Edition I, Morph 108 (a)
Edition II, Morph 108 (b)
Posthumous Unsōdō Reprinting, Edition III, Morph 108 (b)

[improvised title]


kingyo to medaka ni fusamo

Goldfish and Medaka with Water-milfoil


Original Number / 原番号


Theme Identification / 画題識別

108 Goldfish and Medaka Theme

Identification Notes:
This design is the eighth of thirty-six woodblock prints in Rakusan's second main sequence series, 篁子生画選, Koushisei Gasen, lit. 'Koushisei's Print Selection' (usually called here the 36 Series). Rakusan originally labeled this design number 8. However, after 1936 reprinting two series with duplicated numbering caused some confusion. To avoid further problems Rakusan decided to extend the numbering system from the preceding 100 Series into the 36 Series, and this design was relabeled as number 108, the 108th design published in his main sequence. Rakusan occasionally wrote his identification number in pencil on the reverse or in the upper margin of the print. (An example of this notation is in the margin at upper left in the second illustration above: "No. 108".)

Currently Documented Edition Signature and Seal Markings and Morphs:
Edition I, Morph 108 (a): 楽山篁子生 Raku-zan Kou-shi-sei + Seal B (placed 1.75 cm above left lower margin)
Edition II, Morph 108 (b): 楽山篁子生 Raku-zan Kou-shi-sei + Seal B (placed 2.85 cm above left lower margin)
Edition III, Morph 108 (b): 楽山篁子生 Raku-zan Kou-shi-sei + Seal B (placed 1.75 cm above left lower margin) [posthumous Unsōdō reprinting]

[For illustration of seals listed by seal code letter, see the Seals article. For edition and dating characteristics applicable to the entire series, see the Editions article.]

Print History:
108 is one of the most popular (and hence most reprinted) Rakusan designs. It is also one of the best documented, having been reproduced in the widely circulated Foster booklet, and also represented by several individual copies from (now) three editions, two process sets, and the surviving prototype painting.

The woodblock print of 108 was adapted from 108-0, an actual-size original painting on silk. Because Rakusan intended to retain all of the 36 Series prototypes in his personal collection, he did not affix a signature or seal, and the silk remained loose and unmounted. The silk was originally a pale cream color, but over time it has significantly yellowed:

108-0 (original painting on silk, collection of the artist)

Like most 36 Series designs, 108 has the same signature and seal combination on every copy. However, each copy of 108 can be assigned to one of two distinct color morphs, 108 (a) in edition I and 108 (b) in edition II and edition III. The two morphs differ most obviously in the treatment of the backgrounds. Unfortunately, the best available images of 108 were taken under different conditions and using different equipment; so some of the colors in these examples appear more different than they actually are.

Edition I, Morph 108 (a) (1934-1941): About two thirds of all documented copies of 108 are morph 108 (a), and the large number of copies indicates that Rakusan made several prewar printings of this design. 108 (a) is the only version documented with the original presentation sheets (see below). The background of the prototype painting 108-0 is mostly unpainted but has complex shading around the vegetation and especially the lower goldfish. In adapting the woodblock print 108 (a) Rakusan decided to simplify the background shading, and he substituted a band of pale, gray bokashi which covers the entire lower portion of the design. As is typical with the difficult bokashi technique, there is significant individual variation in the darkness and areal extent upwards in the various copies. There are also some subtle differences in the ink used for the bokashi with some a transparent neutral gray and others more opaque and slightly bluish gray. With additional examples it may be possible to further refine description of these edition I variations. The first example at top above is a typical copy of edition I, morph 108 (a).

A partial process set of 108 edition I, morph 108 (a) is in the collection of the Delaware Art Museum. The surviving numbered sheets illustrate intermediate stages in the production of the woodblock print of 108 with each sheet showing a single additional impression. The highest numbered sheet in the collection is number 30, and since at that stage the design was still incomplete, the thirty-two impressions reported for 108 in the Foster booklet (see below) suggest that the Delaware process set once also comprised thirty-two sheets. (The important Delaware process set is discussed more fully in the Process Set article.)

Presentation Sheets: Only the earliest 36 Series prints were delivered tipped into recessed wells of presentation sheets embossed in their lower margins with the series title. Because all early edition I prints once had these presentation sheets, a copy which retains its presentation sheet must have been printed during the 1930s. (Note that like many other edition I copies the Delaware process set also retains its original presentation sheets.) After his supply of presentation sheets was exhausted, Rakusan distributed subsequently-reprinted copies loose. A limited number of leftover earlier-printed copies of some designs on presentation sheets were still being distributed shortly after World War II, but by then most designs were only available as loose sheets. However, absence of presentation sheets is not diagnostic of later printings because many early prints have subsequently been detached from theirs.

Edition II, Morph 108 (b) (1948-1955): Although edition II copies of most designs are very rarely (if ever) encountered, edition II, morph 108 (b) accounts for about a third of all documented examples of 108 and represents several postwar reprintings. This larger number of examples is due to promotion and sales by Walter Foster (see below). For edition II of 108 Rakusan took the opportunity presented by less hurried post-World War II reprinting to modify his background technique to return to the original concept of the 108-0 painting. For edition II Rakusan added a pale beige wash over the entire background underneath the gray bokashi shading. In addition to the even bokashi band used in edition I Rakusan concentrated the pale gray background shading primarily around the lower of the two goldfish and faded it out radially. Woodblock printed bokashi shading is an exacting technique requiring much skill, and radial bokashi is the most difficult of all. Therefore there is considerable variation from copy to copy of edition II 108 (b). However, the obvious difference in technique makes an edition II, morph 108 (b) instantly distinguishable.

There are also a number of other color modifications. For example, edition I most closely resembles the original painting 108-0 in that the water-milfoil is predominately pinkish and there are golden tones in all five medaka. In edition II (and in its derivative edition III) much of the water-milfoil is greenish and the golden tones are only evident on the one medaka above the head of the larger goldfish.

Although Rakusan chose to retain the same signature and seal combination for edition II, he raised its position above the lower margin from the 1.75 cm of edition I copies to 2.85 cm for edition II. This modification was in order to accommodate placing Foster's requested handwritten cursive Rakusan romaji signature immediately below (as in the second example above). Other than the special case of the Foster illustration of the last stage of the 108 process set, all documented copies of edition II, morph 108 (b) have had that secondary signature added The second example above is typical of edition II, morph 108 (b).

Information from the Foster Booklet:
108 is among the most familiar Rakusan designs because of its illustration in the Foster booklet. Foster included reduced-size reproductions of four sheets of an edition II, morph 108 (b) process set on page 9 of his booklet, together with instructions on how to copy the design as a drawing and watercolor painting. (The important Foster process set is discussed more fully in the Process Set article.)

108 is one of the very few Rakusan designs for which any printing details exist. The Foster booklet reports that design 108 required 32 printing impressions to complete. Although associated with illustrations of 108 edition II, morph 108 (b), comparison with the number of surviving sheets in the Delaware process set indicates that number of impressions also applied to 108 edition I, morph 108 (a).

As advertised in the booklet, Foster initially offered original 9" x 14" woodblock prints of 108 for sale at $6. Although Foster printed up and sold high quality reproductions of many of the 100 Series designs illustrated in the booklet, there is no indication that similar reproductions were made of 108 or any other 36 Series design. What are sometimes offered for sale as reproductions of 108 are actually only copies of page 9 cut from the Foster booklet. Oddly, Foster makes no reference to 108 being part of a series of designs, although he surely knew that it was. Foster made up titles of his own to use in the booklet, and most are inaccurate at best. Here he called 108, simply "Fish".

[For additional general information on Foster, the booklet, or the fine art reproductions, see the Foster article.]

Posthumous Unsōdō Reprinting, Edition III, Morph 108 (b) (2020-?): In 2015 the famous Kyoto publishing house Unsōdō Co., Ltd. (芸艸堂), bought all of the original Rakusan printing blocks and several example prints. In 2020 Unsōdō began issuing for sale reprinted copies of 108. These new copies were printed for Unsōdō using the original Rakusan blocks by the well-known contemporary Kyoto woodblock printer, 平井恭子, Ms. Kyōko Hirai. Ms. Hirai patterned her colors and other printing choices based on the particular example copy of edition II, morph 108 (b) illustrated above (second from top). Therefore her new copies resemble those of edition II in overall technique sufficiently also to be assigned to morph 108 (b). The new posthumous edition III is readily identifiable by the Unsōdō attribution markings printed in the lower portion of the left margin (as in the example above third from top). The inscription reads: 芸艸堂版 摺 平井, unsoudou-ban suri hirai, 'Unsōdō edition, printing: Hirai'.

However, because Unsōdō would naturally not be able to include a secondary, handwritten Rakusan signature, for edition III the woodblock-printed Rakusan signature and seal has been returned to the original lower position used in edition I which is 1.75 cm above the left lower margin. The combination of morph 108 (b) and the lower placement of the signature and seal is unique to edition III and serves to distinguish this edition even where the print margins are not visible.

When Unsōdō received the original wooden printing blocks for 108, they had been stored protected by sheets of old newspapers. One such associated sheet bears a date in 1937 which falls within the typical prewar edition I reprinting period, including that of the Delaware process set. Another newspaper sheet from 1953 can potentially be associated with the last edition II reprintings, including that of the Foster process set.

Copies in Public Collections:
Edition I Process Set (partial): Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington, Delaware, USA; thirteen sheets: 1978-277 through 1978-284; 1978-685 through 1978-689 [all illustrated online]

Edition Undetermined: Winterthur Library, Winterthur, Delaware, USA; (02x5.89k) [not illustrated online]

Theme History:
The Rakusan project which produced 篁子生画選, Koushisei Gasen, resulted in two related series of woodblock prints. Each print of the 36 Series is intimately connected to a group of prints with the same subjects in the Fan Series. Together these subject-related prints in the two series constitute a theme. Each theme consists of a quintet of monochrome Fan Series designs (one design in each of the five fan shapes), plus one polychrome, 36 Series design which illustrates the theme subject. The theme is labeled here by the original Rakusan number of its 36 Series design followed by the subject. 108 is the 36 Series design of the 108 Goldfish and Medaka theme.

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. Three of the five Fan Series designs have seal C which indicates carving dates between the last months of 1933 and the end of the first quarter of 1934. However, the 36 Series design 108 and the other two Fan Series designs have seal B which indicates a later carving period close to the time of publication.

Goldfish and medaka are popular pets in Japan, and both are associated with popular summer festival games. The 108 Goldfish and Medaka theme was combined with two other late summer subject themes (107 and 109) in the same installment.

The Fan Series and 36 Series prints of the 108 Goldfish and Medaka theme were first 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.

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.

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.

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.

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:
108-1 108-2 108-3 108-4 108-5

Other designs with goldfish:
U1a U1b

Other designs with medaka:
29 108-2 108-5 132-1

Other designs with water-milfoil:
108-5 127-1 U1a