Version U1a Version U1b

Goldfish (assigned title)

Temporary Number


Currently Documented Version Characteristics:
All Versions: 楽山作 Raku-zan Saku + Seal CC

[For illustration of seals, see the Seals article.]

Design History:
U1a and U1b are two of four designs found in different pairs which are attributed to Rakusan based on the same signature and seal combination found on each of the designs. This signature and seal closely resemble others known to be genuine, but the actual designs and their production seem different from what the Rakusan Studio was doing at those times. Assuming the attribution is correct, then it would appear that Rakusan sold the designs to a company which then printed and distributed them without further Rakusan involvement.

The same basic goldfish design U1 is found in two different versions - each with a different format. It is difficult to determine, but it is possible that both versions were printed from the same block. Both versions have a similar color palette with strong gauffrage (karazuri), especially on the fins and tail. Rakusan was dismissive of karazuri, considering it as a technique which required no special skill. Instead, he preferred to use subtle differences in ink color, as for example on 100 Series design 66.

The earlier U1a version features the same fan shape 4 format used in Rakusan's Fan Series although here in truncated form. (Compare 108-4 below.) The left margin shows that this truncation is original and not entirely the result of trimming the sheet. This copy of U1a was discovered as part of an album of commercial samples for fan designs. The album had been recently unbound, and binding slits are evident along the right edge of the print. It was still in association with a copy of U2 (see 'next print' link below) originally in the same album (or one identical to it). Both U1a and U2 have significant wear and loss, especially in the lower left corner where the page would have been turned. It is likely that all of the prints in the album had been trimmed (at least slightly) into a uniform, nearly square, size. The age and wear on these prints together with the other associated prints and materials confirm a pre World War II distribution date. The U1a composition also includes three sprays of water milfoil.

The later U1b version is in a vertical chuban format with the background enclosed in a blue marginal line not present in U1a. The water milfoil is omitted, the positions of the signature and of the seal are slightly shifted, and all of the colors are more vibrant than than those of the earlier version. The even background of U1a is replaced in U1b with a subtle shading of pale blue at the top into pale blue-green at the bottom. These modifications and the overall condition of U1b suggest a post-war distribution for the chuban version. This copy of U1b was discovered in association with a similarly formatted copy of U3 of like age (see 'previous print' link below).

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 depicts 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.

Water-milfoil is an attractive, but unfortunately invasive, type of water plant commonly used in aquariums. 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. Water-milfoil occurs in the background of several Rakusan aquatic designs, but here only in version U1a.

Related Designs:
Other designs with Goldfish:
108 108-1 108-2 108-3 108-4

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