SP1 (basic woodblock print)

Temporary Number



Primary Woodblock-Printed Signature and Seal Markings [at upper left on all copies]:
楽山 Raku-zan + Seal B

Secondary Name and Address Markings [optionally handwritten in the lower portion of the print, but almost always present on dedication copies]:
cursive romaji signature: Rakusan Tsuchiya.
cursive romaji address: 56 Kitamachi-Komatsubara Kyoto.
[name may appear before or after address; address may be omitted; internal punctuation varies]

Secondary Signature and Seal Markings [one set from among the following at lower right on each dedication copy]:
楽山 Raku-zan + Seal B [in addition to the similar primary marking found on all copies]
楽山 Raku-zan + Seal Q
楽山生 Raku-zan Sei + Seal Q
楽山生 Raku-zan Sei + Seal T
楽山 Raku-zan + Seal T

[For illustration of seals, see the Seals article.]

Secondary City-Name Stamps: Around the time of World War II, Rakusan was required to add a maker's stamp to his prints, but the details of exactly when and why are uncertain. The stamp consists of a vertical column of tiny machine-made characters (rather like a miniscule typewriter font) which read from top to bottom: 京都 土屋楽山, Kyouto - Tsuchiya Rakuzan (Kyoto, the city where Rakusan lived, and the Japanese form of his name). This stamp is always in red ink and is located in one of the corners of the design within the image area. Copies of SP1 distributed in 1947 have city-name stamps at lower right, but copies distributed in 1948 or later do not have them.

Design History:
Although SP2 is clearly older, SP1 was the first woodblock print intended from the start to be a souvenir print. In its simplicity it is often mistaken for an original painting, but it is in fact a woodblock print adapted from an original painting of the same size whose current location is unknown. SP1 was most probably created in early 1947 and first distributed later that year. SP1 was deliberately designed without a printed background color or marginal lines in order to provide open, unprinted areas to accommodate later secondary text such as dedications. All known copies of SP1 were created from the simple woodblock print illustrated above, and most do have at least one secondary addendum. The woodblock print SP1 is by far the most commonly encountered of all the souvenir prints. Many hundreds of copies were printed – numbers at least comparable to or exceeding those for the most reprinted designs in the major series.

The SP1 design was actually printed (exclusive of the signature and seal) using only four color-impressions: black or very dark gray (variable on same print), medium gray, green, and white. All of the inks used were thin, and earlier impressions may be seen through the translucent later ones. Also, as in the example above, toning of the paper can make what is actually medium gray appear to be brown since the discoloration of the paper shows through. Otherwise all copies of SP1 once looked much like this copy, and there are no different-color morphs of this design.

Unfortunately, during the period immediately after World War II when SP1 was printed, Rakusan was forced to use a more readily available lead-based white ink which was not reliably colorfast. On some copies of SP1 (not illustrated) this white pigment has chemically altered in color. This mutation can affect not only the areas originally printed in white, but also those in green (since the green ink included that same white pigment in its composition). This chemical reaction is unpredictable in that it can affect all or only a portion of those areas. The alteration in color is also variable. In an intermediate stage a rusty-ochre or orange color may result, or it can go directly from white to a lead-gray color. Comparison of copies variously affected by this chemical reaction may give the mistaken impression that additional ink colors were used.

As in SP1, Rakusan giga (cartoon) designs occasionally do not maintain a uniform scale throughout. The frog on the left is smoking a miniaturized kiseru pipe and is holding a miniaturized traditional pipe-case, ojime, and tobacco-pouch combination. However, the dancing frog on the right is holding a grass-stem 'spear' in scale for a natural-sized frog. This composition is a much simplified adaptation of a large original painting from 1934-1935 depicting junior-grade samurai as giga frogs (not yet illustrated).

SP1 is most often seen with a personal dedication which wraps around the top and right of the basic design. These dedications always accompany a secondary handwritten Rakusan name (and usually also a studio address) in cursive romaji. They also always include a secondary handwritten kanji signature and hand-applied seal (see tables above). These dedications are often explicitly dated, with most dates falling in 1947 or 1948, but with a few as late as 1956. It is believed all similar but undated dedications come from the early portion of that period:

SP1 (with additional secondary dedication, signature, seal T, and romanji name and address)

Rakusan dedicating a copy of SP1 at his desk in the lobby of the Kyoto Hotel 1947-1948

Adding secondary cursive romaji signatures and addresses allowed Rakusan to use these woodblock prints essentially as fancy business cards. As noted above, the name can come before or after the address, and it is always the complete name Rakusan Tsuchiya. The secondary handwritten name and address are in romaji script in an informal cursive hand. Rakusan typically wrote this sort of romaji text with a dry brush using dilute gray or black sumi ink, but sometimes he used a plain lead pencil. This generic portion of the secondary text was added in advance to small batches of prints. The Japanese language dedication, including the name of the recipient, was added later at the time of distribution and typically used a darker ink in a more fluid handwriting style.

A limited number of copies of SP1 were distributed into the early and middle 1950s. However, these were apparently leftover copies and did not represent later reprintings. A few copies were distributed exactly as first printed with only the woodblock-printed primary markings and no secondary emendations at all. Other distributed copies have only the romaji name and address text added. Rakusan also used some of the latter as advertising posters with various other text:

SP1 (with handwritten advertising text and cursive romaji name and address)

Species Illustrated:
Although color-modified, stylized, and rendered as giga (cartoons), the frogs can be identified as Japanese Brown Frog, Rana japonica, ニホンアカガエル, 日本赤蛙, nihon aka-gaeru, lit. 'Japanese red frog'. Rakusan often illustrated these giga frogs as green or orange rather than their natural brownish color.

Related Designs:
Other designs with giga frogs:
"WC4" (version 1) "WC4" (version 2)