100 Views of New Tokyo

Sosaku Hanga

In 1928, a group of eight Japanese artists got together to produce a series of prints, called Shin Tokyo Hyakkei, or One Hundred Views of New Tokyo. At this time, Tokyo really did feel new: the Emperor Hirohito had recently ascended to power, and after the disastrous earthquake of 1923 the city was beginning to spring back to life. The artists – Hiratsuka Un-ichi, Onchi Koshiro, Fukazawa Sakuichi, Kawakami Sumio, Maekawa Sempan, Fujimon Shizuo, Henmi Takashi, and Suwa Kanenori – each contributed twelve or thirteen prints over four years, and formed a cooperative society to produce their work, which they sold by subscription.

The history of prints in Japan is long and rich, but the ones we see here were part of a new phenomenon: that of Sosaku Hanga, or ‘creative prints’. This movement put the artist in full control of his or her work: instead of the traditional division of labour, the artist who conceived of and designed the work also cut it and printed it. The emphasis was on personal self-expression, art for art’s sake, a  novel idea in the context of woodcut, which was regarded as a means of cheap mass-production rather than artistic experimentation. 

The eight contributors drew their inspiration from many sources. Like most artists of their generation they had experimented with Western techniques and were influenced by contemporary art from around the world, but the series also fitted into the centuries-old tradition of ukiyo-e (‘floating world’) woodblocks, which depicted fashionable scenes of leisure and entertainment

The group set out to memorialise and celebrate the Tokyo they knew, and the 100 Views reveal a vibrant and dynamic city where progress sits comfortably with tradition, exploring it from its shrines to its subways, its dance-halls to its dockyards, in every season and at every time of day or night. Although the scenes are often populated – sometimes crowded – the focus is never on human inhabitance but on the city itself as a character. The bridges that appear again and again are an apt metaphor for the transitional nature of these prints, which still feel fresh and exciting eighty years after they were first made

I must remark that Tokyo today is developing and changing very rapidly.  Yesterday’s Tokyo has already changed, and there are many prints in the early part of the series showing places that have changed.  So they are really “Old” Tokyo and not “New” Tokyo.  Indeed, we could start on another series of Shin Tokyo Hyakkei!

– Maekawa Sempan, 1932

I was never much in the swim of things as far as prints were concerned.  Since I didn’t live in Tokyo I never knew many of the print artists and never was much influenced by them.  I’ve just gone my own way, doing what interested me, and hoping it would interest somebody else.  If it has, I’m happy.

– Kawakami Sumio

Art is not to be understood by the mind but by the heart. If we go back to its origin, painting is expressed in color and form by the heart, and it should never be limited to a world of reflected forms captured by visual sense. Therefore, expression of the heart through color and forms separated from color and form in the real world is that true realm of painting. I will for the time call this type of work the ‘lyrique’. 

– Onchi Kōshirō