[modernly supplied title]





Assigned Number / 規定番号


Theme Identification / 画題識別

108 Goldfish and Medaka Theme / 108 キンギョにメダカ画題

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

[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. 108-1 is the Fan Series design with fan shape 1 in the 108 Goldfish and Medaka theme. Like all other designs in this series, 108-1 was only produced in a single print run, and few copies are currently documented.

Theme History:
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. The Fan 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.

Goldfish and medaka are both popular pets, and they associated with popular summer festival games in Japan. In early 1934 when Rakusan did a major rearrangement of his themes, the fan designs of the 108 Goldfish and Medaka theme were combined with two other summer subject themes (107 and 109) and released as installment three just before the summer of 1934.

The individual designs in the 108 Goldfish and Medaka theme were completed in at least two stages. Three of the five fan designs have seal C which indicates a carving date during the first half of 1934. However, the other two fan designs (including 108-1) and the 36 Series design 108 all have seal B which indicates a later carving period closer to the time of publication.

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.

The composition of 108-1 includes only two goldfish which are viewed as through the side of a glass container. 108-1 is one of only a few early designs where Rakusan has modified the carving so that the natural patterns of light and dark are preserved in the ishizuri version. Normally in the ishizuri version the areas of dark and light would be the reverse of the original sketch (which here was of fish with dark backs and light undersides and light tail tips). As a result of this carving decision, Rakusan had to outline the edges of the goldfish shapes. This extra outlining makes the composition look stiff, and as a result the technique was abandoned in later carvings.

The woodblock print of 108-1 was modeled closely on an actual-size original sumi sketch which although lost can usually be reconstructed by digitally reversing the image of the woodblock print. Here because of the carving modifications the process does not work well since the original areas of light and dark were secondarily reversed:

108-1 as originally drawn (reconstruction)

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.

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

Other designs with goldfish:
108-5 127-1