Nihonga painting with Nishibori Tôsui (dates unknown) beginning in 1901 and later with Takeuchi Seihô (1864-1942). By the time he graduated with honors from the Kyoto Specialist School of Painting in 1918 and a graduate degree in 1920 from the Kyoto City Specialist School of Painting, he had already begun exhibiting with the Bunten in 1917. Evetually stopped exhibiting paintings, but continued to accept commissions while also briefly designing Shin Hanaga-style woodblock prints, among these a famous series of actor portraits published by Satô Shôtarô between 1922 and 1924, and apparently ceased making any more prints after 1925. He also produced landscapes (fûkeiga) and pictures of beautiful women (bijinga). Yoshikawa then concentrated on other pursuits, including playing the biwa (琵琶) and kokyû (胡弓). He authored several books on topics such as kabuki, Japanese dolls, and Japanese customs (including Faces in color printsContemporary actors on stageCollected famous treasured dolls, Mirrors and designsHistory of changes in sash design, and History of Japanese folk customs) and two illustrated volumes on ghosts (1925)..

Kanpo Miyuki2 Kanpo Detail 2

In 1923-24 the Kyoto publisher Satô Shôtarô commissioned Kanpô to design actor prints, and some of these are among the most successful in the shin hanga (neo-ukiyo-e) style. The figure below left depicts the actor Kataoka Gadô (1882-1946; he changed his name to Nizaemon XII in 1936) performing the role of Miyuki in the play Shôutsushi asagao nikki ("Recreating the True Diary of Morning Glory"). The print bears the seal of the publisher (Satô Shô han), who issued the design in a first edition of 200 impressions (carved by Maeda Kentarô and printed by Oiwa Tokuzô). A later edition (shown here) was published in an unnumbered edition.

Shôutsushi asagao nikki (Recreating the true diary of morning glory: 生写朝顔日記) is a romantic tale about Asagao ("Morning Glory"), the young daughter of a wealthy samurai who flees her family after mistakenly believing she will be forced to abandon her lover Asojirô and marry a stranger. Unknown to Asagao, the "stranger" happens to be Asojirô, whose name was changed to Komazawa Jirôzaemon after his recent adoption into a samurai family. While on the run she calls herself Miyuki and is forced to eke out a living by playing the koto (琴) at an inn. One day she encounters her lover by chance, who sees that she is now destitute and blind from tears and grief. Suddenly he is called away by his lord and Miyuki despairs, running after him in a fierce storm. Unable to cross the river, she is ready to throw herself into the raging water, but is stopped by a retainer of her father. Miyuki ultimately regains her sight after curing her blindness with a drug left for her by Asojirô..

Kanpô's design is a poignant portrayal of the blind Miyuki as she adjusts the plectra on her fingers while preparing to play for Asojirô. Her form is set against a silver mica ground and the palette is made up primarily of shades of blue and purple. Her long slim fingers are shown in a delicate gesture consistent with her fragile emotional state. The drawing of the closed eyes is derived from traditional ukiyo-e depictions of zatô (blind masseurs and musicians) and effectively suggests Miyuki's blindness [see the figure on the right]. Kanpô's drawing also suggests with expressive subtlety the two-fold nature of the onnagata ("woman's manner," that is, the male actor of female kabuki roles), who possessed both "female likeness" (onnarashisa) and masculine strength. There is a restrained elegance to Kanpô's style that distinguishes it from the work of other shin hanga artists. Perhaps it reflects his Kyoto origins. © 1999-2020 by John Fiorillo


  • Brown, Kendall & Goodhall-Christante, Hollis: Shin-Hanga: New Prints in Modern Japan. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1996, pp. 39 & 52, figs. 30-32.
  • Halford, Aubrey & Giovanna: The Kabuki Handbook. Rutland & Tokyo: Tuttle, 1956, pp. 295-99 .
  • Smith, Lawrence: Modern Japanese Prints 1912-1989. London: British Museum Press, 1994, p. 39 & 49, plate 43.
  • Smith, Lawrence: The Print Since 1900: Old Dreams and New Visions. New York: Harper & Row, 1983, pp. 76-77, figs. 54-55.
  • Toledo Museum of Art: A Special Exhibition of Modern Japanese Prints. Toledo, Ohio: 1930, fig. 329.
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