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Biography: HASHIMOTO Okiie (橋本興家)

photo of Iwami Reika
Hashimoto Okiie
(Sketch from Statler, Modern Japanese Prints, 1956)

Hashimoto Okiie signature
Hashimoto pencil signature 1961

Hashimoto Okiie saku (橋本興家作) embossed signature
Artist seal (Hashi 橋)


Iwami Reika

Hashimoto Okiie (橋本興家 1899-1993) was born in Tottori Prefecture. He graduated from the Tokyo School of Fine Arts, Ueno in 1924, where he studied art education and Western-style oil painting (yôga: 洋画). From 1924 to 1955, he worked as a middle-school teacher, then later accepting an appointment as an assistant principal of the Tokyo First Women's High School. During that period he thought of himself as a "Sunday printmaker." He also became interested in prints around 1932 and began printmaking in 1936 when he took a three-day short course taught by Hiratsuka Un'’'ichi (平塚運一), his only formal training in making woodcuts. Afterward, they became good friends and Hashimoto became a member of Hiratsuka's circle of artists, Yoyogi-ha (代々木派). He was also part of Onchi Kôshirô's First Thursday Society (Ichimokukai: 一木会), contributing a landscape design (Yaene on Hachijô Island) to that group's sixth and final portfolio, Ichimokushû (First Thursday Collection: 一木集), in 1950. After more than thirty years of teaching at the aforementioned middle school in Tokyo, Hashimoto retired in 1955 to devote all his time to printmaking.

Hashimoto first exhibited at the Japanese Print Association (Nihon Hanga Kyôkai) show in 1937, and joined that group in 1940. He frequently depicted Japanese gardens and castles (including several albums featuring views of castles issued from the 1940s into the 1960s). He also produced floral and figure subjects. Many of his designs are characterized by multiple vantage points, and his partly abstracted sand gardens often contrast an atmosphere of contemplation with somewhat severe or repeated geometrical forms used to construct the compositions. Subtle modulations also contribute toward a sophisticated surface in his compositions. In other examples, the use of intense red, orange, yellow, and green colors animate the designs, vividly distinguishing such scenes from the more quiet aspects of his oeuvre.

Although Hashimoto enjoyed working in oils, he preferred printmaking. He told Oliver Statler (see 1956 ref. below) that, "I feel I can get more expression from the carving tool than I ever can from the brush. The brush goes along too easily. I like the resistance that the block gives me. And don't be misled, the whole process of making prints is hard work — it's hard but satisfying." He also mentioned that, "I like to sketch on the spot, and I use the line of traditional Japanese painting because I think it has something in common with the line of prints." In his printing, Hashimoto often used plywood faced with shina and, less frequently, other woods included sakura (cherry: 桜 or 櫻) and katsura (Judas tree, Cercidiphyllum japonicum: 桂). Stencils cut from stiff waterproof paper (or mimeographed) have also proved useful on occasion when applying oil pigment with a roller. Colorants included Japanese vegetable pigments (including aigami, or dayflower blue: 藍紙), gofun (shell powder or shell white, a calcium carbonate: 胡粉), tube water colors, and sumi (carbon black, a mixture of soot, water, and glue: 墨 or 墨). His papers included torinoko-gami (鳥の子紙).

Hashimoto turned frequently to the depiction of castles. He told Oliver Statler (1956 ref. below) that, "I like architectural detail and I have a special feeling for old stone walls. It's tragic how fast the castles are disappearing. I'd like to make a series of prints of some of the great ones at various times of the day so that people in the future will have some idea [of] what they looked like. They're important to Japan and important to me."

Also fascinated by Japanese rock gardens, Hashimoto designed many views of the subject. The design shown above right is entitled Ne no niwa (Tree roots in garden: 根の庭). Produced in 1966, it is a self-carved, self-printed work in an edition of 70. An embossed inscription in the lower right margin reads Hashimoto Okiie saku (Work of Hashimoto Okiie: 橋本興家作). One of the motifs often explored by Hashimoto was the effect of dappled sunlight on the perception of forms. Here, an intense yellow pigment dominates the upper eighty percent of the composition, illuminating the ground with irregular patches of bright sunlight breaking through the canopy of branches above. Even the shadows bleed with speckled yellow. Fond of contrast and strong juxtapositions, Hashimoto placed a more neutral area of raked sand and medium-value gray shadows in the lower part of the design. The flattened and nearly frontal view of the sand and shadows offsets the more three-dimensional aspect of the tree and its roots. Looking at this scene, one can feel the heat of the sun radiating through the traditional Japanese garden. These effects are heightened by the imposingly large format used by Hashimoto.

Side note: The first sôsaku hanga (創作版画) or "creative print" was made by Yamamoto Kanae (山本鼎 1882-1946) from a single block carved on both sides. Known as Gyofu ("Fisherman": 漁夫), the seminal woodcut was published in Ishii Hakutei's (石井柏亭 1882-1958) art and literary magazine Myôjô (Morning Star: 明星) in 1904. It was reprinted in a memorial edition of 40 by Hashimoto Okiie in 1960 upon the request of Ishii Tsuruzô (1887-1983), Hakutei's younger brother, who had rediscovered Yamamoto's block, and by the modern print connoisseur and advocate Oliver Statler (1915-2002)

Hashimoto's prints can be found in many private collections and museum's, including the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria; Art Gallery of New South Wales; Art Institute of Chicago; Asian Art Museum of San Francisco; British Museum, London; Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh; Chazen Art Museum, University of Wisconsin-Madison; Cincinnati Art Museum; Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; Harvard Art Museums (MA); Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Minneapolis Institute of Art; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Pacific Asia Museum, USC; Philadelphia Museum of Art; Toledo Museum of Art; Worchester Art Museum (MA); and Yale University Art Gallery.


  • Jenkins, Donald: Images of a Changing World: Japanese Prints of the Twentieth Century. Portland Art Museum, 1983, p. 102, no. 82.
  • Merritt, Helen: Modern Japanese Woodblock Prints. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1990, pp. 250-251.
  • Smith, Lawrence: Modern Japanese Prints 1912-1989. British Museum, 1994, p. 46, no. 25.
  • Spangenberg, Kristin: Innovation and Tradition: Twentieth-Century Japanese Prints from the Howard and Caroline Porter Collection. Cincinnati Art Museum, 1990, pp. 17, 24, and 51.
  • Statler, Oliver: Modern Japanese Prints: An Art Reborn. Rutland & Tokyo: Tuttle, 1956, pp. 133-136, and 200, nos. 79-80.

The text provided here is based largely on John Fiorillo's web page: