Sekino Jun'ichirô ( 1914–1988) was the leading Japanese figurative printmaker to emerge from the circle of Onchi Kôshirô (1891–1955). Highly skilled in drawing and composition, Sekino assimilated traditional and modern art from Japan, Europe, and the United States in his portraiture, still life, and landscapes. A prolific artist, he worked for nearly six decades, producing well over a thousand prints, drawings, watercolours, oil paintings, and illustrated books. His best works, especially those around the mid-twentieth century, stand out as notable achievements in modern Japanese printmaking.1
Sanjô no Ôhashi (Great Sanjô Bridge: 三条大橋) spans the Kamo River (鴨川) in Kyoto (京都). The date of the first Sanjô bridge is unknown, but it would appear to at least as early as the sixteenth century, as the shogun Toyotomi Hideyoshi ordered repairs for the structure in 1590. The bridge was at the terminus of the Tôkaidô (Eastern Sea Road: 東海道) as well as the Kisokaidô (Kiso River Road: 木曾街道), also called the Nakasendô (Central Mountain Route: 中山道). The modern-day concrete bridge with two lanes for driving and a walking path on either side (shown clearly in Jun'ichirô Sekino's woodblock print) is a 1950 reconstruction; at the western end of the bridge there is a marker indicating the spot where the old Tôkaidô Street came to an end.
Sanjô Ôhashi is the final station along the Tôkaidô or the point of arrival when traveling from Edo (Tokyo) to Kyoto in all standard Tôkaidô series. It was not, however, the last station published by Sekino (which happened to be no. 41, Narumi, in June 1974), as his designs for this series were not created strictly according to station order. Sekino's Sanjô Ôhashi captures with effective simplicity eleven silhouetted figures leaning into the cold winds of a snowy evening. The artist depicts himself as the third figure from the left on the far side of the bridge, carrying an easel over his shoulder. The limited color palette evokes a feeling of bitter cold. Although modern in its details (a car, its headlights turned on, crosses the concrete bridge), the scene follows a legacy of similar views from ukiyo-e and early twentieth-century Japanese printmaking. Yet whatever technological advances might have taken place since the heyday of landscape prints in the nineteenth century, nature still dictates pace and mood. It is a lonely, poignant journey for the pedestrians who walk single file across the Sanjô Ôhashi. Sekino has depicted more than a famous view in Kyoto by capturing modern urban life with notable economy of form and color.
Sekino embarked on this series soon after returning from time spent in Central and North America and in Europe. It is said that during his travels he gained a greater appreciation for documenting his journeys and for the native beauty and special character of landscapes and cityscapes in Japan. Sekino visited all the sites along the Tôkaidô that were of interest to him, where he sketched the scenes, sometimes returning to make additional drawings. He cut all the blocks and pulled artist's proofs. The paper (here watermarked "Jun Sekino" in the lower middle margin) for the series was a type of Echizen washi called kizuki hôsho, made expressly for the artist from mulberry-wood fibers by Iwano Ichibei VIII. Both Ichibei VIII (1901-1976; 八代岩野市兵衛) and his son Ichibei IX (born 1933; 九代岩野市兵衛) were designated, in 1968 and 2000, respectively, as Ningen kokuhô ("Living National Treasure": 人間国宝) by Japan's Agency for Cultural Affairs. Printing of the series was divided among three expert artisans: Kobayashi Sôkichi, Yoneda Minoru, and Iwase Kôichi, whose work Sekino supervised. He signed and sealed all impressions that met his approval.
When Sekino completed his series, he composed a poem: "After fifteen years, / I finally finished the / Fifty-three stations / of the Tôkaidô series; / Admiring them, I caught cold."2 One is perhaps reminded of traditional kyoka (playful verse: 狂歌) wherein refinement sits comfortably alongside the ordinary. In 1975 the Japanese Ministry of Education presented Sekino with an award for the series, honoring him for "... the recreation of the old fifty-three stations of the Tôkaidô highway in the light of the present day."3-4
- Fiorillo, John, "The art of Sekino Jun’ichirô: Expressive realism and geometric formalism," in: Andon, 2017, no. 104, p. 73.
- Tikotin Museum of Japaese Art (53 Stations of the Tokaido: Sekino Jun'ichiro Summer 1988), exhibition catalog, unpaginated (* English trans. by Ted Gorelick);
- Merritt & Yamada: Guide to Modern Japanese Woodblock Prints, 1900-1975, pp. 259-260;
- Robert McClain, Woodblock Prints by Sekino Jun'ichirô: The Fifty-three Station of the Tôkaidô, 1978, Museum of Art, University of Oregon, exhibition catalog, unpaginated.