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 various projects for which his self-carved images were printed by others to be included in themed print series, as is the case with our example.
According to Merritt & Yamada,* the series Shin Nihon hyakkei (100 views of new Japan: 新東京百景) was published from 1938 to 1941 by 32 members of the Nihon Hanga Kyôkai (Japan Print Association: 日本版画協会 founded 1931): Asada Benji, Asahi Yasuhiro, Azechi Umetarô, Fukazawa Sakuichi, Funasaki Kôjirô, Henmi Takashi, Hiratsuka Un'ichi, Inagaki Tomoo, Ishii Ryûsuke, Ishizaki Shigetoshi, Katsuhira Tokushi, Kawakami Sumio, Kawanishi Hide, Kitagawa Toshio, Kitamura Imazô, Kobayashi Asaji, Koizumi Kishio, Kotozuka Eiichi, Maseda Masao, Maeda Toshio, Maekawa Senpan, Matsunaga Shigeru, Oiwa Chûichi, Onchi Kôshirô, Shimizu Kôichi, Shimozawa Kihachirô, Takeda Shintarô, Takeda Yoshihei, Taninaka Yasunori, Tokuriki Tomikichirô, Uchida Shizuma, Yamaguchi Susumu. The series was never completed (39 designs are listed in Merrit and Yamada).
Yuigahama is a beach near Kamakura with rich historical associations. Critical battles were fought there, including clashes during the Genpei war in 1180, and again in 1333 when the Nitta clan defeated the Hôjô (Kamakura shogunate). Yuigahama was also the site of a clash in 1416 between rebellious samurai and the Ashikaga shogun.
Of course, Onchi's design offers up a very different view. About an hour's train ride from Tokyo, Yuigahama beach was a popular site for moga (a contraction for modan gaaru or "modern girl": モダンガール), the more liberated and openly sexual young women of the 1920s-30s who embraced Westernized fashions and lifestyles ― Japan's stand-in for the American "flapper." The moga phenomenon appeared soon after the Great Kantô Earthquake of 1923. (The novelist Tanizaki Jun-ichirô's uninhibited heroine from his serialized 1924 tale Naomi or Chijin no Ai, lit., "A Fool's Love": 痴人の愛, who appears on the beach in one scene, was a quintessential moga.) Onchi has captured the bright mood and colorful Western-style swimwear favored by the moga. Note, too, the bold placement in the lower right foreground of the striped umbrella-tent (a cabana used as a dressing "room" or to provide shade). This graphic device is echoed by the placement of the girl adjusting her swimming cap in the lower left corner of the image.
The Yuigahama kaigan design is not included among the 39 designs listed by Merritt and Yamada for Shin Nihon hyakkei.* However, it is assigned to that series in the Onchi catalogue raisonné, where it is dated to 1938.** Yuigahama may therefore be one of the pre-war designs that was issued only in a post-war edition. Note, too, that the publisher is not the Sôsaku Hanga Kurabu, as it was for the other 39 designs — see below.
The original folder accompanying our impression is titled Yuigahama kaigan
(Yuigahama Seacoast: 由井比ヶ浜海岸
), although this design is usually called "Beach at Kamakura." The artist, Onchi Kôshirô saku
(Made by Onchi Kôshirô:恩地孝四郎作) is identified, along with the publisher Nihon Hanga Sha
(日本版画社), the publishing arm of the Nihon Hanga Kyôkai. There is also a brushed-in inscription reading Shin Nihon hyakkei
(One hundred views of new Japan: 新日本百景) and Showa jusannen
(Thirteenth year of Showa = 1938: 昭和十三年).
References: * Helen Merritt & Nanako Yamada, Guide to Modern Japanese Woodblock Prints 1900-1975, Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1992, pp. 267-72; ** (Onchi Kôshirô), Prints of Onchi Koshiro, Keishosha (形象社) Ltd., 1975, no. 194; Helen Merritt, Modern Japanese Woodblock Prints: The Early Years, Honolulu, University of Hawaii Press, 1990, pp. 276-78