Onchi Kôshirô (恩地孝四郎 1891-1955) was the preeminent figure of the sôsaku hanga (creative print: 創作版画) movement. A visionary modernist, Onchi used a varied and sophisticated approach to design, exploring figurative, abstract, and symbolic imagery through traditional and experimental techniques, both Japanese and Western. He was an excellent draftsman in the realistic manner, yet his explorations into abstract composition stand as seminal in the development of sôsaku hanga. The printmaker Yamaguchi Gen once said, "Onchi was a vital artist ... he had the inspiration and passion of a great artist. He was the embodiment of modern hanga in Japan and our ambassador to the rest of the world. He was heart and mind....". Perhaps more than anyone else, it was Onchi who exemplified the principle of self-carving and self-printing as essential to the sôsaku hanga artist. Even so, he contributed to various projects for which his self-carved images were printed by artisans or other artists as part of themed print series.
For more about this artist, see Onchi Kôshirô Biography.
Onchi Kôshirô described Nihon no hana (Flowers of Japan: 日本の花 1946) as "a beautiful book of the early postwar period." [Onchi in Hon no bijutsu, "Art of the book," 本の美術 1952] This illustrated volume of contemporary poetry on the subject of flowers was published in May 1946, when much of the country remained in ruins following the Second World War. The postscript, presumably written by Onchi, hints at the difficulty of collecting poems and images from Japan’s top poets and artists when many still remained in the countryside following evacuation from the cities. It notes, for example, that although "we were able to include superior woodblock prints by contemporary Japanese print artists, it is regrettable that Hiratsuka Un'ichi's works, which we had planned to include, were unavailable due to his absence and in the end, works by Onchi had to be substituted instead." [see Volk ref. below.]
Onchi, together with the poet Inoue Yasufumi (1897–1973), selected thirty poems for publication. Onchi also served as book designer and contributed twelve prints, as well as one poem on tennanza (天南星 "Chinese Cobra lily," pp. 60–61), which he said were shaped "symbolically" like the lips of the French poet Charles Baudelaire. There were twenty-seven other poets, both male and female. Each pairing of poem and picture shares the theme of a flower, and like the cover, all but three of these illustrations are collotype prints (a dichromate-based photographic process) of woodcut images. The sôsaku hanga artists Kawakami Sumio, Kawanishi Hide, and Maekawa Senpan each created six illustrations, three of which were hand-printed woodcuts (one each by Kawakami, Kawanishi, and Maekawa) that were also tipped in (see images shown above). The book was otherwise printed using mechanical presses with oil based ink on woodblock through a process called mokuhan kikai zuri (machine wood printing: 木版機械摺). The book was bound in the Western manner.
Every page of text — on what was then scarce Japanese handmade paper (washi) — is enclosed within a woodblock-printed frame. The poets’ names are printed from calligraphy that was hand-carved into the woodblocks. The book's bilingual wrapper (not included in our copy), which has the English title "Anthology of Contemporary Japan: Flowers of Japan," suggests that Nihon no hana was intended for both the Japanese and the Allied Occupation forces. Onchi later recalled, "This book made of washi soon after the war . . . stood out for its beauty in an age of decline characterized by newsprint and recycled paper." In its materials, conception, and design, the illustrated collection of poetry offered an eloquent counterpoint to the grim devastation of the immediate post-war years. As Volk has written, "Nihon no hana demonstrated the sophisticated aesthetic sensibility of the Japanese people, while providing a hopeful image for the future rebuilding — or "re-flowering" — of the country and its people."
The 28 poets for 30 poems are (sequentially): Noguchi Yonejirô, Fukao Sumako, Maruyama Kaoru, Hishiyama Shûzô, Miyoshi Tatsuji, Ôte Takuji, Kawaji Ryûkô, Murô Saisei, Inoue Kôbun, Murano Shirô, Sasazawa Bimei, Kitahara Hakushû, Osada Tsuneo, Miki Rofû, Onchi Kôshirô (p. 60), Ôki Atsuo, Namie Jirô, Inoue Kiyoko, Andô Ichirô, Tanaka Fuyuji, Horiguchi Daigaku, Kitahara Hakushû (2nd poem), Kambara Yûmei, Yamamura Bochô, Kurahara Shinjirô, Katsu Shôfu, Ozaki Kihachi, Satô Haruo, Miki Rofû (2nd poem), & Shimazaki Tôson.
Other impressions of Nihon na hana are included in the collections of public institutions worldwide, such as the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Munich; Bibliothek der Humboldt-Universität Berlin; British Museum; Honolulu Museum of Art (only 2 sheets); National Diet Library, Tokyo; Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam; and University of California Library, Santa Barbara.
* Note: The paper for this immediate-post-war book was not of the highest quality, given the severe paper shortages of the period. All copies have impurities (specks, marks, inclusions). Moreover, many copies, such as ours, have issues with toning and spotting. Finally, the delicate wrapper is often damaged or missing. Our copy lacks this wrapper, which includes a longer title Shikashû Nihon no hana (An anthology of poetry, Flowers of Japan: 詞華集 日本の花).
- Hillier, Jack: Art of the Japanese Book (vol. 2). London: Sotheby's Publications, 1988, p. 1022.
- Iwabe Sadao (ed.): Onchi Kôshirô hangashû (Collected Prints of Onchi Kôshirô: 恩地孝四郎版画集). Tokyo: Keishôsha (形象社) Ltd., 1975.
- Matsumoto et al.: Onchi Kôshirô (Exhibition catalog National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo), 2016.
- Merritt, Helen: Modern Japanese Woodblock Prints: The Early Years. Honolulu, University of Hawaii Press, 1990, pp. 178-199 and 261-85.
- Merritt, Helen & Yamada, Nanako: Guide to Modern Japanese Woodblock Prints 1900-1975. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1992, pp. 267-272.
- Smith, Lawrence: Japanese Prints during the Allied Occupation 1945-195: Onchi Kôshirô, Ernst Hacker and the First Thursday Society. London: British Museum Press, 2002.
- Vergez, Robert: "Illustrated books and magazines by Onchi Kôshirô," in: Andon 18, 1985, pp. 23-29.
- Vergez, Robert: "Book designs by Onchi, the graphic master," in: Andon 35, vol. 9, no. 3, 1989, pp. 84-90.
- Volk, Alicia: "Nihon no hana 日本の花, FSC-GR-780.500.1-2." Commentary on Nihon no hanga; https://pulverer.si.edu/node/462/title/1 (accessed April 19, 2021).