Edition I Morph 108 (a)
Edition I Morph 108 (b)
Edition II

[modernly supplied title]


kingyo to medaka ni hozakinofusamo

Goldfish and Medaka with Water-milfoil


Original Number / 原番号


Theme Identification / 画題識別

108 Goldfish and Medaka Theme

Currently Documented Edition Signature and Seal Markings:
Edition I: 楽山篁子生 Raku-zan Kou-shi-sei + Seal B [placed 1.75 cm above left lower margin]
Edition II: 楽山篁子生 Raku-zan Kou-shi-sei + Seal B [placed 2.85 cm above left lower margin]

[For illustration of seals listed by seal code letter, see the Seals article. For edition and dating characteristics applicable to the entire series, see the Editions article.]

Print History:
Indentification of this design as number 108 is original to Rakusan who designated this woodblock print as the 108th design published in his main sequence. However, 108 is actually the eighth of thirty-six woodblock prints in Rakusan's second main sequence series, 篁子生画選, Koushisei Gasen, lit. 'Koushisei's Print Selection' (usually called here the 36 Series).

108 was adapted as a woodblock print based on the model of an actual-size original painting on silk. All of the prototype paintings for this series are currently in a single private collection.

108-0 (original painting on silk) (private collection)

Like most 36 Series designs, 108 has the same signature and seal combination on every copy. However, 108 is among a very few designs where Rakusan distinguished an edition change by altering the placement of those markings rather than the form of the signature and/or seal. Color and technique variations within a single edition are not uncommon with 36 Series designs, but typically the order in which those variations appeared is not recoverable. 108 is unusual in that its three easily distinguished variants can be sequentially arranged and even approximately dated. The first two are morphs within edition I, and the third constitutes edition II.

The three variations differ most obviously in the treatment of the bokashi shading in the lower portion of the background. (In all three the upper portion of the background is uninked and therefore remained the same color as the plain paper of the exterior margins. Regrettably, the copies illustrated here were photographed under different circumstances with different cameras. As a result, the very similar paper colors (and hence the upper backgrounds) appear much more different here in these examples than they really are.)

Edition I: Presumably to save time in creating the first print run of edition I of 108 Rakusan decided to simplify the background shading used in the prototype painting, 108-0. He substituted instead an even band of dilute bokashi which covers the entire lower portion of the design. Rakusan continued to use this background treatment in all subsequent edition I reprintings. The painting reserved the space in the lower left corner for the signature and seal markings. In edition I of 108 those are placed in a vertical column coming to within 1.75 cm of the lower margin.

Edition I Morph 108 (a): The background bokashi band of the 108 (a) morph is a neutral gray color. 108 (a) is currently the only morph of 108 associated with presentation sheets suggesting that it alone is the earliest variant. It was also included in the earliest securely dated sales only a few months apart in 1935-1936. The large number of documented copies suggests further that 108 (a) was produced over several years from between the first print run in early 1934 to perhaps as late as 1938.

Only the earliest 36 Series prints were delivered tipped into recessed wells of presentation sheets embossed in their lower margins with the series title. Because all early edition I prints once had these presentation sheets, a copy which retains its presentation sheet must have been printed during the 1930s. After his supply of presentation sheets was exhausted, Rakusan distributed subsequently-reprinted copies loose. A limited number of leftover earlier-printed copies of some designs on presentation sheets were still being distributed shortly after World War II, but by then most designs were only available as loose sheets. However, absence of presentation sheets is not diagnostic of later printings because many early prints have subsequently been detached from theirs.

Edition I Morph 108 (b): The 108 (b) morph resembles 108 (a) in general technique, but Rakusan made some color changes. Most are minor differences which are difficult to notice without close comparison. However, the substitution of clear sky blue for the lower background bokashi instantly sets this morph apart from all other variants. The rarity of 108 (b) implies a short production period, and probably only a single print run. Associations within the documented collections suggest a date late in the pre-World War II period, perhaps sometime during 1939-1941.

Edition II: For edition II of 108 Rakusan took the opportunity presented by more leisurely post-World War II reprinting to modify his background technique to return to the original concept used in the 108-0 painting. In place of the even bokashi band used in edition I, Rakusan concentrated the dilute gray background shading only around the lower of the two goldfish and faded it out radially. This obvious difference in technique makes an edition II copy of 108 easily recognizable. There are also a number of less noticeable color changes.

Although for edition II Rakusan chose to retain the same signature and seal combination used in edition I, he raised its position by a little over a centimeter. In edition II copies the signature and seal combination is placed about 2.85 cm above the lower margin. This modification was in order to accommodate placing Foster's requested cursive romaji signature immediately below (as in the example above). Not all edition II copies of 108 have that signature (including the one illustrated in the Foster booklet), but most do. Clearly therefore, edition II of 108 was a direct result of a Foster commission since there are otherwise no practical or esthetic reasons for altering the placement of the attribution markings. The large number of documented copies suggests that edition II of 108 was also produced over several years between perhaps circa 1950 and the studio closure in 1955.

108 is one of the very few Rakusan designs for which any printing details exist. The Foster booklet reports that an edition II copy of 108 required 32 printing impressions to complete.

Copies in Public Collections:
Edition and Morph Undetermined: Winterthur Library, Winterthur, DE, USA; (02x5.89k) [not illustrated online].

Other Foster Information:
108 is among the most familiar Rakusan designs because of Walter Foster. Foster included reduced-size reproductions of four sheets of an edition II process set of 108 on page 9 of his booklet, together with instructions on how to copy it as a drawing and watercolor painting. (This important process set is discussed more fully in the Process Set article.) As advertised in the booklet, Foster initially offered original 9" x 14" woodblock prints of edition II of 108 for $6. However, other than the booklet page, there is no indication that Foster manufactured any reproductions of 108 (or indeed of any other 36 Series print). What are sometimes offered for sale as reproductions of 108 are actually copies of page 9 cut from the Foster booklet. Oddly, Foster makes no reference to 108 being part of a series of designs although he surely knew it was. Foster made up titles of his own to use in the booklet, and most are inaccurate at best. Here he called 108, "Fish".

[For additional general information on Foster, the booklet, or the fine art reproductions, see the Foster article.]

Theme History:
The Rakusan project which produced 篁子生画選, Koushisei Gasen, resulted in two related series of woodblock prints. Each print of the 36 Series is intimately connected to a group of prints with the same subjects in the Fan Series. Together these subject-related prints in the two series constitute a theme. Each theme consists of a quintet of monochrome Fan Series designs (one design in each of the five fan shapes), plus one polychrome, 36 Series design which illustrates the theme subject. The theme is labeled here by the original Rakusan number of its 36 Series design followed by the subject. 108 is the 36 Series design of the 108 Goldfish and Medaka theme.

The 108 Goldfish and Medaka theme is one of the many entirely regular themes represented by a complete fan quintet and a color woodblock print. Three of the five Fan Series designs have seal C which indicates carving dates between the last months of 1933 and the end of the first quarter of 1934. However, the 36 Series design 108 and the other two Fan Series designs have seal B which indicates a later carving period close to the time of publication.

Goldfish and medaka are both popular pets, and they associated with popular summer festival games in Japan. The 108 Goldfish and Medaka theme was combined with two other summer subject themes (107 and 109) as installment three.

The Fan Series and 36 Series prints of the 108 Goldfish and Medaka theme were distributed in early 1934 in installment three (of twelve). The delivery documents for installment three remain to be discovered, but its delivery month was either March, April, or (most likely) May 1934. The individual woodblock prints would have been printed earlier in the same month as their distribution.

The 108 Goldfish and Medaka theme is the first of several compound-subject themes. Both thematic elements of a compound theme always appear in its 36 Series design. However, the individual Fan Series designs may have both, or one, or the other. Here only goldfish are in 108-1, 108-3 and 108-4; medaka (with small freshwater shrimp) in 108-5; and both goldfish and medaka in 108-2 and 108. The freshwater shrimp and the various aquatic plants are non-thematic embellishments.

The 108 Goldfish and Medaka theme could also be subtitled the "Fishbowl theme" since the fan shapes in several of the designs appear to define the shape of a fishbowl or similar container, and all of the animals are kept as aquarium pets. In addition to the bowl-like shapes of their fan silhouettes, three designs, 108-2, 108-3, and 108-5, also show the surface of the water in ways which suggest a glass container. Most of the goldfish are depicted in side view as though seen from within the water or through the side of an aquarium. However, all of Rakusan's illustrations of medaka are drawn as seen from above and in a conventional and traditionally abstract style. This creates an odd visual disconnect since his medaka occur closely associated with other animals seen from a different viewpoint.

Some of the medaka designs in this theme may have been adapted from sketches originally created in the late 1920s during the planning of the earlier 100 Series design 29.

Species Illustrated:
Goldfish, Carassius auratus auratus, 金魚, きんぎょ, キンギョ, kin-gyo, lit. 'gold-fish', is a domesticated version of a less-colorful carp native to east Asia. Originally domesticated in China more than a thousand years ago, goldfish are one of the most commonly kept freshwater aquarium fish and are popular throughout the world as well as in Japan. All of the goldfish Rakusan shows here are fancy varieties, virtually all of which can be identified by name in Japanese. Here no attempt has been made to identify particular individual varieties.

Medaka (Japanese Killifish or Ricefish), Oryzias latipes, 目高, めだか, メダカ, medaka, although not a Japanese native, derives one of its English names from Japanese. This rather small (2-4 cm long) native of Southeast Asia is amphidromous, meaning it moves between salt and freshwater at some point in its life. It is commonly found in flooded rice fields in coastal Asia. The medaka has been a popular pet in Japan since the 17th century, and it is hardy and easy to raise. It varies from brown or yellow-gold in the wild to white, creamy-yellow, or orange in aquarium-bred individuals.

Eurasian Water-milfoil, Myriophyllum spicatum, 穂咲の総藻, ほざきのふさも, ホザキノフサモ, hozaki no fusamo, is an invasive aquatic plant commonly used in aquariums. It occurs in the background of several Rakusan aquatic designs.

Related Designs:
Other designs in the 108 Goldfish and Medaka theme:
108-1 108-2 108-3 108-4 108-5

Other designs with medaka:
29 108-2 108-5 132-1

Other designs with water-milfoil:
108-5 127-1