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
Numazu (沼津), an ancient settlement mentioned in eighth-century records from the Nara period (奈良時代), was a castle town during the Edo period (江戸時代). Once part of the Odawara Domain (Odawara-han: 小田原藩), it became a separate Numazu Domain (Numazu-han: 沼津藩) with the construction of Numazu Castle in 1777. Central Numazu was destroyed by fire in 1926, and in 1944 the city expanded through merger with neighboring Katahama, Kanaoka, Ooka, and Shizuura villages. The city was targeted by American forces in World War II and was mostly destroyed by bombing on July 17, 1945. Today Numazu is a large industrial city and regional financial center in eastern Shizuoka Prefecture. It is also famous for a popular tourist attraction, Senbonhama (Forest of a Thousand Pines: 千本浜) along its seashore.
In all standard Tôkaidô series, Numazu is the thirteenth station along the Tôkaidô (Eastern sea road: 東海道) when traveling from Edo (Tokyo) to Kyoto. Woodblocks for Sekino's series, however, were not carved and printed strictly according to station order — his view of Numazu was the seventeenth design he issued in the series.
The house shown in Sekino's print is not a common type in Japan, as its facade is made entirely of a special kind of tile that is set with protruding plaster seams, making the wall nearly fireproof. A stylized architectural theme is preeminent here, with crisscrossing lattices and undulating roof tiles laid out in repeated rhythmic patterns. The effect is both decorative and linearly powerful.
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.