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Kobayashi KIYOCHIKA (小林清親)


Kobayashi Kiyochika (小林清親 1847-1915) was a leading Japanese ukiyo-e artist of the late Edo and Meiji periods. Essentially self-taught, he was a print designer, painter, and illustrator of books, magazines, and newspapers. Born in Edo and the son of a Shogunate samurai administrative official named Kobayashi Seibei [Mohei? died 1862], Kiyochika moved to Yokohama in 1873. Kiyochika stated in 1884 that he had "no previous instruction from any teacher" [ref. Smith p. 7]. He was familiar with the works of a pioneering photographer named Shimooka Renjô (下岡蓮杖 1823-1914) and the English illustrator Charles Wirgman (1835-1891), but there is no confirmed evidence that he studied directly with them (implausible in the case of Shimooka, possible in regard to Wirgman); nevertheless, both had an influence on him. Kobayashi Gentarô (no relation) wrote soon after the artist's death that Kiyochika studied briefly with the Shijô-school painter Awashima Chingaku (淡島椿岳 1822-1888), the lacquer painter and print artist Shibata Zeshin (柴田是真 1807-1891), the Maruyama-Shijô School painter Suzuki Nanrei (鈴木南嶺 1775-1844), and the highly individualistic ukiyo-e painter and printmaker Kawanabe Kyôsai (河鍋暁斎 1831-1889). However, an actual teacher-student relationship seems doubtful with respect to all four of these artists. We may surmise that Kiyochika was primarily self-taught, especially in the ukiyo-e manner, while Western methodologies were familiar to him, possibly through the art of Western artists in Yokohama or Japanese artists trained in Western styles.

Kobayashi Kiyochika fireworks at Ike-no-hata
Kobayashi Kiyochika (小林清親)
Ike-no-hata hanabi (Fireworks at at the edge of the pond, 池の端花火), 1881
Woodblock print, aiban (235 x 343 mm); publisher: Fukuda Kumajirô (福田熊次郎) in Hasegawa-chô

One of Kiyochika's important early series is his Tokyo meisho-zu (Famous sites of Tokyo, 東京名所図) comprising ninety-three views of Tokyo published from 1876 to 1881. In many of these prints he famously explored the effects of light and shadow in works often referred to as kôsenga ("light-ray pictures": 光線画). The term (apparently) first appeared in an article by Kobayashi Gentarô, titled Kobayashi Kiyochika to Tokyo fûkei hanga (Kobayashi Kiyochika and Tokyo landscape prints, 小林清親と東京風景版畫 1916) to describe the realistic treatment of light and shadow in the artist's views of Tokyo. Here and elsewhere, Kiyochika advanced the modeling of landscape and architectural elements under variable illuminations, often demonstrating greater subtlety and more descriptive power than had earlier ukiyo-e artists. He drew scenes with moonlight, lightning, lanterns, gaslight, fires, fireworks, and explosions. Roughly one-quarter of his Tokyo prints are night scenes.

The image shown above depicts fireworks over Shinobazu Pond looking north to Benten Shrine located on a small island. The silhouettes of a crowd of onlookers are lined up along the lower border of the pictorial space, while two boys have climbed a tree for a better view. Exploring the effects of light, Kiyochika positioned red-and-white lanterns across the middle of the composition, while lights on the distant shore are reflected in the water. The trailing flames of fireworks descend from the night sky. Kiyochika has adapted some of the conventions of nocturnal illumination found in ukiyo-e while creating an overall effect that was modern and idiosyncratic.

Kobayashi Kiyochika cat catching a rat

Hôensha Kiyochika (方円舎清親)
Neko to chôchin to nezumi (Cat catching a rat inside a lantern, 猫と提灯と鼠), 1877
Woodcut, 330 x 450 mm; published by Matsuki Heikichi (松木平吉)

Among the works published by Matsuki Heikichi during the early years of Kiyochika's career were experimental woodcuts that had the look and feel of Western intaglio and planar printmaking techniques. One notable example is the celebrated image of a cat catching a rat inside a lantern. Twice the standard ôban size used in ukiyo-e, the carver Inoue Eikichi and the printer Sekô achieved remarkable results by putting aside conventional hard-edged lines in favor of countless parallel short lines or square dots that mimicked lithographic "granular" strokes. These artisans also used intaglio-style crosshatching. The picture narrative suggests that the rat had been nibbling on the three cookies seen on the right when the feline pounced, knocking over the lantern and pinning the rat's tail as the rodent tries to escape inside the lantern, its head piercing the paper at the far left. There were various editions of this design. The first, in perhaps as few as five copies, was produced for the first Naikoku Kangyô Hakurankai (National Industrial Exposition, 内国勧業博覧会) in Ueno Park, Tokyo in 1877, and none were for sale. The first commercial version was released in 1880 numbering perhaps 20 impressions. A later Meiji edition appeared in about 50 copies, and then in 1920, a different printer produced more impressions in an apparently small edition from the original blocks. In the 1930s, the doyen of shin hanga publishers, Watanabe Shôzaburô (渡辺庄三郎 1885-1962), made some changes to the original blocks and printed yet more copies. There was also at least one edition printed from recarved blocks.

Kobayashi Kiyochika Fireworks at Ryogoku

Shinsei Kobayashi Kiyochika (真生小林清親) and "Kiyochika" (清親) seal
Ryôgoku hanabi (Fireworks at Ryogoku Bridge, 両国花火), November 1884
Series: Musashi hyakkei no uchi (One hundred views of Musashi, 武蔵百景之内)
Woodcut, 362 x 244 mm; published by Kobayashi Tetsujirô (小林鉄次郎) [Maruya Tetsujirô]

In 1884-85 Kiyochika designed at least 34 prints for a series called Musashi hyakkei no uchi (One hundred views of Musashi, 武蔵百景之内). The debt owed Utagawa Hiroshige I is obvious, yet the designs overall express a different sensibility reflecting the new Meiji spirit, one of progress, enlightenment, and assimilation of Western influences. In the design Ryôgoku hanabi (Fireworks at Ryogoku Bridge, 両国花火) from November 1884, one of the most "Japanese" prints in the series, Kiyochika has used one of the key compositional devices often favored by Hiroshige — framing a scene with an extreme closeup of a partly cut-off figure or architectural element. Fireworks over the Ryôgoku bridge was a popular entertainment during the hot summer months and early fall. Travelers on pleasure boats could enjoy "the evening cool" (yûsuzumi, 夕涼) along the Sumidagawa as they watched the dazzling displays. One might compare Kiyochika's view with Azumabashi kinryûzan enbô (Distant view of Kunryûzan Temple and Azuma Bridge, 吾妻橋金龍山遠望) of 8/1857 from Hiroshige's Meisho Edo hyakkei (100 views of Edo, 名所江戸百景) of 1856-1859, in which another (mostly hidden) female figure, in particular, a geisha, is seated in a boat and shown in closeup while also partially interrupting the view of a river scene. Kiyochika's excellent design somewhat downplays the fireworks while featuring the elegant kimono, obi (sash), and coiffure of the young woman, all seen from the back as she faces, along with the viewer, the distant pleasure boats and flares falling from the sky.

Kobayashi Kiyochika 100 facesKiyochika produced many satirical prints, among them Kiyochika ponchi (Kiyochika's Punch, 清親ポンチ). He also produced a series of color cartoons titled Nippon banzai hyakusen hyakushô (Hurrah for Japan! One Hundred Selections, One Hundred Laughs, 日本万歳百撰百笑) in 1894-1895. For a third project, Kiyochika worked with Hara Taneaki (原胤昭 1853-1942), a former shogunal retainer turned Christian prison chaplain and book seller who published two comic series of woodblocks by Kiyochika featuring varied physiognomies on a theme known as Hyaku mensô (One hundred faces, 百面相). The idea was inspired by a late Edo-period vaudeville act in which a performer would demonstrate varied emotional states and social types through rapid changes of facial expression aided by stage props. The first series, from 1882, was called Shinpan sanjûnisô (Thirty-two faces, new edition, 新版三十二相) offering eight sheets with four faces each, and the second, from 1883, Sanjûnisô tsuika, hyakumensô (One-hundred faces, supplement to thirty-two faces, 三十二相追加百面相) comprising 17 sheets alsowith four faces on each. Combining the two series thereby yielded the full complement of 100 faces. The two series were reproduced in book form, first in copperplate with kyôka (playful verses, 狂歌) under the title Kyôku hyakumensô in September 1883 (publisher uncertain) and then as Tôsei fûzoku hyakumensô (One hundred faces of modern customs, 当世風俗百面相) published by Fukuroya Shoshi in 1898.

The image on the left is from Sanjûnisô tsuika, hyakumensô (One-hundred faces, supplement to thirty-two faces 三十二相追加百面相), published in April 1883. The subjects are (top to bottom, right to left): High Spirits, Envy, Crocodile tears, and Wealth. These portrayals are more satirical in tone than the previous examples. The grinning dandy at the top right is ogling young women (perhaps in a brothel) in a lecherous manner; the old woman at bottom right is envious of two young lovers; the geisha at top left is pretending to tear up as she parts from a regular customer whom she dislikes but whose money she covets; and the obese man at the lower left is pretending to be munificent by giving out small change to some children. [Smith ref. p. 61]

Kobayashi Kiyochika Marumaru chinbun lithograph
Kiyochika (清親)
Me o mawasu kikai (Machine for Rotating Eyes)
"Mercy"! Ejaculated the Honorable district magistrate, and kept his eye on his bewilderment by saying,
"O! busy, busy, sir!" This is too much for us!"

From Marumaru chinbun no. 508, September 5 , 1885
Lithograph, 210 x 325 mm

Kiyochika produced political cartoons for the satire/humor magazine Marumaru chinbun (團團珍聞 or Maruchin, 團珍 New Japanese comic paper, 1882-1893) from August 1882 until his resignation in July 1893. In the remarkable kyôga (comic picture, 狂画) shown above, a provincial bureaucrat wearing Western attire is overwhelmed by an avalanche of paperwork, so much so that he cannot rest his eyes. He is thus forced to continue with the aid of an "eye-turning machine." The iron wheels operated at either extreme resemble those of a conventional printing press, and so it would seem that the mountain of new government documents is the reason for this sorry state of affairs. [Smith ref. p. 76]

Kobayashi Kiyochika Onoguchi destroying gate at Jinzhoucheng
Kiyochika (清親) and "Kiyochika" seal (清親)
Onoguchi Tokuji-shi Kinshûjômon o hasai suru no zu
(Mr. Onoguchi Tokuji destroying the gate at Jinzhoucheng, 小埜口德次氏破碎金州城門之圖), 1894
Woodblock print triptych, ôban 355 x 715 mm); publisher: Matsuki Heikichi V (松木平吉), family name for
Daikokuya Heikichi (大黒屋平吉) [Daihei, 大平]

After focusing nearly exclusively for more than a decade on his satirical political lithographs for the magazine Marumaru chinbun from August 1882 until his resignation in July 1893, Kiyochika experienced a renewal of interest in the woodcut medium. The outbreak of war with China seems to have been the impetus. The war also revived an increasingly moribund ukiyo-e industry overall. Less appetizing to modern sensibilities, these Nisshin sensô-e (Prints of the Sino-Japanese War, 日清戦争絵) designed by Kiyochika and other artists propped up claims of ethnic superiority and racial hostility that the Japanese directed against China and its people, despite Japan's frequent emulation of Chinese culture over the centuries. Donald Keene wrote that, "Japanese feelings towards the country China, as contrasted with Chinese culture, was more ambivalent." The titles of war triptychs were most often written in Chinese, whereas the subjects invariably portrayed the Chinese enemy as subordinate, weak, and disorganized. [Smith ref. p. 86]

During the Sino-Japanese War, Kiyochika designed around 80 battle triptychs, some of which employed dramatic depictions of light and dark in the manner of his Tokyo kôsenga or "light-ray picture" of the 1870s-80s. The print shown above celebrated an incident that took place on November 6, 1894, when private first-class Onoguchi Tokuji, a young army engineer, led an ordnance team in blasting apart the seemingly impenetrable thirty-foot high brick walls and iron-plated gates at the northern entrance of the Jinzhou Fortress, an important Chinese stronghold in defense of the Liaodong Peninsula. Onoguchi's daring mission became a favorite subject of numerous woodblock prints. Besides the triptych shown above, Kiyochika also designed a single-sheet print in which Onoguchi strikes a similar pose but is seen from behind, illuminated by the violent blast of the Japanese ordnance (January 1895). [Paget ref.] That single-sheet series was entitled Rikukai gunjin kômyô kagami (Mirror of famous army and navy men, 陸海軍人高名鑑)

Kobayashi Kiyochika beauty of the Tenmei era

Kiyochika (清親)
Tenmei no koro
(Tenmei era, 天明ノ頃), 1896
Series: Hana moyô (Flower patterns, 花模様)
Woodcut triptych, 375 x 760 mm; published by Takegawa Seikichi (松木平吉)

Late in Kiyochika's career, the publisher Takegawa Seikichi (松木平吉) issued in quick succession three series of triptychs depicting women. The first was Shiki asobi (Pleasures of the four seasons, 四季遊) in 1895. The second, published from February to September 1896, was titled Hana moyô (Flower patterns, 花模様), for which ten prints are known (a later reprinting was published by Kokeidô, run by Akiyama Buemon, 秋山武右衛門). The third was called Kodai moyô (Ancient patterns, 古代模様), released in October 1896, with only three known compositions. All the triptychs in these series feature closeups of women in the foreground and distant figures in the background associated with particular historical era.

In the example shown above from the second series, the "flower" (beautiful woman) is shown applying makeup with the aid of a mirror inscribed Tenka-ichi ("Best in the world," 天下一). Her robe is decorated with scenes from the Genji monogatari (Tale of Genji, 源氏物語). In the background are five figures, including a courtesan and, wearing a straw hat to conceal his identity, a samurai visitor to the Yoshiwara brothel district. The three men on the middle sheet appear to be entertainers dressed in rather garish costumes, probably intended as a parody when considering that the setting is the Tenmei era, a golden age of culture for the city of Edo. The poem in the left-hand square cartouche was composed by Ôta Nanpo (大田南畝 1749-1823), signing as Shokusanjin (蜀山人). Smith translates it as: Kinpai no kimi areba koso kitazato no hana mo Yoshiwara tsuki mo Yoshiwara (Because of you, my love / In the golden cup, / The North Quarter / Blossoms are so fine, / The moon so fine.) [Smith ref. p. 99]

Kobayashi Kiyochika Shinkyobashi

Kiyochika (清親) and "Kiyochika" (清親) seal
Shinkyô-bashi Shinkyô Bridge, 神橋), January 1897
Series: Nihon meishô zue (Views of the famous sights of Japan, 日本名勝圖会)
Woodcut, 355 x 242 mm; published by Matsuki Heikichi V (松木平吉), family name for
Daikokuya Heikichi (大黒屋平吉) [Daihei, 大平]

In November 1896, Kiyochika began a series of 28 landscape prints depicting scenic spots in Japan. Titled Nihon meishô zue (Views of the famous sights of Japan, 日本名勝圖繪 or 日本名勝図会), it was, with the exception of the Tokyo triptychs issued earlier the same year, his first sustained effort at landscape since the Musashi hyakkei no uchi (One Hundred Views of Musashi, 武蔵百景之内) of 1884-1885 (see third image on this page). The publisher was Matsuki Heikichi V whose father had launched Kiyochika’s career twenty years earlier.

Smith [ref. p. 104] provides an interesting commentary regarding meishô (名勝): "The term 'famous sight' (meishô, 名勝) in the title of this series is close in meaning to 'famous place' (meisho, 名所), but it carries a stronger sense of scenic beauty. 'Famous place' is the older of the two terms, emerging first in poetry to designate specific sights that were known as much for literary and historical associations as for the beauty of the landscape. In time, painters came to illustrate these places celebrated in verse, although rarely with any concern for the actual appearance of the places, which they may never have seen. For Kiyochika, however, the 'sight' was fully as important as the 'place'."

It appears that for some designs, Kiyochika adapted sketches he made during actual visits to the scenic spots, particularly those in the immediate Kanto region around Tokyo. Otherwise, he might have relied on photographs or other sources. The Shinkyô-bashi Shinkyô Bridge, 神橋) print shown above was published in January 1897. The bridge, part of the Futarasan jinja (Futarasan Shrine: 二荒山神社), is located in Nikkô, a meisho (名所) with various religious and historical associations going back to the eighth century, as well as a meishô (名勝) made famous by the Tôshôgû mausoleum for the first Tokugawa shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543-1616). The long text in the white cartouche explains that the original name of the bridge was Yamasuga no hashi (Mountain Sedge Bridge), but was renamed by a daimyô (feudal lord) who rebuilt it in 1636 as part of the Tôshôgû construction.

The style of Kiyochika's Shinkyô-bashi print is, of course, much like Edo-period ukiyo-e, but it exemplifies the modified aesthetic of the Meiji-period woodcut. The drawing and printing are looser and more sketch-like in their rendering of landscape than one normally encounters with Edo ukiyo-e. The color palette, too, is different, with more lightly applied colors, in particular, the dominance of grays and blacks along with the medium "sky blue" of the water that replaces the more dramatic bero-ai (Berlin blue, ベロ藍) associated with Utagawa Hiroshige I (1797-1858) and his followers.

Works by Kiyochika can be found in many institutional collections, including the Adachi City Museum of Art; Amherst Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Art Gallery of New South Wales; Art Institute of Chicago; Asian Art Museum of San Francisco; Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, UK; British Museum, London; Brooklyn Museum, NY; Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh; Chazen Museum of Art, University of Wisconsin, Madison; Chiba City Museum of Art; Cincinnati Museum of Art; Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; Hagi Uragami Memorial Museum, Yamaguchi; Harvard Art Museums; Ikeda Bunko Library, Osaka; Keio University Library; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Mead Art Museum, Amherst; Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY; Minneapolis Institute of Art; Musées Royaux d'Art et d'Histoire, Bruxelles; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; National Diet Library, Tokyo; National Museum of Asian Art, Smithsonian, Wash. DC; Philadelphia Museum of Art; Princeton University Art Museum; Rhode Island School of Design, Providence; Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam; Tokyo National Museum; Waseda University, Tokyo; and Worchester Art Museum, MA.

Kobayashi Kiyochika's Names

Kobayashi (小林)

Childhood name:
Katsunosuke (胜之助)

Art name (geimei):
Kiyochika (清親)

Art Pseudonyms ():
Hôensha (方円舎) used on early prints
Shinseirô 真生楼) used briefly from April to November 1884
Shinsei (真生) used from 1884 until his death

Pupils of Kobayashi Kiyochika

Inoue Yasui (井上安治 1864-1899)
Taguchi Beisaku (田口米作 1864-1903)
Tsuchiya Kôitsu (土屋光逸 1870-1949)
Takeda Hirochika (武田広親 act. c. 1880s-90s)
Shinohara Kiyooki (篠原清興 act. c. 1890s)
Mita Chikû (?-?)
Makita Toshichika (act. 2nd half 19th C)
Seisai Norichika (清齋宣親 act. c. 1880s)

© 2022 by John Fiorillo


  • Hu, Philip, and Paget, Rhiannon, caption for catalogue no. 42, in: Hu, Philip, et al., Conflicts of Interest: Art and War in Modern Japan. Saint Louis Art Museum, 2016, p. 134 (re: Onoguchi).
  • Keene, Donald: "The Sino-Japanese Was of 1894-95 and its Cultural Effects in Japan," in: Donald Shively (ed.), Tradition and Modernization in Japanese Culture: Princeton University Press, 1971, pp. 121-175.
  • Marks, Andreas: Japanese Woodblock Prints: Artists, Publishers and Masterworks 1680-1900. Tokyo / Rutland, VT: Tuttle Publishing, 201, pp. 168-169.
  • Newland, Amy Reigle, et al.: The Hotei Encyclopedia of Japanese Woodblock Prints, vol. 2. Amsterdam: Hotei Publishing, 2005, pp. 461, 531.
  • Roberts, Laurance: A Dictionary of Japanese Artists. Tokyo/New York: Weatherhill, 1976, p. 85.
  • Smith II, Henry: Kiyochika: Artist of Meiji Japan. Santa Barbara Museum of Art, 1988.
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