For nearly a century, Kawase Hasui's (川瀬巴水) most popular print is the design offered here, an unquestioned masterpiece in Hasui's oeuvre and an outstanding work in all of Shin hanga (new prints: 新版画). It was printed between 1925 and 1933 in very large numbers, perhaps more than 3,000, although the extant number of impressions is far smaller today, especially those in very good condition. Seemingly all impressions from the original blocks were of very high quality and even more could have been printed and sold, but Watanabe Shôzaburô (1885-1962), for unknown reasons, decided to retire the blocks. This design was also recut in an aiban format (image: 32.0 x 21.2 cm) and tipped into the 1934 edition of "Japan Today & Tomorrow" — a publication highlighting the cultural arts of Japan issued by The Osaka Mainichi Shinbun Company. The tissue overlay in that publication states, "The painting is by Hasui Kawase of the Kiyokata Kaburaki school. He is skilled in wood cuts and has specialized in that particular branch of art. Published by the Watanabe shop in Ginza, Tokyo." Moreover, as the popularity of the Zôjôji image continued unabated into the twenty-first century, Shoichirô Watanabe ultimately recut and published the design in 100 impressions for sale in 2018. This full-size recut has a round Watanabe seal in the lower right corner of the image, plus a Shoichirô Watanabe lozenge-shaped seal in the lower right margin (not shown on this page). This contemporary recut sold out very quickly.
The Zôjôji design depicts the Sangedatsu Gate (the oldest wooden building in Tokyo, dating from 1622) of a Buddhist temple housing the mausoleum for Tokugawa Shôguns where six of the clan rulers and their family members have been interred. Located in Minato ward, Tokyo, very close to Tokyo Tower, Zôjôji is the main temple of the Jodo (Pure Land) sect of Buddhism. Zojoji was founded as the sect's eastern Japan seminary in 1393 and was relocated to its present site in 1598 by Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokugawa dynasty. The temple was badly damaged during allied bombing in World War II, but the gate was one of the few structures in the complex that survived intact.
There is an indefinable beauty associated with the stark contrast between a red architectural form set within a snow scene. Hasui used this color palette in 24 or so designs, none more effectively than here. Also typical of Hasui's oeuvre is the solitrary figure set within a landscape or cityscape. Here, a woman presses on against the wind and snow, her face is hidden and protected by the umbrella. The scene expresses a mood of poignant isolation and timelessness, achieved through a finely tuned balance of forms and color. Early on, this design achieved the status of an icon, and it remains so today.
The preservation of the red and purple pigments in this impression is excellent. The red is especially rich and nuanced, as originally intended by Watanabe and his printers.
Impressions are held in many public institutions. The Museum of Fine Art, Boston (* below) has an impression with the same seal as our print.
References: Kendall Brown, Kawase Hasui: The complete woodblock prints. p. 356, no. 147; * Museum of Fine Art, Boston, 49.124.