Doi Hangaten: A Meeting with Mrs. Suzue Doi
(Tokyo, March 2000)
The namecard of Mrs. Doi mentions "Mokuhanga Hanmoto" - Publisher of Woodblock Prints - as business, and that still is true - Doi prints are available at many locations in Tokyo. It took me several months time to get this appointment with Mrs. Doi, it was cancelled repeatedly for various reasons and finally I feared it got postponed indefinitely. But then the miracle happened - we met at the Doi residence in Ichikawa, little east of Tokyo on a sunny afternoon in early March. As usual, Ms. Takako Fukazawa, who helped to arrange this meeting accompanied me as assistant, interpreter and scout. She herself has become a novice collector of shin hanga recently.
Mrs. Doi resides in a nice Japanese-style home, decorated with many prints of Hasui and Koitsu, but also with the prints of modern western artists as well. The welcome was warm; we spent more than two hours in the Doi's living room, leaving our shoes at the entrance. We were served green tea, delicious cake and sweet "sakura mochi." The latter certainly is most suitable to mount prints on any surface for eternity. Around 200 prints of Noel Nouet, Hasui and Koitsu were spread out upon on a small table together with food and beverages - collector's dream or nightmare?
The Doi Residence in Ichikawa/Chiba The "Doi" name-plate Mrs. Doi with the author
In contrast to the first impression we had gotten over the phone from Mrs. Doi in previous talks, she turned out despite her age (I guess in the seventies) to be an agile, very pleasant, talkative person who has been spending most of her life in the "hanga world," not directly involved, but as the wife of late Eiichi Doi. She told us a lot from her memories and answered without reluctance all my questions, of course in Japanese language, which was translated almost simultaneously by Ms. Fukazawa. Based on my notes, I try below to bring the important information obtained to paper.
The table: Nouet, tea, "mochi" and more Mrs. doi and the "Lost Hasui"
The Interview ("Q & A" format)
Q.: Mrs. Doi, the publishing house Doi played a leading role in the history of the "shin hanga" movement, it is therefore an exciting event for us to visit Doi Hanga. Could you please explain us the history of the Doi company briefly?
A.: Yes, of course, I already prepared some handwritten memo for myself, so that I can explain this better to you. Our history reaches almost 100 years back. Actually, our business started in America. My father-in-law, Sadaichi(1) opened in May 1903 the company Doi Shoten in San Francisco, Ca., USA at the address Makarista-cho 606. Main business was dealing with "ukiyo-e," which were very popular in the USA in that time.
In the year 1916 he returned to Japan, but continued once a year to travel to the USA for his "ukiyo-e" sales. After the Great Kanto Earthquake he opened 1924 Doi Hangaten in Tokyo at Kanda Suehirocho No. 10 with still "ukiyo-e" sales as his main business. Not until 1933(2), a few years later, did he start to publish "shin hanga" woodblock prints. Most designs came from Kawase Hasui and Tsuchiya Koitsu. Due to lack of materials for printing, complete loss of our overseas customers and the general war circumstances we had to stop our activities in 1944, but in 1948 we restarted Doi Hangaten at Bunkyo-Ku, Kikusakacho 82 under the name Doi Hangaten Kabushiki Kaisha. President was Eiichi Doi, who actually had studied Electric Engineering at the Waseda University, Tokyo. His father, Sadaichi, already passed away in the year 1944, before the war ended. During war times the printing blocks were evacuated to the countryside to protect them, therefore loss and damage were limited(3).
From 1963 onward my husband Eiichi Doi was not in good health for quite a while. During this time, my elder brother took care of the business and we changed the company name to Hamamatsu-do. Our family stems from the city of Hamamatsu in Shizuoka Prefecture, this is the reason we had chosen the name Hamamatsu-do(4) for the company.
1974 we opened in addition to our shop in Akasaka another one on the premises of the Sanno Hotel, which served almost exclusively for the American forces. This explains to some extent why so many Koitsu and Hasui prints came eventually to the USA in the following years, creating the basis for many collections today.
1981 we changed the name back to Doi Hangaten
1983 we closed the shop at the Sanno Hotel and moved from Akasaka, Tokyo to Ichikawa, because the air of the polluted city had no good effect on my health.
1996 Eiichi Doi, born Taisho 7 (1917) died and I was forced to take over our business, assisted by one of our two daughters. My limited experience in the woodblock publishing business doesn't make it easy to continue with success. The printing shop got transferred from Tokyo to Ichikawa too.
Q.: Mrs. Doi, can you tell us from your memory about the many printers who worked for Doi Hangaten?
A.: My remembrance is limited unfortunately, I think, the "printer timeline" you have prepared shows it better than I do know(5). The printer seal Itoh also appears on prints made shortly after the war, because two brothers Itoh worked for us. One of them was Kosaburo Itoh, the given name of the other I can't remember(14). Also Yokoi continued a couple of years after the war, but gradually worked less and less. In these postwar years he was the teacher and instructor for a young boy named Seki, who became our next printer under contract later. Seki was active for us until around 1984(6), when the cooperation with him was terminated by Eiichi. Seki wanted to return to Doi Hangaten later, but this couldn't be arranged. Seki was a very, very talented printer as to my husband's opinion. He is now occasionally active in the USA(7).
Q.: Can you tell us more about your present printers?
A.: Hamano is our only printer, he is now in his 60's. He wants his sons to learn this business, but they refuse.
Q.: Does he print here in your house or do you maintain a separate printing shop?
A.: Usually our prints were always made in our printing shop under our supervision because Eiichi did not allow to carry any blocks away in order to be protected against unauthorized copies. In the past years however, we made an exception. Mr. Hamano prints at his home, because then he better can take care of his family.
Q.: Recently some prints were found on the market with the printer seal Matsuzaki. Can you explain me this?
A.: Yes. Matsuzaki prints occasionally for me, he is now 63(8).
Q.: Is this Matsuzaki the same one who allegedly printed already in the 1930's?
A.: I don't know, but due to age, it seems impossible.
Q.: One of the prints made by Matsuzaki, titled "Yanagibashi at Night," which we have here on the table, carries Endoh as carver, but the blocks, see the stars, are different, compared with the early original(9).
A.: Sometimes we had to recut a block when it got damaged, but we kept the original carver seal(10)
Q.: Can you tell us more about the seals Doi Hangaten applied to the prints?
A.: At the beginning, this means in pre-war times, we put only the Sadaichi seal on all prints and later, when Eiichi took over the business, his seal. However, I am not sure whether he used the Eiichi seal immediately when he restarted the business in 1948. We had a third seal, Doi Hangaten, which also was applied(11), but less frequent. The printer and carver seals are combined in a twin seal; they are not individual seals. All these seals are put on the print after printing is finished, they are not part of the key block(12).
However, I am not sure that under the management of Hamamatsu-do we were able to oversee completely whether prints marketed got the correct seal.
Q.: Mrs. Doi, if the seals are stamped by you as Hanmoto, could I please get a look on the seals?
A.: Oh, I am so sorry, because we are not printing so much right now, I gave all the seals recently for repair to a carver.
Q.: Some foreign artists were quite successful in Japan. Doi Hangaten had a good relationship with the French artist Noel Nouet. How did it come to this cooperation?
A.: That came unexpectedly. Mr. Nouet(13) was the French language teacher of my husband's elder brother. So gradually a personal relationship developed and later we published his beautiful scenes of Tokyo. They still sell very well in France and Germany, some special albums are distributed by the art dealer Oedomokuhansha(14).
Q.: This dealer published some years ago prints of Hasui and Koitsu which originally were owned by Doi.
A.: Yes, that is right, we authorized such sales, but our printer made the prints with our blocks.
Q.: The prints of Nouet have the characteristic of many fine black lines much like a pen drawing. Are they applied by the woodblock technique or by some other printing process, for example, drypoint?
A.: Everything on a Nouet is a real woodblock. Each line was carved, a very difficult task, which results in the higher price for his prints. But the technique is not so special, compare it with the hairs carved in "bijin-ga" prints.
Q.: Some prints here on the table of Nouet show the seal combination Eiichi Doi, carver Endoh and printer Itoh, others Eiichi Doi, Endoh and Seki. How does this match together?
A.: These prints were done just after the war, when Eiichi already headed the company and one of the Itoh's acted as printer. The blocks were carved before the war, therefore the Endoh seal, and were still used later by Seki, as his seals indicates.
Q.: Some prints carry a watermark, while others don't. What is behind this?
A.: This depends on the paper. Sometimes we use paper with our "Do" watermark, sometimes we use plain paper. But even in case a watermark is on the paper, you should know, there is only a single watermark in the upper left corner of each sheet. The sheet, however, has double oban size and is cut half before printing. Consequently, one print gets the watermark, the other not. My printer always urges me, for cost reasons not to continue with the watermarked paper.
Q.: Mrs. Doi, many collectors like the Do watermark as a "proof of origin," so please continue with the watermark paper! But let me know, how many prints does Mr. Hamano make on average?
A.: The unit for prints is "han". One "han" is 100 sheets of paper. In case of Hamano, this is sufficient paper for one month. Mr. Seki worked fast, he finished one "han" per week. Usually I give Mr. Hamano 110 sheets instead of 100, because some sheets get spoiled during the many printing steps(15). Now, we are a little back in production. I have demand for many designs but cannot supply. Our current stock of finished prints is very small.
Q.: Mrs. Doi, among the prints here is a print from Hasui titled "Moon at Enoshima." Didn't Koitsu Tsuchiya make an almost identical design?
A.: Not at Doi, but Hasui worked only a short while with us, then he changed to Watanabe. Maybe Watanabe asked him to copy his own, earlier design. By the way, I remember a story my husband told me about Hasui. When Hasui made the drawings for the print Night at Shinobazu Pond, which Sadaichi had ordered from Hasui, it took him a long time and many attempts until we accepted the draft.
Kawase Hasui: "Night at Shinobazu Pond"
Showa 7, April (1932); later edition Harada/Seki
(Original from Katsumura/Matsushita), see also (2)
Q.: Most of the prints here with the seals of Seki or Hamano are on white, relatively new paper, which is in accordance with the printer timeline. Some others, for example this "aizuri" (verbally "blue print") scene of "Evening with Snow at Edogawa" (1932) with the Doi Hangaten seal and the Harada / Yokoi combination are on paper, that turned already yellow.
A.: This print was made many years ago, therefore the color change of the paper. Such "aizuri" scenery does not sell well in Japan, only in the USA. Sometimes we find such prints in the many shelves and boxes we use for storage, then we just add them to our regular sales program.
Q.: Does Doi Hangaten has a "Sales Catalogue" with prints available?
A.: Unfortunately not, my husband made the last catalogue many years ago; all I can give you is a summary price list(16)
Q.: Mrs. Doi, I thank you for the time you shared with me. You gave me excellent first hand information and deep insights into history and business of Doi Hangaten. I really appreciate this and thank you very much, also on behalf of many fellow collectors. Please give me the opportunity to come again to Doi Hangaten.
Doi Publisher Printer Timeline
The above "timeline" graphically illustrates the periods of activity for the
various printers employed by Doi who are mentioned in this article.
(Timeline courtesy of our good friend, Marc Kahn, who runs Shotei.com.)
Mrs. Doi explained as far as possible about the history of Doi Hanga. Certainly a lot is still left uncovered, due to her age, memory and limited involvement in the daily business for decades. So far, I feel confident of the following: All prints with Doi Teiichi (Sadaichi) seals are genuine, even if we are not always aware of the complete printer/carver chronology, they are definitely prewar. Prints with the Doi Eiichi /Harada/ Seki and Doi Eiichi/Harada /Hamano combination are acknowledged as late prints of Hasui and Koitsu. Until we know better, the Doi Hangaten seal prints with the Katakana written Harada/Yokoi combination I consider being most probably from he late forties/early fifties (postwar) period. Matsuzaki is apparently a contemporary printer, as his prints recently found are late editions.
(1) Surprisingly, the father in law was now referred to as Sadaichi, not as Teiichi, as previously reported here.
(2) The year 1933 seems to be not correct. According to Merritt & Yamada (p. 243), Doi published already in 1931 and 1932 Hasui prints.
(3) I doubt that the damage or loss was limited. All late editions I ever have seen carry Harada (95%) or Endoh (5%) as carver, but many of the famous designs of Hasui or Koitsu had been carved in the thirties by other carvers like Yamada, Katsumura and Ikeda. I feel, most of the prints offered in the past 50 years rely on recut blocks.
(4) Example shown here. This view of Tokyo Ueno Park with a death pale "Maiko" in a Kyoto-style kimono is certainly not a masterpiece of Koitsu, but it still sells very well according to Mrs. Doi. The seals clearly mention as publisher Hamamatsu-do and Harada as carver and Seki as printer. It is not clear, whether during this period all prints got the Hamamatsu-do seal, or whether also the Doi seals were continued to use.
Publisher: Hamamatsu-do. Seals top to bottom:
Suri Shi -- Hori Shi
Seki -- Harada
Chosakukenshakenin ("Inspected for Copyright")
Seal Tsuchiya Hanmoto In (Publisher Seal) Hamamatsu-do
Seal Uchiyama? Sentesho Satsu ("Limited Edition")
(Original from Katsumura/Matsushita), see also (2)
(5) This refers to the "Doi printer timeline," which I had as hardcopy with me. I left it and other copies of our Doi articles on seals with Mrs. Doi.
(6) Compare the earlier information about Doi, shown here, where Mrs. Doi states the year 1993 for the change from Seki to Hamano.
(7) Seki demonstrated 1999 in Los Angeles Japanese Printing Technique. It would be certainly of interest to contact him if possible and ask about the Doi printers timeline.
(8) This Matsuzaki cannot be identical with a printer of the same name allegedly acting in the 1930's for Doi.
(9) The first edition of Yanagibashi was carved by Katsumura and printed by Matsushita. Recently offered at Sakai Gallery, Tokyo at US$ 3,400.
(10) I think, only the blocks cut/recut by Endoh and Harada still keep their seals, regardless of eventual re-cutting. Endoh was not the original carver of the Yanagabashi at Night.
(11) There are some other seals known which however only in a few cases got used. Some prints show the publisher / printer / carver information written on the lower margin (Nouet).
(12) Example shown here: Identical prints, same set of seals, but position on the margin slightly different--ergo, the seals are not part of the key-block.
Location of the left set set of seals is about 3mm higher on the margin.
I want to go even a step further: It is very likely, that all three seals are cut into a single seal block. For a given set of publisher, carver and printer the distance between publisher seal and the twin seals is constant, the width of the publisher seal is the same as of the twin seals. The distance between margin and publisher seal with respect to the twin (offset) seals is the same, provided, the seals were aligned parallel to the margin. If not aligned properly parallel, all seals run out of parallelity the same angle.
(13) Nouet is honorably mentioned by Mrs. Doi as "sensei", or teacher.
914) Further information on Oedomokuhansha here. The seal there shows the carver Harada, now confirmed as the Harada also acting for Doi and a printer Itoh Tomo… (or Sato…, only first character of the given name shown). Probably the younger brother of Kosaburo Itoh?
(15) Is this a possible explanation why occasionally Doi prints show up without any seal, coming directly from the printer to the sales desk?
(16) The introduction of this leaflet tells us:
Shin Hanga of Doi Hangaten are made by carvers and printers who belong to the Ukiyoe Mokuhanga Technical Experts Association, which is approved by the Agency of Cultural Affairs. They were published by Teiichi Doi at the beginning of Showa (temporary suspension during the war) and after the war by his son, Eiichi Doi. They are printed on Hoshosuki Hosho, which comes from Echizen.
(c) Andreas Grund, Tokyo March 2000
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