SP1 (basic woodblock print)

Temporary Number



Currently Documented Edition Watermarks and Primary Signatures and Seals:
Edition I: [no watermark] 楽山 Raku-zan + Seal B
Edition II: [Seal I watermark] 楽山 Raku-zan + Seal B

[See also the Seals article.]

The end of World War II brought difficult times for Rakusan but also a new opportunity. By late 1946 or early 1947 friends had arranged for Rakusan to have a display case and the use of a small table in the lobby of the famous old Kyoto Hotel. During the primary tourist seasons in 1947 and 1948 Rakusan sat at the lobby table every evening from 6 to 8 PM in order to meet guests. Since it would not be practical to do actual woodblock printing in the confines of a small area of a hotel lobby, as a way of attracting attention Rakusan decided to offer personal dedications on previously prepared simple woodblock prints. Adding a Japanese language dedication with signatures and seals provided a bit of theater as well as a personal connection with the client.

Before the war Rakusan had very much enjoyed having visitors come to his home studio where he could entertain potential clients and display his artworks, as well as make additional sales. He recognized that the souvenir prints were also an opportunity for him to advertise his name and the location of his studio. During quiet periods at the hotel, Rakusan would add his handwritten name and address in romaji script to small batches of the basic prints so that he would have a supply ready for when visitors appeared. In effect these souvenir prints became surrogate business cards. Rakusan would also offer dedicated souvenir prints to visitors who found their way to his studio by other means. These souvenir prints proved very popular with both Japanese and foreign visitors, and through them Rakusan gained many new buyers.

At the time of the actual sale or gift, Rakusan would add a personal dedication to the previously prepared print using a brush and black sumi ink. This dedication usually included Rakusan's rendition of the recipient's name in phonetic katakana script. Rakusan would then ceremoniously sign the print with a kanji signature and affix a stamped seal. By the end of the full process the print would have three signatures, two seals, and two kinds of handwritten inscriptions.

At least one photograph survives of Rakusan autographing a souvenir print in the hotel lobby:

Rakusan dedicating a copy of SP1 at his desk in the lobby of the Kyoto Hotel circa 1948

SP1 was the first Rakusan woodblock print design intended from the start to be a souvenir print, and it is the one most commonly encountered today. Rakusan always included a primary woodblock printed kanji signature and seal on SP1, and on his other distributed souvenir prints, just as he had done with his major series prints. Unlike all other Rakusan woodblock prints SP1 deliberately has no printed background color or outlined margins in order to provide open, unprinted areas to accommodate later secondary text, especially dedications. Although all copies of SP1 were created from the simple woodblock print illustrated at the top of the page, almost all of the copies have been modified with secondary addenda (see below). Because many of the various secondary addenda are obviously hand-written, it has misled many owners into supposing that the woodblock-printed areas are hand-painted and that they own an original painting.

In casting about for an idea for the design of SP1 Rakusan revisited the sketches and original paintings of an earlier project. In late 1933 and into 1935 Rakusan had created several example sets of large original paintings in which he explored possible subjects for his next major woodblock print series. As he had done with his previous success with the 100 Series, Rakusan showed these paintings to visitors in hopes of gaining financial backing for a similar large format project. One of these example sets (called here GF1) included at least a dozen paintings of giga (cartoon) frogs acting like people in traditional Japanese settings (most not yet illustrated here).

Although woodblock printing another large format series was never undertaken, Rakusan selected one of the giga frog paintings, GF1-6 Low-rank Samurai, as direct inspiration for the prototype painting for souvenir print SP1. Unfortunately, the location of this direct prototype painting SP1-0 is unknown, and like the original sketchbooks it may no longer exist. Although the eventual design of SP1 is much simplified and reduced in size, it uses some of the same props and closely similar poses for the frogs found in the earlier large painting. Notice that Rakusan giga designs, including SP1 and its predecessor, do not necessarily maintain a uniform scale throughout. The smoking frog (at center in GF1-6 and mirror-imaged at left in SP1) has a miniaturized kiseru pipe and is holding a miniaturized traditional pipe-case, ojime, and tobacco-pouch combination. However, the dancing frogs in both compositions have grass-stem 'spears' in scale for natural-sized frogs. (In the best available image of GF1-6 immediately below, the darker tone to the background along the right margin and at lower right is an accident of the lighting, and the background is actually an even tan color.)

GF1-6 Low-rank Samurai (large original painting on silk, circa 1933-1934, collection of the artist)
[signed upper left Rakuzan Koushisei + Seal C]

The derived and simplified SP1 design was actually printed (exclusive of the signature and seal) using only four color impressions: black or very dark gray (variable on same print), medium gray, green, and white. Rakusan's water-soluble printing inks create effects which mimic those of gouache or water color paintings, but all are indeed woodblock printed. The inks used to print SP1 are thin, and earlier impressions may be seen through the translucent later ones. Also, as in the example copy of SP1 at the top of the page, toning of the paper shows through and can make what is actually medium gray appear to be brown. All copies of SP1 once had exactly the same ink colors, and there are no differently colored morphs of this design.

Unfortunately, during the period immediately after World War II when SP1 was printed, Rakusan used a more readily available, inexpensive, lead-based white pigment which was not reliably colorfast. On some copies of SP1 this originally white pigment has altered in color due to a chemical reaction with sulfur compounds in the air. This color degradation can affect not only the areas printed in the plain white ink, but also those in the green ink since the same white pigment was included in its formulation. This chemical reaction is unpredictable in that it can affect all or only a portion of the areas printed in those colors. The alteration in color is also variable. In an intermediate stage a rusty-ochre or orange color may result, or it can go directly from white to a lead-gray color. Comparison of copies variously affected by this chemical reaction may give the mistaken impression that additional ink colors were used in the original woodblock printing. The presence of any of these chemically induced color changes is a serious condition fault. The following examples illustrate some of these altered color conditions on the same detail section of different copies of SP1:

original ink colors; paper toned tan white (and part green) → orange both white and green → dark gray

Although SP1 was produced in two editions, the only difference between them is a small and subtle watermark found only on edition II copies. This watermark is almost undetectable unless the unbacked print is backlit, and it is otherwise essentially invisible in photographs and in person. These two editions produced many hundreds of copies of SP1 – numbers at least comparable to or exceeding those for the most reprinted Rakusan designs in his major series.

Edition I (1947-1948): The adapted design for SP1 was most probably created in early 1947 and first distributed as a woodblock print later that same year. Edition I copies of SP1 were produced on plain, unwatermarked paper. Printing was necessarily limited to very small print runs which Rakusan could manage by himself whenever his generally poor health permitted. Individual edition I copies of SP1 continued to be distributed at least through the end of 1948.

Edition II (1950): By early 1950 Rakusan had shifted to reprinting SP1 on paper watermarked with a small image of Seal I. Other than this mostly hidden watermark the edition II copies of SP1 are identical to those printed in edition I. In the backlit example at left below, the seal watermark is partially obscured by the left shoulder of the frog with the grass stem. (Note that although the backlit image appears similar to the other Seal I example at right, it was produced as a positive image; in contrast the Fan Series version of Seal I was printed as a negative image.)

Seal I (watermark from SP1 Edition II) Seal I (from Fan Series)

The numerous dated dedications on SP1 are critical to unraveling the history of postwar Rakusan printing and distribution. The dates occur in the vertical column of writing closest to the right side of the print. The dates are all in the Japanese traditional sytem with a reign year followed by either a seasonal division or the day with an old style month name. At that time the Kyoto tourist season was primarily spring through autumn, and currently no winter dates have been documented for SP1 dedications. Most of the various hand-written secondary addenda found on SP1 typically occur together as part of a constellation of markings associated with a personal dedication. The most common forms of these addenda gradually altered over time as described below, but there are occasional exceptions to those trends. Although there are only two editions of the woodblock print of SP1, there are three main styles of dated dedications which align closely with particular calendar years.

1947 style: edition I unwatermarked paper; old style address before name (written in pencil); no location column; early descriptor, Raku-zan Sei + Seal Q; city-name stamp

1948 style: edition I unwatermarked paper; name before new style address (written in ink); location column; no descriptor, Raku-zan Sei + Seal T

1950 style: edition II watermarked paper; name (written in ink) no address; location column; later descriptor, Raku-zan + Seal T

Secondary Name and Address Markings: Rakusan usually added his name and address onto the lower portion of SP1. It is handwritten in romaji script in an informal cursive style:
cursive romaji signature: Rakusan Tsuchiya.
earlier cursive romaji address: 56 Kitamachi-Komatubara Kyoto.
later cursive romaji address: 56 Kitamachi-Komatsubara Kyoto.

On copies of SP1 with both a romaji name and address the placement order and content changed through time. Initially in 1947 and into early 1948 Rakusan usually wrote the address first. Thereafter, he wrote the name first. Toward the end of the SP1 dedication period Rakusan began omitting the street address and finally also the city as well. Internal punctuation varies with what look like commas or periods often included within the phrases (mimicking the way kana sequences can be marked to separate individual words).

On all of the documented examples of SP1 from 1947 (and on a few from 1948) Rakusan wrote his address using the variant spelling Komatubara. Under this system of transcribing Japanese his family name should be written Tutiya. Rakusan had used this other transcription system earlier, but at least by 1933 he had begun switching over to the Hepburn System which uses the spellings Komatsubara and Tsuchiya. From 1948 on Rakusan consistently used the Hepburn System for both his address and name.

Copies of SP1 distributed in 1947 and into early 1948 typically have the name and address written in regular lead pencil. Copies from the spring of 1948 onward have the name and address brushed in dilute gray or black sumi ink using a nearly dry brush. In 1947-1948 the name and address secondary text was added in advance to small batches of prints. The Japanese language dedication, including the name of the recipient, was added later at the time of distribution and typically used a darker ink and was written in a more fluid handwriting style.

Secondary Dedications: On SP1 Rakusan dedications are written in Japanese and typically resemble this example:

SP1 dedication from 1948 (with secondary romanji name and address and seal T)
[click on thumbnail for larger view]

Beginning at top center and written from left to right on all dedicated copies of SP1 is 贈, zou, 'a gift for, a present to, etc.', followed by the name of the dedicatee (including an honorific title in kanji). If the dedicatee has one or more Western-style names, those are written in katakana. A Japanese name may also be written in katakana, but more usually kanji are used.

Beginning along the right margin are typically two or three columns of kanji written top to bottom with the columns to be read from right to left. The rightmost column is always a date. The middle column of three is a location. The leftmost column is a secondary kanji signature which may be preceded by an author descriptor.

At lower right is a hand-stamped secondary seal which is placed following the kanji signature. Usually with large Seal T, and occasionally with other secondary seals, placement of the seal in the lower right corner overlaps the lower portions of the kanji columns

Temporal Sequence of Secondary Signature and Seal Markings: [For illustrations of the seals, see the Seals article.]
1947 楽山生 Raku-zan Sei 'by Rakusan' + Seal Q
1948 楽山 Raku-zan 'Rakusan' + Seal Q [uncommon]
1948 楽山生 Raku-zan Sei 'by Rakusan' + Seal T
1950-1956 楽山 Raku-zan 'Rakusan' + Seal T
(uncirculated) 楽山 Raku-zan 'Rakusan' + Seal B [in addition to the same woodblock-printed markings found on all copies]

On copies of SP1 with dedications dated during 1947, the location column is typically omitted, and the early author descriptor before the secondary kanji signature is an unread sequence which superficially resembles the meaningless combination 子浩.

Beginning with copies of SP1 dated in 1948 and continuing into the 1950s, the location column typically reads 金閣寺畔, Kinkakuji hottori, 'nearby the Golden Pavilion Temple'. This phrase refers to the location of the Rakusan home and studio which was in the same area of the city. Rakusan encouraged tourists visiting the Golden Pavilion to stop by his house along the way.

Occasionally by 1948, and commonly in the 1950s, Rakusan included above the secondary kanji signature the later author descriptor 日本画家, Nihon Gaka, 'Japan(ese) Print Artist'.

A few copies of SP1 were distributed exactly as first printed with only the woodblock-printed primary markings and no secondary emendations at all, as in the first example illustrated at the top of this page. Other distributed copies have only a romaji name or name and address text added. Rakusan also used some of the latter as advertising posters with various other text:

SP1 (with handwritten advertising text and cursive romaji name and address)
[click on thumbnail for larger view]

Although Rakusan permanently closed down his studio operations in 1955, he still had sufficient previously printed copies of SP1 to continue to distribute dedicated copies through at least early 1956 and perhaps a bit later. A very few spoiled or advertising copies remained uncirculated and were retained in the Tsuchiya family collection.

Secondary City-Name Stamps: Around the time of World War II, Rakusan was required to add a maker's stamp to all of his prints before distributing them. Use of a city-name stamp is not in any way particular to the content of SP1 or of the other Rakusan designs which include it. The stamp consists of a vertical column of tiny machine-made characters (rather like a miniscule typewriter font) which read from top to bottom: 京都 土屋楽山, Kyouto - Tsuchiya Rakuzan (Kyoto, the city where Rakusan lived, and the Japanese form of his name). This stamp is always in red ink and is located in one of the corners of the design within the image area. Documentation from dated copies of SP1 are crucial for understanding the time range for use of city-name stamps on other Rakusan prints. Copies of SP1 distributed in 1947 have city-name stamps at lower right, but copies distributed in 1948 or later do not have them. Other than the secondary seal, the city-name stamp is the only secondary addendum on SP1 which is not hand-written.

Secondary Holiday Greetings: Unlike souvenir print SP2-b (and the winter cards) no copies of SP1 with woodblock-printed or hand-written holiday greeting text have currently been documented.

Species Illustrated:
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.

Related Designs:
Other designs with giga frogs*:
"WC4" (version 1) "WC4" (version 2)

[*There are also fourteen large and two medium size original paintings on silk of giga frogs which are not yet illustrated online.]