Asano Takeji 浅野竹二 (1900-1999) was born in Kyoto and graduated from the Kyoto City School of Fine Arts and Crafts in 1919 and the Kyoto City Specialist School of Painting in 1923. He studied Western oil painting and later Japanese-style painting with Bakusen Tsuchida (1887-1936). After becoming interesed in woodblock printing through a course at Gasendo in Kyoto given by Hiratsuka Un'ichi (1895-1997), Asano produced both shin hanga ("new prints," i.e., neo-ukiyo-e: 新版画) and sôsaku hanga ("creative prints," i.e., self-carved and self-printed: 創作版画). He was an exceptionally skilled block cutter, and taught both carving and printing until the age of 97. Asano participated in the formation of the Kyoto Sôsaku Hanga Kyôkai (Kyoto Creative Print Society) in 1929. Besides the series Shin Osaka fukei ("New views of Osaka"), other examples included a self-carved, self-printed series of nine prints titled Kinki meisho fûkei ("Famous views in the Kyoto-Osaka area"). Beginning in the 1950s he designed a large number of shin hanga prints for the Unsodo Publishing company. According to one of his disciples, Fumio Machida, Asano told his students, "Don't complicate your drawing. Eliminate all unnecessary things but leave the essence."* Asano's personal archive of sketchbooks, printmaking tools, carved blocks, and prints are now in the collection of Kyoto Seika University.
Kamishibai ("Paper plays": 紙芝居) are a form of Japanese street theater and storytelling that was popular during the Great Depression of the 1930s and immediate post-war period in Japan. Kamishibaiya ("kamishibai narrator"") travelled to street corners with sets of illustrated boards that they placed in a miniature stage-like device and narrated the story by changing each image. Kamishibai has its earliest origins in Japanese Buddhist temples, where Buddhist monks from the 8th century onward used emakimono ("picture scrolls") as pictorial aids for recounting their history of the monasteries. The exact origins of kamishibai during the 20th century are unknown, appearing in the Shitamachi section of Tokyo around 1930. It is believed, however, that kamishibai has deep roots in Japan's etoki ("pictorial storytelling" or "explaining with pictures": 絵解き), which can be traced back to the 12th-century emakimono ("picture scrolls": 絵巻物). The popularity of kamishibai declined at the end of the Allied Occupation and the introduction of television, known originally as denki kamishibai ("electric kamishibai": 電気紙芝居) in 1953. With television bringing larger access to a variety of entertainment, many kamishibai artists and narrators lost their work....
Asano's sensitive portrayal is drawn in a distinct stlye with bold keyblock lines and a very restricted chromatic palette. The Kamishibaiya at the far left flips the picture boards and recounts his story as children and adults look on with rapt attention.
References: *KIWA News No. 3, November 2000, Kyoto International Woodprint Association, p. 6.