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Kawanishi Hide (川西英)

Untitled (Gyoban at Ôbaku-san Manpuku-ji)
Signed in the block, Hide (英); Note: a large number of Kawanishi's works are not signed in pencil )
Artist seal: Hide (ひで) below signature at the top right of the image
Self-printed and self-published
c. mid 1940s to early 1950s
(H x W)
Large format sôsaku hanga
48.0 x 33.1 cm
Excellent color, unbacked thick paper; mat burn around edges; a few spots of foxing.
Price (USD/¥):

Inquiry: Ref #KWN06


Kawanishi Hide (川西英), 1894-1965, was born and worked in Kobe, an international port city that inspired much of his subject matter. He was employed as a postmaster, but his ancestors were merchants, particularly traders in the alcoholic spirits sake (酒 or nihonshu 日本酒), mirin (味醂), and shôchû (焼酎), which they transported to Tokyo in their fleet of ships.

Kawanishi's family opposed his becoming involved in painting and printmaking. A self-taught artist, Kawanishi started painting in oils, but turned to woodblock printmaking after seeing a print by Yamamoto Kanae (A small bay in Brittany) displayed in a shop window in Osaka. He was not interested in ukiyo-e, although Nagasaki-e naturally fascinated him, with its exotic ships and foreign traders. Gradually abandoning oils, Kawanishi fell under the influence of the Art Deco poster style of the 1920s and first exhibited prints in 1923 with the Nihon Sôsaku-Hanga Kyôkai (Japan Creative Print Association 日本創作版画協会 founded 1918). Other influences were Takehisa Yumeji (竹久夢二), Onchi Kôshirô (恩地孝四郎), Yamamoto Kanae (山本鼎), and European artists such as Lautrec, Gaugin, Van Gogh, Leger, and Matisse.

Kawanishi used poster colors and sumi (Japanese carbon black, i.e., soot, water, and glue), cutting his blocks with a curved chisel to obtain soft edges. He used katsura or ho wood, and printed on hodomura paper. He produced a large number of single-sheet designs (possibly as many as 1,000), as well as printed albums and books, and sets or series. The latter included Shôwa bijin fûzoku jûnitai (Twelve customs of beauties from the Shôwa era), 1929; Kobe jûnigagetsu fûkei (Scenes of Kobe during the twelve months), 1931; and Hanga Kobe hyakkei (Prints of one hundred views of Kobe), 1935. Kawanishi was awarded the Hyôgo Prefecture Culture Prize (1949) and the Kobe Shinbun Peace Prize (1962). His son Kawanishi Yûzaburô (1923-2014) worked in his father's style, but with more international subjects.

For more about this artist, see Kawanishi Biography.

Completed in 1669, Ôbaku-san Manpuku-ji (Manpuku Temple on Mt. Ôbaku: 黄檗山萬福寺) is located in Uji, Kyoto. Inspired by and named after the Wanfu Temple (萬福寺) at Mt. Huangbo (黄檗山) in Fujian, China. Manpuku-ji is the head temple of the Japanese Ôbaku sect, one of the three schools of Japanese Zen Buddhism. Founded in 1661 by the Chinese monk Yinyuan Longqi (Jp., Ingen Ryûki, 1592-1673, 隠元隆琦) and his disciple Muyan (Jp., Mokuan Shôtô, 1611-1684), the temple buildings were designed and arranged in Chinese Ming-period style, representing a rare instance of pure Ming architecture in Japan. The Japanese government has designated many of Manpuku-ji's buildings as Important Cultural Properties. Until 1740 only Chinese monks served as abbots of Manpuku-ji; however, since 1786, after more than four decades during which both Japanese and Chinese monks served as abbot, the lineage has been entirely Japanese.

Kawanishi 06 labelManpuku-ji is also known for its 60,000 carved woodblocks used for printing the Ôbaku edition of the Buddhist canon. They were produced with the aid of donations collected by the Japanese Ôbaku monk Tetsugen Dôkô 鐡眼道光 (1630-1682). After ten years he had obtained enough money to begin the block cutting and printing, but the Uji river overflowed and famine ensued. He used the money to help those in need. Again Tetsugen spent years collecting money, and again tragedy struck when an epidemic spread across Japan, whereupon Tetsugen used what money he had collected to aid others. Finally, after twenty years, he obtained the funds he needed and the project began. Completed in 1678, the first edition of the sutras was 7,000 copies; the original woodblocks are viewable today at Manpuku-ji. There is a saying that Tetsugen made three sets of sutras, and that the first two "intangible" sets surpass the last.


The red-painted gyoban ("fish board": 魚盤) is one of the most famous examples of this Buddhist percussion instrument, which is used during rituals involving the recitation of sutras, mantras, or other Buddhist texts. In most Zen/Chán (Mahayama) Buddhist traditions, gyoban help to keep the rhythm of sutra chanting. At Manpuku-ji, the gyoban is used to toll the hours. The fish, which never sleeps, symbolizes wakefulness, and thus serves to encourage wakeful attention among the practitioners of Buddhism. The Manpuku-ji gyoban is derived from an early type of the instrument (today found forms are more common), with the body of the fish carved with scales and a pearl gripped in the fish's mouth. The sounds of gyoban differ depending on their size, type of wood, and degree of hollowness. The white sheen on the gyoban as drawn by Kawanishi is the area where the fish has been struck countless times.

This large-format design by Kawanishi is a rarity. It is not included in the comprehensive catalog of the artist's works produced by his son and printmaker Kawanishi Yûzaburô 川西祐三郎 (born 1923). The print comes with a woodblock-printed sticker bearing the artist's name (Kawanishi Hide: 川西英), production information (jiga, jikoku, jizuri = self-drawn, self-carved, self-printed:自画自刻自摺), and title Ôbakusan (黄檗山) — see image at right.

References: Fiorillo, Kawanishi web page