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Archive: Kawanishi Hide (川西英)

Kijutsu majutsu (Magic and juggling: 奇術魔術)
Kawanishi Hide ga (川西英画) signed in the block n the cover
No artist seal
Hanga-shô (版画莊), Tokyo
(H x W)
Sôsaku hanga woodblock-printed book
17.2 x 12.0 cm
Excellent (exceptional copy, never previously opened, cleanest possible condition)
Price (USD/¥):

Inquiry: Ref #KWN22


Kawanishi Hide (川西英), 1894-1965, whose given name was Hideo, 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 several 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.

Note: There is some confusion about how some of Kawanishi's books were produced, but the following seems to be the actual story regarding three publications in particular. Our source is Kanai Noriko, curator, Kobe City Museum (Kôbe-shiritsu Hakubutsukan: 神戸市立博物館), who is the world’s authority on the works of Kawanishi Hide. In 1934, Kawanishi teamed up with the Tokyo publisher Hanga Sô to produce three books: two on the circus theme and one on the opera "Carmen." Operated by Hirai Hiroshi, the small publishing firm Hanga Sô was in business from 1/1933 to 9/1936, specializing in limited-edition books from blocks carved by sôsaku-hanga artists. The blocks were carved and proofed in Kawanishi's atelier in Kobe, but were then sent to Tokyo and printed on paper derived from the cores of industrial paper cylinders by means of a novel type of machine press. Housed in a trade school now known as the Tokyo Institute of Technology, the press was operated by their technician. Thus, contrary to what has been written in other sources, the images in these three books, while self-carved, were not self-printed by the artist. Moreover, the experimental and unique nature of this enterprise places these three books in a rarefied category of prints and multiples created through the adaptation of industrial-age techniques. To our knowledge, this exciting but fraught paper-core, machine-press technique was never use by other artists and publishers.


Magic and acrobatics as depicted by Kawanishi in his Kijutsu majutsu (Magic and juggling: 奇術魔術) have an long history in Japan. Aside from street magicians who typically learned and performed tricks and acrobatic feats on their own initiative, practitioners of tezuma (手妻 magic accomplished by dexterity — legerdemain) acquired their skills as disciples of masters who maintained an apprentice system and passed down craft secrets through the generations. A famous example is the Ukare no chô (Fluttering butterfly: 浮の蝶), which was reputedly performed at the imperial court for centuries and is still performed today. A second classic of Japanese magic (which is included on the same page as the Butterfly Trick in Kawanishi's book) is the "Water Fountain" or "Magic Fountain," a type of mizugei (water art, or trick with water: 水芸).

The publication of Kawanishi's Kijutsu majutsu in April of 1935 places it within a fertile period for Japan’s first magic societies, such as the Tokyo Kijutsu Kenkyûkai (Tokyo Magician's Research Association: 東京奇術研究会 est. 1930) and the Nippon Kijutsu Kyôkai (Japan Magic Association, 日本奇術協会 est. 1936). Moreover, the emergence of modern magic as a marketable commodity transformed access to tricks and thus, at this time, Japan witnessed the rise of so-called department store magic, enabling the amateur magician to thrive. Leading professionals also started to give demonstrations and sell magic props in leading stores such as the Mitsukoshi (三越) in the 1930s. [see Goto-Jones ref. below, pp. 301-302.]

Also notable is the presence of female magicians in Kawanishi's Kijutsu majutsu. (In the West, women operated at the margins of magic.) The "Queen of Japanese Magic," Shôkyokusai Tenkatsu (松旭齋天勝 1886-1944) started her troupe in 1911 (the Tenkatsu Ichi-za). She was a gifted magician, performing a variety of feats and often dressing and performing in Western attire (sometimes even the attire of a Western male). Her company expanded its entertaiment menu by staging adaptations of Western plays, including Shakespeare's The Tempest and Oscar Wilde's Salome (she played the title role). Tenkatsu toured the U.S. in 1924-25 and helped introduce American jazz to Japan in 1925 when she brought a group of Chicago-based musicians on tour with her.

Kawanishi's Kijutsu majutsu offers an array of performers displaying their skills in illusion and manual dexterity. Printed in red and white on black paper, with illustrated covers and twelve double-page spreads, the scenes include acrobatic feats, juggling, sword swallowing, plate spinning, ring tossing and linked-rings, conjuring, card tricks, magic "fountains" (water spouting from fans, cups, and other objects), escape-artists, levitations, decapitation, sharp-shooting, revue dancing, animal acts, and magician assistants (including one being sawed in half). More than 60 figures populate these sheets, and they are rendered in Kawanishi's inimitable, playful style. All told, this is a wonderfully entertaining and visually rich compendium detailing some of the marvels that Kawanishi clearly found so fascinating and exciting.


  • Our copy is in excellent condition; in fact, until we photographed the contents, the book had, amazingly, never been opened, so there is no wear, thumbing of the corners, or other usual condition issues. A fresher copy cannot be found.
  • Photographing a fine-art volume with such a tight binding was difficult, as we did not want to risk damage to the pristine condition. Thus, there are reflections off the pages and plastic covering of the outside covers, shadows in the gutters, and very slight distortions. Nevertheless, the images provided here offer a good idea of the exceptional quality of this particular printing.


  • D'Orlando, A., de Vries, M, Uhlenbeck, C. and Wessels, E.: Nostalgia and Modernity: The Styles of Komura Settai and Kawanishi Hide. Amsterdam: Nihon no Hanga, spring 2012 (exhibition cat.).
  • Goto-Jones, Chris: Conjuring Asia: Magic, Orientalism, and the Making of the Modern World. Cambridge University Press, 2016.
  • Kawanishi Hide, Gashû "Kôbe hyakkei" Kawanishi Hide ga aishita fûkei (Collected pictures, "100 Scenes of Kobe," favorite scenes of Kawanishi Hide: 画集『神戸百景』川西英が愛した風景), 2008.
  • Kobe City Koiso Memorial Museum of Art: (Kawanishi Hide, the retrospective. 120th anniversary of his birth (Kobe shiritsu Koiso kinen bijutsukan (神戸市立小磯記念美術館), Kawanishi hide kaiko ten — Seitan ichihyakunijû nen (川西回顧展 生誕120年). Kobe: 2014 (N.B. no. 57, p. 59).
  • Hur, Nam-lin: Prayer and Play in Late Tokugawa Japan: Asakusa Sensôji and Edo Society. [Harvard East Asian Monographs, no. 185] Cambridge (MA) and London: Harvard University Asia Center and Harvard University Press, 2000, p. 63.
  • Uhlenbeck, C., Newland, A.R., de Vries, M.: Waves of renewal: modern Japanese prints, 1900 to 1960, Selections from the Nihon no hanga collections, Amsterdam. Hotei Publishing, 2016, pp. 240-246.