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VJP title
Maki grandfather


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IWAMI Reika (岩見禮花)


Iwami Reika (岩見禮花) was born in Tokyo in 1927, but lived in Kyushu for five years and later in Kanagawa. From the age of 23 she worked for 13 years as an office employee at the Athenee Français language institute, while also studying doll-making and prints at the Sunday course of Japan's first co-educational school, the vocational Bunka Gakuin (文化学院), from which she graduated in 1955. Iwami also studied at other workshops, including an eleven-year apprenticeship as a doll-maker with the female painter-turned-dollmaker Hori Ryûjo (堀柳女 1897-1984, born Yamada Matsue). Iwami finally devoted herself to printmaking beginning in 1954.

Iwami Reika: Mizu no fu 78-H (Song of water 78-H, 水の譜 78-H), 1978
Woodcut, gold leaf, embossing, 513 x 356 mm (sheet)
(Full margins not shown)

Iwami cited the influence of Onchi Kôshirô and Sekino Jun'ichirô, but, above all, Shinagawa Takumi (in particular, his collage work as well as his use of driftwood). Iwami was also a haiku poet who recognized a relationship between printmaking and poetry: "Haiku is a disciplined study. It forces one to eliminate what is not necessary, and that's why I use it as a spiritual exercise for my prints." [see Tolman ref.] She was a prolific artist who achieved recognition at the same level as her male colleagues. The novelist and collector James Michener (1907-1997) called her "the first woman in the history of Japanese prints ... to attain full stature." [see ref. below]

First exhibiting in 1953 with the Japan Print Association (Nihon Hanga Kyôkai: 日本版画協会), Iwami then showed her prints from 1957 to 1964 at the Tokyo International Print Biennale, and, from 1957, every year at the print shows held by the College Women's Association of Japan in Tokyo. Her name and printmaking style became well known in the West after her inclusion in Michener's The Modern Japanese Print. An Appreciation (1962) with "Winter Composition No. 2" selected as one of the winning entries (see below). Iwami's abstractions based on water, sky, rock, and driftwood forms were readily appreciated by a wide global audience and she remains popular to this day.

Iwami's best known prints make extensive use of embossing, driftwood patterns, mica, and applications of gold or silver leaf. She occasionally used collagraph, when, for example, she printed from fishing nets pasted on blocks. Her designs are confident and precise, her style refined and expressive. In the work shown above, Mizu no fu (Song of water, 水の譜) from 1978, several of her signature compositional elements are present. There are the prominent driftwood forms and the large circle, along with a gold-leaf wave pattern, granular textures, and an intense black background, all combining to enhance the impact of the design.

As was one of the nine founding members of the Joryû Hanga Kyôkai (Women’s Print Association: 女流版画協会), also referred to as the Nihon Joryû Hanga Kyôkai (Japan Women’s Print Association: 日本女流版画協会), Iwami particpated in the group’s debut exhibition in October 1956 featuring their etchings, relief prints, and lithographs in a Tokyo gallery. For ten years, until its disbanding in 1965, the society continued to stage exhibitions, culminating in a show in New York City in 1965, before its members went on to pursue solo careers.

Founding members of the Joryû Hanga Kyôkai (Women’s Print Association: 女流版画協会)
(L to R): Nishigai Kazuko (西貝和子 1932-?); Yoshida Chizuko (吉田千鶴子 1924–2017); Hayashi Tomiko (dates unknown); Uchima Toshiko (内間俊子 1918–2000); Kobayashi Donge (小林ドンゲ b. 1926); Iwami Reika (岩見禮花 1927-2020); Nonaka Yuri (野中ユリ 1938-?); Shishido Tokuko (宍土戸徳子 1930-?)
Not pictured: Minami Keiko (南桂子 1911-2004)
Photo from an Internet lecture by Dr. Jeannie Kenmotsu for the Japanese Art Society of America (Nov. 19, 2020)

Among her early works were several designs that foreshadowed, in part, some of the forms and compositional styles that would define her mature oeuvre, although they retain the influence of Onchi and his circle. In Round Shadow No. 1 from 1957, there is the Onchi-like superimposition of rectangular shapes and the prominence of careful placement of circles. The application of pigments is rather dark and somber, showing little of the later brightness and airiness, but the widespread use of textures is readily evident.

Iwami Reika: Round Shadow No. 1, 1957
Woodcut, 713 x 713 mm
(Full margins not shown)

One of two prints submitted by Iwami to the contest organized by James Michener, Fuyu no kôsei 2 (Winter composition no. 2, 冬の構成), is shown below. Created in 1959, it was selected by both the Japanese and Western judges (the New York panel also nominated "Winter Composition No. 1," which the artist herself preferred.) The design was printed from four plywood blocks of basswood and lauan (a tropical hardwood also called rawan) on torinoko paper with three Japanese color pigments plus sumi (carbon black). Iwami made two impressions for the gray background and one each for the black, dark red, and light red. Iwami said that the design was "one of two prints by the same title. I personally prefer the No. 1. Since the deadline for the contest was the last day of December, I picked the theme of winter for my compositions. It was partly with a feeling of resistance against the cold and cruel impression of winter that I worked on these prints. What I wanted to express, however, was that even though winter is cold and severe, it is at the same time secretly nursing the buds of hope." [see Michener ref.]

Iwami Reika: Fuyu no kôsei 2 (Winter composition no. 2, 冬の構成), 1959
One of the winning designs shown in James Michener's The Modern Japanese Print: An Appreciation
Woodcut, with mica, 452 x 307 mm (required edition size for the competition was 510 impressions)
(Full margins not shown)

The process of making the print titled Umi no akebono (Dawn of the Sea: 海の曙), shown below, was documented in Yoshida and Yuki, Japanese Print Making [see ref. below], where the title "Sea's Eye" was given. Iwami used unsized and dry kizuki-kôzo paper. Four blocks were carved and printed in seven stages, including a marunomi (gouge, 丸鑿 or 円鑿) texture or pattern and karazuri effect (空摺 blind-printing). First, watercolor indigo was uniformly printed from a shina (科 Japanese basswood or linden) plywood block carved to form a plank beneath the lower large form. This appears in the print almost as gray. Then another shina block, on which were carved the small shape, the embracing V-shaped black zone, and the upper crowning line, was thickly printed with a mixture of sumi, powdered black, and mica flakes. The edge of the crowning form was pressed with no pigment, so that it produced a karazuri edge effect in the final impression. At the same time, due to tightening of the paper fibers along the edge, this embossing gave a light blue tone. With another carved shina block, watercolor strontian yellow and powdered red (benigara) with mica flakes were printed. The circle with the marunomi pattern carved with a curved chisel on the second block was then printed with slightly diluted sumi. Finally a lauan block, carved out in the middle and the upper left side with irregular stripes, was overprinted with watercolor indigo, slightly stronger than that used in the first stage.

Iwami Reika: Umi no akebono (Dawn of the Sea: 海の曙)
Woodcut, 1961, 545 x 359 mm, ed. 30
(Full margins not shown)

In her middle and late career, Iwami used butterflies as another of her formal design elements. They appear, for example, in a work titled "Jogen to umi - A" (Sea and crescent moon - A, 上弦と海) from 1989; see below. One of the insects flutters in front of a gold-leaf sphere; another, printed in light gray, can be seen in a hollow of the wave. The composition relies on a cantilevered arrangement with a dense black shape, slightly ominous, stretching across the pictorial space, behind which emerges a complex of curvilinear waves. The crescent moon is seen above, partly obscured by wave-like clouds or mist. Much of the upper half of the design is open space, a frequent compositional choice for the artist. All told, this is one of Iwami's most imaginative prints from the 1980s.

Iwami Reika: Jogen to umi - A (Sea and crescent moon - A, 上弦と海 - A), 1989
Woodcut, gold leaf, 595 x 880 mm, edition 50
(Full margins not shown)

Iwami's prints can be found in many private collections and museum's, including the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria; Art Gallery of New South Wales; Art Institute of Chicago; Birmingham Museum of Art (Alabama); British Museum, London; Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh; Cincinnati Art Museum; Harvard Art Museums (MA); Hayama Museum of Modern Art; Honolulu Museum of Art; Indianapolis Museum of Art; Library of Congress, Washington, DC; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Minneapolis Institute of Art; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Museum of Modern Art, Kamakura; National Museum of Asian Art, Freer and Sackler Galleries, Smithsonian; Philadelphia Museum of Art; Portland Art Museum; Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton, MA; Worchester Art Museum (MA); and Yale University Art Gallery. © 2022 by John Fiorillo


  • Blakemore, Frances: Who's Who in Modern Japanese Prints. New York: Weatherhill, 1975, pp. 54-55.
  • Merritt, Helen and Yamada, Nanako: Guide to Modern Japanese Woodblock Prints 1900-1975. University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu, 1992, p. 48.
  • Michener, James: The Modern Japanese Print. An Appreciation. Rutland: Tuttle, 1962 (deluxe portfolio) or 1968 (trade edition), pp. 44-46.
  • Petit, G. and Arboleda, A.: Evolving Techniques in Japanese Woodblock Prints. Kodansha, 1977, pp. 56-57 and fig. 28.
  • Smith, Lawrence: The Japanese Print Since 1900: Old Dreams and New Visions. London, British Museum Press, 1983, pp. 4-5, 111, 114, 129, nos 102-103.
  • Smith, Lawrence: Contemporary Japanese Prints: Symbols of a Society in Transition. London: British Museum Press, 1985, pp. 30-31, , no. 14.
  • Smith, Lawrence: Modern Japanese Prints 1912-1989. London: British Museum Press, 1994, p. 26 and no. 112.
  • Tolman, Mary and Tolman, Norman: People Who Make Japanese Prints: A Personal Glimpse. Tokyo: Sobunsha, 1982, pp. 15, 30-43.
  • Yoshida Tôshi and Yuki Rei: Japanese Print-Making. Rutland and Tokyo: Tuttle: 1966, p. 101 (Plate 17) & 157.
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