Edition I
Edition II (not illustrated)

花菖蒲 [title from folio]


Japanese Iris

花菖蒲と睡蓮に蝌蚪 [title as emended ]

hanashoubu to suiren ni otamajakushi

Japanese Iris with Waterlily and Tadpoles


Original Number / 原番号


Theme Identification / 画題識別

128 Japanese Iris Theme
128 花菖蒲(ハナショウブ)画題

Identification Notes:
This design is the twenty-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 28. 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 128, the 128th design published in his main sequence. Rakusan occasionally wrote his identification number in pencil on the reverse of the print.

Currently Documented Edition Signature and Seal Markings:
Edition I: 楽山篁子生 Raku-zan Kou-shi-sei + Seal B
Edition II: 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. For edition and dating characteristics applicable to the entire series, see the Editions article.]

Print History:
The woodblock print of 128 was adapted from 128-0, 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:
128-0 (original painting on silk, collection of the artist)

Edition I (1935-1941): Like most 36 Series designs 128 has the same signature and seal combination on every copy. Although all documented copies of 128 look very much alike, there are actually many small variations in the extent and darkness of the light gray bokashi in the water areas. So far it has not been possible to use these individual differences to distinguish consistent color morphs, and almost all copies are considered to represent a single version referred to the original edition I printings. The copy illustrated above is typical of edition I.

Edition II (1948-1955): The copy of 128 in Rakusan's personal 36 Series demonstration set has a secondary Rakusan cursive signature. (Not illustrated.) This association probably indicates that 128 has an edition II form. The scarcity of all edition II copies of suggests that only a single print run of each was ever made sometime during the postwar edition II printing period. Documentation is very limited, and it remains unclear if this possible edition II of 128 can also be identified as a different color and technique morph.

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. 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.

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. By this point late in the series, all of the themes, including this one, are entirely regular. Each theme typically 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. 128 is the 36 Series design of the 128 Japanese Iris theme.

All five of the Fan Series designs in the 128 Japanese Iris theme have seal C which indicates a carving date in the period between late 1933 and the end of the first quarter of 1934. Despite the early completion of those wooden blocks, Rakusan delayed printing and distribution of the prints in this theme until the following year. Publication of the 128 Japanese Iris theme was combined with two other spring season themes nearer to the end of the series. The 36 Series design 128 has seal B which indicates a later carving period closer to the time of publication.

According to the delivery documents for Fan Series installment ten, the woodblock prints of the 128 Japanese Iris theme were printed in March 1935 and distributed March 25, 1935 in installment ten (of twelve). The series as originally announced would have seen this installment published in October 1934, but there had previously been several delays and skipped delivery months. On these documents Rakusan used 花菖蒲, hanashoubu, 'Japanese iris', as the theme title and also as the title of 36 Series design 128 published at the same time.

128 is the second of two iris themes in the 36 Series. Much earlier in the series Rakusan created the 102 Rabbitear Iris theme which is irregular in its arrangement. The 128 Japanese Iris theme represents a separate, subsequent, addition to the series which is entirely distinct from the 102 Rabbitear Iris theme.

At least some of the designs in both iris themes were adapted from iris sketches originally created in the late 1920s during the planning of the earlier 100 Series. The 128 Japanese Iris theme is related to design 47, and the 102 Rabbitear Iris theme to designs 23alt and 23 (see below).

Copies in Public Collections:
Edition I: Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, Madison, Wisconsin, USA; 1968.1.646 [illustrated online]

Species Illustrated:
Japanese Iris, Iris ensata var. ensata, 花菖蒲, はなしょうぶ, ハナショウブ, hana-shoubu, is a wetlands iris native to Japan. Japanese iris has been bred into numerous garden forms which are grown in temperate zones throughout the world. There are many Japanese names for kinds of iris, and considerable hybridizing and selection have linked the original individual species into a complex continuum.

The general name for any waterlily (genus Nymphaea) is 睡蓮, すいれん, スイレン, suiren. It is also used as the species name for Pygmy Waterlily, Nymphaea tetragona. Another name for Pygmy Waterlily is , 未草, ひつじぐさ, ヒツジグサ, hitsuji-kusa. The small scale of the plant in 128 suggests this species.

128 is the only known design in which Rakusan included tadpoles, 蝌蚪, 御玉杓子, お玉杓子, おたまじゃくし, オタマジャクシ, otama-jakushi. (蝌蚪 can also be read かと, カト, kato.) The details are insufficient to identify the kind of tadpoles more closely.

Related Designs:
Other designs in the 128 Japanese Iris theme:
128-1 128-2 128-3 128-4 128-5

Other designs with Japanese iris:

Other designs with different kinds of iris:
102-1A 102-1B 102-4 102-5 102
23alt 23 46alt 46

Other designs with floating waterlily leaves:
29 108-2 135