Currently Documented Signature and Seal Markings:
|Version 1 and Version 2:
||+ Seal N
[Inclusion of Rakusan's name and address in woodblock-printed cursive romaji is interpreted as advertising copy rather than as an artwork signature form.]
[For illustration of seals, see the Seals article.]
The designation "WC4" remains arbitrary since other than during 1935-1937 the order of publication of winter cards is conjectural and therefore is subject to change with additional information.
The woodblock print "WC4" was modeled on an original painting on paper about two or three times larger whose current location is unknown. The design was composed in a traditional style, but with the twist of the participants being giga
(cartoon) frogs instead of people.
The frog passenger is smoking a pipe (like the frog in another Rakusan woodblock print, SP1; see below).
The composition of "WC4" incorporates several peculiar features. There are evident spelling errors in at least three different writing systems: Japanese kanji, Romanized Japanese (romaji), and English.
The original version copies of "WC4" are distinguished by having a title printed in gray ink in the lower margin.
This title is misspelled and reads SANJOBRIDGI KYOTO (for what should be SANJO BRIDGE, KYOTO).
It is so precisely carved that it is difficult at first to recognize that it is actually printed by woodblock rather than by a machine press.
Comparisons with other examples of small-capital text suggest that it is based on one of the styles of Rakusan’s own romaji handwriting.
(Note that "WC5" has a similarly printed title which suggests both designs were created about the same time.)
Recognizing that the title was misspelled, Rakusan omitted it when he reprinted the second version of "WC4".
The two versions of "WC4" are also characterized by different color palettes.
This is most evident in the background color, where version 1 has pale blue and version 2 has pale gray.
All of the other colors are also slightly different. Version 2 also has an additional impression in white ink, adding falling snow, snow on the ground, and brightening the other white areas including the wheel spokes and roof lines.
Both examples illustrated above are of direct scans made under identical conditions and show these differences precisely.
Oddly, after World War II Rakusan ignored the misspelling and reprinted large numbers of both versions of "WC4" for sale or as gifts to visitors.
In the lower right within the image area of the design are two lozenges containing kanji text.
The orange lozenge on the right (intended to be read first) reads: 三条大橋, san-jou oo-hashi, 'Sanjo Bridge', which is the Japanese version of the title of the design (see also below). Tentatively, the green lozenge on the left reads: 紀光之圖, kikou no zu.
However, if, as the context suggests, the pronunciation kikou is intended to mean ‘traveler’s journal’ or ‘journey book’, then it is misspelled; and the kanji should be written 紀行. With that correction a loose translation would be something like:
‘Picture [brought back] from traveling [as a remembrance of the occasion] to be put in a souvenir album’; e.g. 'Sightseeing Picture’, ‘Traveler’s Picture’, or perhaps better, ‘Souvenir Picture’.
Along the lower margin and also within the image area Rakusan has included his address and a rendition of his name in Western style. The text is woodblock-printed in black ink and is in Rakusan's romaji cursive handwriting:
56 Kitamachi-komatubara Kyoto
All of Rakusan's early writing is entirely in traditional Japanese scripts, and apparently he had struggled to adopt a consistent system of writing romaji. In the nihon-shiki romaji system the spellings ‘Komatubara’ and ‘Tutiya’ would be expected. By no later than 1935 Rakusan had settled on using the more English-friendly Hepburn system where these names are spelled ‘Komatsubara’ and ‘Tsuchiya’, the versions he used for the rest of his life. On "WC4" Rakusan uses the nihon-shiki spelling ‘Komatubara’ but spelled his family name "Tuchiya" which is a hybrid of the two systems and correct in neither one.
The 1933 Publicity Flyer is the only other example of a nihon-shiki transcription where again ‘Komatubara’ occurs, but there Rakusan already consistently used Hepburn ‘Tsuchiya’ throughout. Since the flyer contains other typographical errors, it is possible that the spelling ‘Komatubara’ is simply another; and Rakusan was already using Hepburn by then.
Because Rakusan was always keen to market his artwork from his home studio, he needed to find ways to provide his address to visitors. Rakusan had moved to his permanent new location in November of 1931. The number of errors in "WC4" suggest that this design was an early attempt to publicize this new address in a new decorative and amusing format. If so, then "WC4" (and by extension "WC5"?) could actually be the first winter cards and date from within the interval between the winters of 1931 and at the latest 1934; with the earlier years the most likely.
An early date also suits the current interpretation of the development of Rakusan seal use. In and after 1937 (including "WC7" and the post World War II edition II of "WC5") Rakusan used seal B2 on winter cards.
If "WC4" was (like the later winter cards) also commissioned by Mr. Masao Morikawa, the Secretary to the President of Doshisha University in Kyoto, a very early date is unlikely. Until the middle of 1932 Morikawa, both a long-time friend and an important and influential patron, had been away for several years studying at the University of Chicago. However, the errors (which Morikawa likely would have caught) suggest that "WC4" could have been a project Rakusan completed on his own.
The Sanjo Bridge (Sanjo Ohashi), 三条大橋, sanjou oo-hashi
, lit. 'third large-bridge', has been one of the primary crossings of the Kamo River, 鴨川, kamo gawa
, in SE Kyoto for many hundreds of years.
It takes its name from Sanjo-dori, 三条大通り, sanjou douri
, lit. 'third avenue', which crosses the bridge.
Rakusan's depictions of this famous crossing are all of the former concrete bridge which was in use from by at least 1910 until 1950 (when it was replaced by the current structure).
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.