[modernly supplied title]


sawagani ni nogeshi to kusa

Freshwater Crabs and Spiny Sowthistle with Grass


Assigned Number / 規定番号


Theme Identification / 画題識別

131 Freshwater Crab Theme / 131 サワガニ画題

Signature and Seal Markings:
Edition I (only edition): 楽山篁子生 Raku-zan Kou-shi-sei + Seal C

[For illustration of seals listed by seal code letter, see the Seals article.]

Series History and Definitions:
During the two years between mid 1933 and mid 1935 Rakusan produced a series of 180 individual woodblock-printed fan designs. These fan designs are printed as negative images with a single impression of black ink. Although all are actually woodblock prints, this traditional negative-image printing style is called 石摺(り), ishi-zuri, lit. 'stone rubbing', from its superficial resemblance to that technique. Rakusan called this series 篁子生石摺画選, Koushisei Ishizuri Gasen, lit. 'Koushisei's Stone-rubbing Print Selection', but it is usually called here the Fan Series.

Rakusan arranged the Fan Series prints into shared-subject groups typically consisting of one design in each of five different fan silhouette shapes. Each of these groups of Fan Series designs are united by a corresponding polychrome 36 Series design which defines the subject. Each shared-subject Fan Series group and its 36 Series design together comprise a theme (画題, gadai).

Rakusan did not include the Fan Series in his main sequence numbering. Therefore, the original number used for each of the 36 Series prints has been modified to identify the Fan Series members of its theme. The five different fan silhouette shapes have been here assigned arbitrary numbers 1 through 5. To indicate a fan design these shape designations are added to the 36 Series number separated by a hyphen. 131-2 is the Fan Series design with fan shape 2 in the 131 Freshwater Crab theme. Like all other designs in this series, 131-2 was only produced in a single print run, and few copies are currently documented.

Theme History:
The 131 Freshwater Crab theme is one of the many entirely regular themes represented by a complete fan quintet and a color woodblock print. The Fan Series prints of the 131 Freshwater Crab theme were distributed in early 1935 in installment eleven (of twelve), but the delivery documents for installment ten remain to be discovered. The series as originally announced would have seen this installment published in November 1934. However, with documented delays the earliest month it could actually have been delivered is February 1935, and it may well have been even further delayed.

The signature and seal markings suggest that the designs in the 131 Freshwater Crab theme were produced in at least two stages. Two of the five fan designs in this theme (including 131-2) have seal C which indicates a carving date during the first half of 1934. Despite the early completion of some of its wooden blocks, Rakusan delayed printing and distribution of the prints in what became the 131 Freshwater Crab theme until the following year. It was eventually grouped with other summer season themes nearer to the end of the series. Two other fan designs and the 36 Series design 131 have seal B which suggests those designs were carved closer to the time of publication. The remaining fan design has rare minor seal Q whose major seal carving period remains to be determined.

It is possible that more than one kind of freshwater crab is illustrated in this theme. In designs 131-1 and 131-4 the crabs are hairier, but this may be an artistic device to indicate algal growth on the shell. However, all the crabs included in this theme are definitely freshwater crabs. (A species of marine crab is also shown in two Fan Series designs of the 127 Shrimp and Clam theme.)

The composition of 131-2 includes two small river crabs, two stems of sowthistle (one with a flower), and what appear to be several blades of grass. The ground surface is suggested by an abstract scattering of small dots and gouges, and below are swirls which may indicate stones underwater. All of the elements are rendered in a very loose almost silhouetted style with lines and shading closely mirroring the original sketch. The result works equally well as ishizuri or reversed.

The woodblock print of 131-2 was modeled closely on an actual-size original sumi sketch which although lost can be reconstructed by digitally reversing the image of the woodblock print:

131-2 as originally drawn (reconstruction)

Species Illustrated:
Japanese Freshwater Crab, Geothelphusa dehaani, 沢蟹, さわがに, サワガニ, sawa-gani, lit. 'river crab' is a common native species. These small crabs are eaten and are readily available in markets.

Spiny Sowthistle, Sonchus oleraceus, 野芥子, のげし, ノゲシ, no-geshi, is a common and distinctive native weed.

Also included in the design is an abstractly rendered, unidentified grass with long leaves. In the title supplied here it is called simply 草, kusa, 'grass'.

Related Designs:
Other designs in the 131 Freshwater Crab theme:
131-1 131-3 131-4 131-5 131

Other designs with spiny sowthistle:
105-2 105