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

[See also the Seals article.]

The Basic Woodblock Print
Although the design for SP2 is clearly older, SP1 was the first Rakusan woodblock print intended from the start to be a souvenir print (SP). SP1 was adapted as a woodblock print from an original painting of the same size whose current location is unknown. The design for SP1 was most probably created in early 1947 and first distributed as a woodblock print later that same year. Apparently, all copies of SP1 were printed by the end of 1948, although a few copies were given out later or have remained uncirculated. Over this period of less than two years several small print runs produced many hundreds of copies of SP1 – numbers at least comparable to or exceeding those for the most reprinted Rakusan designs in his major series.

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, although almost all of the circulated copies have been modified with secondary addenda (see below). Because almost all of the various secondary addenda are obviously hand-written, it has misled many owners into supposing that the woodblock printed areas are hand-painted.

The simple 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 Rakusan's water-soluble printing inks create effects which mimic those of gouache or water color paintings, but all are indeed woodblock printed. The inks used to print SP1 are 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 the copy illustrated above, and there are no different-color or edition 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 pigment 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 ink, but also those in green ink since the same white pigment was included in its composition. This chemical reaction is unpredictable in that it can affect all or only a portion of the areas printed in those colors. 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. The presence of these chemical color changes on a copy are a serious condition fault.

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).

Secondary Addenda on SP1
The various hand-written secondary addenda found on SP1 typically occur together as part of a constellation of markings associated with a personal dedication.

Secondary Name and Address Markings: Rakusan usually added his name and address onto the lower portion of SP1. It is handwritten in romaji script in an informal cursive style:
cursive romaji signature: Rakusan Tsuchiya.
cursive romaji address: 56 Kitamachi-Komatsubara Kyoto.

On early copies of SP1 the always complete name Rakusan Tsuchiya usually comes after the address, but on the later copies it generally comes first. A few very late copies omit the address. Internal punctuation varies with what look like commas or periods often included within the phrases (mimicking the way kana sequences can be marked to separate individual words). On all of the documented examples of SP1 from 1947 (and on a few from 1948) the variant spelling Komatubara is inconsistent with what otherwise is the Hepburn System of transcribing Japanese. However, most examples from 1948 and later use the Hepburn Komatsubara spelling. [Note that as late as 1948 Rakusan was still having difficulty settling upon a single, consistent, romaji transcription system. For the Komatubara spelling to be correct, his personal name would have to be written Tutiya. Rakusan had used this other transcription system earlier in his career and had begun switching over at least as early as 1933.]

Adding a Western version of his name and address allowed Rakusan to have these woodblock prints essentially double as fancy business cards for his foreign guests. Copies of SP1 distributed in 1947 typically have the name and address written in regular lead pencil. Copies from 1948 or later have the name and address brushed in dilute gray or black sumi ink using a nearly dry brush. In 1947-1948 the name and address 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.

Secondary Dedications: On SP1 Rakusan dedications are written in Japanese and typically resemble this example:
SP1 dedication from 1948 (with secondary romanji name and address and seal T)
[click on thumbnail for larger view]

On all copies written left to right at top right is 贈, zou, 'a gift for, a present to, etc.', followed by the name of the dedicatee (including an honorific title). If the dedicatee has one or more Western-style names, those are written in katakana. A Japanese name may be written in katakana, but more usually kanji are used.

Along the right margin are typically two or three columns of kanji written top to bottom with the columns to be read right to left. The first column is always a date. The optional middle column is a location. The next column is a secondary kanji signature which may be preceded by an author descriptive.

At the end of the secondary kanji signature, and often overlapping the bottoms of the columns is a hand-stamped secondary seal.

Temporal Sequence of Secondary Signature and Seal Markings: [For illustration of seals, see the Seals article.]
(uncirculated) 楽山 Raku-zan 'Rakusan' + Seal B [in addition to the same woodblock-printed markings found on all copies]
1947 楽山生 Raku-zan Sei 'by Rakusan' + Seal Q
1948 楽山 Raku-zan 'Rakusan' + Seal Q [uncommon]
1948 楽山生 Raku-zan Sei 'by Rakusan' + Seal T
1950-1956 楽山 Raku-zan 'Rakusan' + Seal T

On copies of SP1 with dedications dated during 1947, the location column is typically omitted, and the author descriptive before the secondary kanji signature is an unread sequence resembling the meaningless combination 子浩.

Beginning with copies of SP1 dated in 1948 and continuing into the 1950s, the location column typically reads 金閣寺畔, Kinkakuji hottori, 'nearby the Golden Pavilion Temple'. This phrase refers to the location of the Rakusan home and studio which was in the same area of the city. Rakusan encouraged tourists visiting the Golden Pavilion to stop by his house along the way.

Occasionally by 1948, and commonly in the 1950s, Rakusan included above the secondary kanji signature the author descriptive 日本画家, Nihon Gaka, 'Japan(ese) Print Artist'.

The Tsuchiya family recall that Rakusan only distributed these sorts of dedicatory texts at two locations. One was at his home and studio at the listed address. The other was in the lobby of the old Kyoto Hotel where Rakusan had a desk and showcase circa 1946-1948:

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

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)
[click on thumbnail for larger view]

Secondary City-Name Stamps: Around the time of World War II, Rakusan was required to add a maker's stamp to all of his prints before distributing them. 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. Documentation from dated copies of SP1 are crucial for understanding the time range for use of city-name stamps on other Rakusan prints. Copies of SP1 distributed in 1947 have city-name stamps at lower right, but copies distributed in 1948 or later do not have them. It is the only secondary addendum on SP1 which is not hand-written, and its use is not in any way particular to the content of SP1 or the other Rakusan designs which include it.

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)