[modernly supplied title]


medaka to nema-ebi ni fusamo

Medaka and Freshwater Shrimp with Water-milfoil


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 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. 108-5 is the Fan Series design with fan shape 5 in the 108 Goldfish and Medaka theme. Like all other designs in this series, 108-5 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 (including 108-5) have seal C which indicates a carving date during the first half of 1934. However, the other two fan designs 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 design of 108-5 simulates an entire globular glass fishbowl seen from above. The round fan shape defines the bowl and an oval line at the top shows the water surface within. The composition includes six medaka, two small freshwater shrimp, and two sprigs of water-milfoil. The shrimp are quite sketchily rendered as line drawings, and the medaka and waterplant are essentially silhouettes. Rakusan always shows medaka as viewed from above in a conventional simplified style. These techniques work equally well either as ishizuri or in the original sketch.

The woodblock print of 108-5 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:

108-5 as originally drawn (reconstruction)

Species Illustrated:
Medaka (Japanese Killifish or Ricefish), Oryzias latipes, 目高, めだか, メダカ, medaka, although not a Japanese native, derives one of its English names from Japanese. This rather small (2-4 cm long) native of Southeast Asia is amphidromous, meaning it moves between salt and freshwater at some point in its life. It is commonly found in flooded rice fields in coastal Asia. The medaka has been a popular pet in Japan since the 17th century, and it is hardy and easy to raise. It varies from brown or yellow-gold in the wild to white, creamy-yellow, or orange in aquarium-bred individuals.

Identification of the tiny shrimp in the bowl is difficult because of the sketchy way they are drawn, but their very small size suggests a member of the freshwater shrimp genus Caridina (family Atyidae) which share the general name 沼蝦, ぬまえび, ヌマエビ, nema-ebi, lit. 'marsh/pond shrimp'. A likely candidate is Yamato Shrimp (Amano Shrimp, Algae-eating Shrimp), Caridina multidentata, 大和沼蝦, やまとぬまえび, ヤマトヌマエビ, yamato nema-ebi, which is both native to Japan and today a common aquarium pet.

Water-milfoil is an attractive, but unfortunately invasive, type of water plant commonly used in aquariums. It occurs in the background of several Rakusan aquatic designs. The general name for water-milfoil is 総藻, ふさも, フサモ, fusamo, lit 'tufted waterweed', which is also the species name for Whorl-leaf Water-milfoil, Myriophyllum verticillatum. The several closely similar water-milfoil species and hybrids are difficult for the non-specialist to distinguish.

Related Designs:
Other designs in the 108 Goldfish and Medaka theme:
108-1 108-2 108-3 108-4 108

Other designs with medaka:
29 108-2 108 132-1

Other designs with various kinds of freshwater shrimp:
125-1 127-1 127-4

Other designs with water-milfoil:
108 127-1 U1a