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Biography: MORITA Osandô (森田乙三洞)

photo of Morita osando

Morita Osandô with some of his hobby-shop goods,
including a puppet head and a large hannya
(devil 般若) mask used in the theater

Artist signature (Osandô okina 乙三洞翁,
"Old man Osandô") with characters for
"Self-carved" (ji-tô, 自刀)



Morita Osando shipMorita Osandô (森田乙三洞), real name Morita Masanobu (森田誠信 1895-1959), was born on February 21, 1895, in Kuranoshô (蔵之庄), Tenri City (天理市), Nara Prefecture (奈良県). His grandfather was a priest of the Nichiren sect. His father Masakichi remarried a woman named Tama after his first wife Kiyo died. In his late teens, Masanobu moved to Honda Sanbanchô, Nishi-ku, Osaka, near the Kawaguchi foreign settlement (旧川口居留地). At the age of 18 (in Taishô 2), he married Tomi Higashii and started a family.

Morita opened a hobby shop in 1914 in Sennichimae, Osaka. He used his professional name (Osandô, 乙三洞) for the business. In 1931, he relocated his home to 28, Namba Shinchi, Minami-ku, Osaka City, and the store moved there as well (currently 3-6 Namba, Chuo-ku, Osaka City). In 1944, the building was demolished and so Morita moved to 14 Tatamiya-chô, Minami-ku, Osaka City. However, it was destroyed in an air raid on March 14, 1945. A huge number of toys and dolls were all reduced to ashes.

The store became a popular venue for hobbyists, and collectors of kokeshi dolls (小芥子 simple wooden dolls with no arms or legs crafted as a toy for children) frequented the shop. Some of Japan's notable artists also visited on occasion. The diary of the yôga and Nihonga painter Ryûsei Kishida (岸田劉生 1891-1929), for example, included an entry about visiting the Osandô on July 2, 1924. Over the years Morita sold old toys, bunraku (puppet) heads, lamps, old woodcuts, antique books, and kokeshi dolls, as well as Western artifacts (Morita admired Western culture). Over the years, a considerable number of kokeshi dolls went out from the Osandô to collectors all over Japan.

Morita was a member of the The Naniwa Takarabune Kai (Naniwa Treasure Ship Association, 浪華宝船会 1928-1936), organized mostly by hobbyists. After the war, Morita played an active role in second-hand book fairs held at the Daimaru (大丸) department store. By 1951, Osandô dealt mainly with rental books and small works of art, plus limited quantities of kokeshi dolls. Soon after, the shop was reduced to offering only rental books until finally closing in 1959, the year of Morita's death.

Morita Osando takarabuneMorita carved and printed many images of Takarabune (Treasure ships, 寶舟 or 宝船). These images are symbols of good luck; the boats are said to sail into port at the New Year carrying the gods and laden with treasures. During the Edo period (1615-1868), it was believed that if you sleep with a picture of a treasure ship on your pillow on New Year's Day or Setsubun (節分 a bean-throwing festival or ceremony incorporating a traditional ritual performed at the New Year in which soya beans are scattered to drive away evil), you will have a good or propitious "first dream" for the New Year. Prints of treasure ships were typically placed under one's pillow to induce happy dreams. In ukiyo-e the Takarabune is often depicted filled with the seven lucky gods, or in mitate-e with courtesans representing those gods.

Morita's takarabune designs range from conventional treatments of the theme, although curiosities may enliven the scenes (as in the print on the left) to humorous reworkings. In one example, he added a large (superfluous) sail to a gondola with the character for "Baku" inscribed at its center. The Baku (獏 also written 貘) is an ancient Chinese mythical composite creature with the trunk and tusks of an elephant, the eyes of a rhinoceros, the tail of a cow, and the paws of a tiger. It was believed that the Baku devoured people's nightmares, thus helping to ensure that one's first dream (Hatsu yume 初夢) at the New Year would be favorable and auspicious.

In the print shown at top right, two lovers stand in a boat during a clandestine assignation. The woman wears her sash or obi (帯) in the manner of a courtesan; she appears to be in the process of tying it in front. The man wears a tenugui (cotton scarf, 手拭) tied under his nose to conceal his identity (the manner of tying the scarf is called tekka kaburi, 鉄火被). The character for Takara (寶) is inscribed on the lantern, an explicit reference to the treasure ship. The sizes of the figures overwhelm the small boat; the dimensional disconnect makes this a most unusual design and one of Morita's best takarabune prints.

Morita is considered one of the outstanding hobbyists of the Taishô and Showa periods. In addition to carving and printing his Takarabune prints, he ventured outside the "treasure ship" theme when in 1937 he designed and printed the cover for a book by Kishimoto Saisei (岸本彩星 the toy collector and author Kishimoto Gohei III, 岸本五兵衛 1897–1946) titled "Octopus spectacles at the Tennô Shrine" (Tennôji no tako megane, 天王寺の蛸々眼鏡). Morita also carved signboards and was skilled as well at weaving beads.

The Osaka Museum of History Takarabune Collection includes a number of Takarabune designs by Morita dating from 1931. A collector named Miyakodori Sumiko (都鳥澄子) donated more than 100 treasure-ship prints that had been shown at the Third Naniwa Takarabune Kai in 1931 to the museum. Today, the museum has 262 examples of takarabune prints.

Morita Osandô with a large group of dolls and bunraku puppets in his hobby shop.
He is seated in a small wooden "treasure" boat along with one of his children in 1934.