Onchi Kôshirô (恩地孝四郎 1891-1955) was the preeminent figure of the sôsaku hanga (creative print: 創作版画) movement. Onchi used a varied and sophisticated approach to design, exploring figurative, abstract, and symbolic imagery through traditional and experimental techniques, both Japanese and Western. He was an excellent draftsman in the realistic manner, while his explorations into abstract composition stand as seminal in the development of sôsaku hanga. The printmaker Yamaguchi Gen once said, "Onchi was a vital artist ... he had the inspiration and passion of a great artist. He was the embodiment of modern hanga in Japan and our ambassador to the rest of the world. He was heart and mind....".
Perhaps more than anyone else, it was Onchi who embodied the principle of self-carving and self-printing as essential to the sôsaku hanga artist. Even so, he contributed to several series for which his self-carved images were printed by others to be included in themed print series, as is the case with our example.
Kudan, a slope where the Yasukuni Jinja (靖国神社 founded 1869) shrine now stands, is near Kanda Jinbôchô (神田神保町), in the nearby Chiyoda neighborhood in Tokyo, which was once a part of the former Kanda ward. During the Edo period Kudan Hill offered fantastic views of Kanda, Nihonbashi, Asakusa, Honjo, and even Mt. Tsukuba and the mountains of Boshu. Today it remains a popular sightseeing destination. Kanda Jinbôchô was named after the samurai Nagaharu Jinbô, who lived there in the late 17th century. Today it is a thriving hub of used-book stores, publishing houses, antique stores, and curio shops.
In Onchi's design, a figure stands at the top of Kudan Hill where it abruptly slopes downward along a walking path toward buildings in the distance. The foreground figure of a woman reminds one of the compositional cut-offs found frequently in ukiyo-e (N.B., Utagawa Hiroshige), although Onchi claimed to have had little interest in that genre, as European art was a far more significant influence on his early development.
Our impression is accompanied by the original folder, printed with the title Kudan usugure (Twilight at Kudan: 九段薄暮) and the artist, Onchi Kôshirô saku (Made by Onchi Kôshirô:恩地孝四郎作). The design was self-published by members of the Nihon Hanga Kyôkai (Japan Print Association: 日本版画協会 founded 1931); the folder lists the publisher as Nihon Hanga Sha (Japan Print Company: 日本版画社), the publishing arm of the Nihon Hanga Kyôkai. Another impression is in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (Accession #55.355).
References: (Onchi Kôshirô), Prints of Onchi Koshiro, Keishosha Ltd., 1975, no. 195