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Archive: Yoshikawa Kanpô (吉川観方)

Kataoka Gadô IV (片岡我童) as Miyuki (みゆき) in Shôutsushi asagao nikki
No artist seal
Satô Shô han (Satô Shôtarô) at top right below artist signature; and another seal (Satô ko) in the lower left corner
(H x W)
Dai-ôban nishiki-e
42.2 x 28.9 cm
Excellent deluxe edition with silver mica background
Very good color and condition (very slight soil in margins; a few tiny marks)
Price (USD/¥):

Inquiry: YKP01 


Yoshikawa Kanpô (吉川観方; given name Kenjirô), 1894-1979, was born in Kyoto made his name as a Nihonga-style painter and writer, as well as a stage designer and advisor to the Shôchiku kabuki theatrical company in Kyoto. He studied Nihonga painting with Nishibori Tôsui (dates unknown) beginning in 1901 and later with Takeuchi Seihô (1864-1942). By the time he graduated with honors from the Kyoto Specialist School of Painting in 1918 and a graduate degree in 1920 from the Kyoto City Specialist School of Painting, he had already begun exhibiting with the Bunten in 1917. Evetually stopped exhibiting paintings, but continued to accept commissions while also briefly designing Shin Hanaga-style woodblock prints, among these a famous series of actor portraits published by Satô Shôtarô between 1922 and 1924, and apparently ceased making any more prints after 1925. He also produced landscapes (fûkeiga) and pictures of beautiful women (bijinga). Yoshikawa then concentrated on other pursuits, including playing the biwa (琵琶) and kokyû (胡弓). He authored several books on topics such as kabuki, Japanese dolls, and Japanese customs (including Faces in color prints, Contemporary actors on stage, Collected famous treasured dolls, Mirrors and designs, History of changes in sash design, and History of Japanese folk customs) and two illustrated volumes on ghosts (1925).

The dramatization of Asagao (Morning Glory, 朝顔) has rather complicated history. The play Shôutsushi asagao banashi (Recreating the true story of morning glory: 生写朝顔話) was one of a number of dramatizations of this very popular love story. An unproduced puppet play was written between 1804 and 1806 by Yamada no Kagashi (posthumous name of Chikamatsu Tokusô, 1751-1810) after a kodan (講談 oral storytelling) by Shiba Shisô called Asagao (朝顔). Four or five years later, an illustrated book titled Asagao nikki (朝顔日記) was published. Next, in 1812, a play called Shôutsushi asagao nikki (Recreating the true diary of morning glory: 生写朝顔日記) was staged in Osaka, written by Dekishima Sensuke (i.e., not the play authored by Chikamatsu Tokusô), but it was a failure. In 1814 a revised version (8 acts and 12 scenes) of Tokusô's drama was staged at the Kado no Shibai in Osaka. That same play was adapted for the puppet stage and presented on the grounds of the Inari Shrine in Osaka; it was attributed (posthumously) to Tokusô. The play was again re-staged at the Takemoto puppet theater, Osaka in 1/1832. Another playwright, Suishô Enshûjin, made a final revision, and it is this version that was also presented in kabuki. The play received a rewrite in 1850 by Nishizawa Ippô (1802-1852) as an adaptation of the puppet play, and it is this version that is used today.

The tale features the love between Miyagi Asojirô (宮木阿曽次郎) and Akizuki musume Miyuki (秋月娘深雪), daughter of a wealthy samurai, who first meet while enjoying an outing in pleasure boats on the Uji River. They are immediately smitten with one another and exchange vows, but afterwards a misunderstanding leads Miyuki to believe that her father will force her to marry someone else. Unknown to her, the "stranger" happens to be Asojirô, whose name was changed to Komazawa Jirôzaemon after his recent adoption into a samurai family. To keep her pledge to Asojirô, she runs away and assumes the name Asagao ("Morning Glory"), a reminder of the poem Asojirô had written for her at their first meeting). After months pass, Miyuki loses her sight from endless grieving, barely supporting herself by playing the koto (stringed instrument, resembling a horizontal harp: 琴). One day she encounters her lover by chance, who sees that she is now destitute and blind from tears and grief. Suddenly he is called away by his lord and Miyuki despairs, running after him in a fierce storm. Unable to cross the river, she is ready to throw herself into the raging water, but is stopped by a retainer of her father. Miyuki ultimately regains her sight after curing her blindness with a drug left for her by Asojirô. 


Kanpô's mica-ground design is a poignant portrayal of the blind Miyuki as she adjusts the plectra on her fingers as she prepares to play for Asojirô. Kanpô's manner of drawing her closed eyes is reminiscent of traditional ukiyo-e depictions of zatô (座頭 blind masseurs and musicians), effectively suggesting Miyuki's blindness. Kanpô's design subtlety expresses the two-fold nature of the onnagata (女方 or 女形 "woman's manner," that is, the male actor of female kabuki roles) in its "female likeness" (女らしさ onna-rashisa) aligned with a "masculine" strength. The restrained elegance of Kanpô's style distinguishes it from the work of other shin hanga artists and is perhaps a reflection of his Kyoto origins.

Impressions of this design are in many of the major museums around the world, including The Art Institute of Chicago (1939.1587, ex-Frederick Gookin Collection); Toledo Museum of Art (1939.412); Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (38.712); British Museum (1981,1021,0.6); and the National Gallery of Australia.

Although not indicated on the print, the 1930 Toledo catalog (*) states that the carver of this design was Maeda [Kentarô] and the printer Ôiwa [Tokuzô].

References: Amy Reigle Stephens (ed.), The New Wave: Twentieth-century Japanese prints from the Robert O. Muller Collection, 1993, no. 216; Toledo Museum of Art, Fresh Impressions: Early Modern Japanese Prints, 2013, no. 336; Kendall Brown and Hollis Goodall-Cristante, Shin-Hanga: New Prints in Modern Japan, 1996, figs.30-32, cat. 4A-C; Lawrence Smith, Modern Japanese Prints 1912-1989, no. 42 (plate 43, British Museum impression); * Toledo Museum of Art, A Special Exhibition of Modern Japanese Prints. 1930, no. 329.