Azechi Umetarô (畦地梅太郎 1902-99) was born in Ehime prefecture in Shikoku. He first studied painting by correspondence course. In 1920 he moved to Tokyo, delivering newspapers but continuing with the art course. He had little choice but to return home after the devastating 1923 earthquake, but managed to move back to Tokyo in 1925 to work in a government printing office. Azechi began making prints by scratching out designs on lead plates, inking them and using a teacup as a "baren" (馬楝) or print-rubbing tool. Azechi was later befriended by the artist Hiratsuka Un'ichi (平塚運一 1895-1997), who supported his entrance into art exhibitions, such as those held by the Nihon Sôsaku Hanga Kyôkai (Japan Creative Print Association) in 1924 (he joined the association in 1932), where Azechi eventually met other artists, such as Maekawa Senpan (前川千帆 1888-1960). However, Kôshirô Onchi (恩地 孝四郎 1891-1955) was his greatest influence. Onchi encouraged Azechi to rely upon his own experience in the pursuit of art and life as an artist. Azechi quit his job at the printing office and became a freelance artist. His prints from the 1920s-30s often depicted landscapes, but he engaged with other subjects. After World War II, he developed his distinctive style using simplified forms and flat areas of bold colors, usually portraying mountains and mountain men, subjects for which he is best known He also gained some renown in Japan as an essayist on the subject. An accomplished mountaineer, Azechi led a vigorous outdoor lifestyle well into his nineties.
Known as the "western gateway to Shikoku," Yawatahama (八幡浜) in Ehime prefecture is a natural-harbor port town bordering the Uwa Sea at the Sadamisaki Peninsula. The place name was recorded at least by the early eighth century. Yawatahama is home to the largest fish market in Shikoku (four provinces 四国 or four main islands of Japan). A national forest, open to the public, overlooks the ocean. Nearby Suwazaki Cape is a sacred place where residents give thanks for bountiful fish harvests. Since 1936 (the year of our Azechi print), when a memorial tower was built, the Yawatahama city fisheries cooperative association pays a ceremonial visit to sprinkle libation (saké 酒) and throw fusuma (dried wheat gluten, 麸) into the sea each year on "Ocean Day" or "Marine Day" (Umi no hi: 海の日), a national holiday in Japan celebrated on the third Monday each July.
In the 2002 book by Azechi's son, titled Yama no Yorokobi: Azechi Umetarô and published by Atelier-U, he states that in 1936, his father produced a portfolio of 10 prints on the landscapes of Iyo, his local area within Ehime Prefecture. The title of the portfolio was Iyo fûkei (Landscapes of Iyo: 伊予風景). Only 30 copies of the portfolio were made and the set sold out immediately to local residents. Thus, today, prints from this portfilio are rarely found, especially in excellent condition, as in our impression. This series represented a break from Azechi's earlier, gritty cityscapes, and in its move away from realism toward arranging masses for compositional purposes, the designs presaged his stylized mountains and mountain-man prints for which he is chiefly known.
Another design (Yawatahama Kurinoura 八幡浜栗之油) from the portfolio is illustrated in the 2005 Fuchû Art Museum catalog (see reference below*).
References: Azechi's work has been discussed and illustrated in many Western publications, among them Oliver Statler, Modern Japanese Prints: An Art Reborn (1956); James Michener, The Modern Japanese Print. An Appreciation (1962); and Lawrence Smith, The Japanese Print Since 1900: Old Dreams and New Visions (1983). Azechi Umetarô also produced an informative book on the making of prints: Umetarô Azechi, Japanese Woodblock Prints: Their Techniques and Appreciation. Tokyo and Rutland, VT: Toto Shuppan Co., 1963; *Fuchû Art Museum (府中市美術館), Ki hanga no nukumori Kobayashi Kiyochika kara Munakata Shikô made (The warmth of woodblock prints: From Kobayashi Kiyochika to Munakata Shikô: 木版画のぬくもり小林消親から棟方志功まで). 2005, p.92, no. 133.