"The 'Night Scenes' by Hasegawa/Nishinomiya Publisher"

Koho SHODA's "Shrine Gate at Miyajima" Print

Well known to many collectors of Japanese "shin-hanga" prints are the delightfully charming "Night Scene" series of prints published during the early 1900's by Hasegawa Publisher of Tokyo. These 21 various "chuban-sized" prints (each about 7 1/4 x 10 inches) are often spoken of as being of reflective of "the essence" of prints of the early "shin-hanga era" of Japanese print-making.

These 21 highly popular and sought-after prints are all scenes of either late evening or nighttime views, with many of them printed largely (if not entirely) using only blue and black inks. Fourteen of these 21 prints also prominently feature the moon in their sky--13 with full moons and one with a thin crescent moon. In the case of some images, there are also occasionally encountered variant versions--that is, printed using the same "block-sets"--however, done as "sepia" versions using only various shades of browns rather than the usual shades of blues.

The "Catalogue of Japanese Colour Prints" of Hasegawa Publishing Company

"Hasegawa's Catalogue"

As mentioned in our recent July 2004 Ukiyoe-Gallery article, "A Visit to 'Nishinomiya Woodblock Print Shop'" Dr. Grund was recently able to obtain a very old and rare copy of the above pictured "Hasegawa Catalogue" which we estimate dates to the early-1920's period. We're reasonably certain of this catalogue's publication date, as on the back of this Hasegawa catalogue are listed a series of international "print awards" earned during the preceding 1900 to 1915 period (see close-up image below). Additionally, a careful review of this catalogue indicates on page 30 that the artist Suzuki Kwasson's lifetime dates are given as "1860-1919"--hence, we know for certain that this catalogue does not date to before 1919. And, although we have previously held a photocopy of this catalogue for several years, we are now actually able to view this original publication in-hand.

This charming little 5 x 7 3/8 bound catalogue is itself a "gem" to behold. Inside its 43 pages are listed literally dozens and dozens of prints, including sub-sections on "Japanese Fairy Tales" books (each volume itself block-printed), "Reproductions of Old Ukiyoe Masterpieces" (including Hiroshige, Hokusai, Utamaro, and others), and "Original Compositions of Modern Artists" (including Toko, Seitei, Kwasson, Shoso, Koho, and Yoshimune).

Detail of Back Cover of The "Catalogue of Japanese Colour Prints" of Hasegawa Publishing Company

Some History--The Relationship between Hasegawa and Nishinomiya

Without going into depth, at this point perhaps some clarification should be made as to the two publishers named Hasegawa and Nishinomiya. Quite simply--they are, in fact, one in the same. According to information given on the back of this little catalogue (seen just above), we are told that Hasegawa Publishing Company was "founded in 1885 by T. (Takejiro) Hasegawa" (1853-1938) (whose original family name was, in fact, Nishinomiya), and that it's later "successor (was) Y. (Yosaku) Nishinomiya."

In any case, sometime then in the mid-1930's Takejiro's son, Yosaku, dropped the last name of Hasegawa and reverted again to the use of the original family name of Nishinomiya as he took control of his father's woodblock print business (his father, Takejiro, died in 1938). Hence, by 1938 we began to see the exclusive use of the name "Nishinomiya Yosaku" appearing on these "Night Scene" prints which were then being produced under the supervision of Yosaku Nishinomiya (1896-1986).

Until very recently then, it was widely assumed that Nishinomiya Publisher ceased business sometime shortly after WWII. Helen Merritt's landmark 1990 reference ("Guide to Modern Japanese Woodblock Prints: 1900-1975") states only "Nishinomiya Yosaku (Publisher) -- Tokyo. Active early in the century until after World War II. Sometimes associated with Hasegawa or Hasegawa Shoten (shop)." A second reference (un-named, but highly knowledgeable) states simply "Hasegawa Shoten = Nishinomiya Yosaku -- Tokyo, active 1872 to 1930."

History in the Making..... NEW Facts are Discovered

"Fast-forward" then to the present....... when in late-2003/2004 we "began to hear stories" from several sources that Nishinomiya Publisher was said to still be conducting a limited business somewhere within the Tokyo area. This rumor then send our Dr. Andreas Grund "out searching"--who, after several weeks of unsuccessful attempts and frustrating dead-ends, eventually managed to locate Yusaku Nishinomiya, who turns out to be the 72-year-old son of Yosaku Nishinomiya (1896-1986) and who was learned to be the present day owner of Nishinomiya Publisher.

Not intended to be within the scope of this article, suffice to say that due to his perseverance Dr. Grund was thusly able to finally confirm much additional information as to the publisher we know as Nishinomiya Publisher. As a result of several interviews, Andreas was able to confirm that some very limited print-making has been conducted by Nishinomiya Publisher until even the present day--and until as late as 1996 in the case of some of the various "Night Scene" images.

And so we learn..... barely alive, the Nishinomiya family print business struggles on through four generations--as we discover that with the help of his 27-year-old son, Kensaku, Yusaku continues to still produce a few prints as skilled artisan printer help can still occasionally be found. To our further surprise, we also learned that many of the early "block-sets" of original "Night Scene" prints still exist today, as apparently do the "block-sets" of a dozen or so ITO Yuhan prints, among others.

"Old" Prints vs "Newer" Prints

What this "breaking news" means for Japanese print collectors is simply that we now know that not all "Night Scenes" and ITO Yuhan prints are necessarily "as old" as previously assumed. As is the case then with most other Japanese prints, those which are earlier vintage prints will deservedly command a somewhat higher price premium (depending, of course, on their condition), whereas more recent printings may be somewhat less highly valued.

In the case of the 21 "Night Scene" images, it seems reasonable to therefore differentiate them into perhaps three categories. Here, we at Ukiyoe-Gallery suggest the following as guidelines to collectors of the Hasegaway/Nishinomiya "Night Scene" prints:

The earliest vintage "Night Scene" prints would be those published under the name of Hasegawa Publisher during the ca1910-ca1938 period. However, due to the fact that none of these earliest prints seem to bear any "publisher's name" or "publisher's seals," we must therefore rely on other evidence as to their age. In our experience, these "early edition" prints seem to share two common characteristics: they are printed on fairly thin, smooth-surfaced, and now "age-mellowed" paper; and they are typically encountered without ANY (un-printed) side margins.

The next vintage of prints, what we will term "mid-edition" prints, would include those of the ca1938 to perhaps the late-1950's/early-1960's period. These are the second generation of prints which were published after the earlier publisher's name of Hasegawa was changed to Nishinomiya in approximately 1936. These "mid-edition" prints are recognizable by three characteristics that are common to them: they are typically printed slightly thicker paper; they seem to all bear the tall/narrow "publisher's seal" of Nishinomiya Yosaku (seen below), which is typically set very LOW within their lower left margins; and finally these prints do indeed have medium-width margins.

The publisher's seal of Nishinomiya: "Hanken shoyu (upper), Nishinomiya Yosaku (lower)"

A third vintage of prints, what we will then term "later-edition" prints, would include those prints produced after the late-1950's/early-1960's period up until the present day. It is believed that very few of these later-edition "Night Scene" prints actually exist, supported by both the observation that very few of them are encountered in the marketplace, and confirmed by Dr. Grund's interviews with Yosaku Nishinomiya (the newly discovered present day owner of Nishinomiya Publisher) who tells us that post-1960's print production was quite limited and seemingly sporadic. These "later-edition" prints are themselves recognizable by three characteristics common to them: they are printed on somewhat thicker, brighter/fresher, and somewhat "grainier" paper; they again bear the same tall/narrow "publisher's seal" of Nishinomiya Yosaku (however, often placed a bit HIGHER within their left margin), and they typically have even WIDER margins.

Examples of these three vintages of "Night Scenes" are illustrated just below, using three states of Shoda Koho's "Moonlite Sea" as an example. On the left is an early, "margin-less" Hasegawa-published print (unfortunately this print's top portion is trimmed off; and it is "laid-onto" an old backing--however, it does have NO margins). In the middle is a typically narrowly margined "mid-edition," with the low-set "Nishinomiya Yosaku" publisher's seal. To the right is a newer, wide-margined "later-edition" printing, with the higher-set "Nishinomiya Yosaku" publisher's seal in its left margin. We again wish to point out the "placement" of the "Nishinomiya Yosaku" publisher's seals--typically, in the "later-edition" prints it is found to be placed a bit HIGHER in the print's left margin, whereas in the "mid-edition" prints it is usually set a bit lower.

Three different vintage prints (left to right): "early-edition," "mid-edition," and "later-edition"

Verso-sealed Original Edition Hasegawa-published Prints

Due to their lack of margins--and hence, lack of a "publisher's seal" typically seen within margins--we do not often encounter any "Hasegawa Publisher" seal on early, "early-edition" Hasegawa-published "Night Scene" prints. That said, SOME of these "early-edition" prints are indeed verso-sealed with an ink-printed English notation that reads either:

"Hasegawa Publishing Co., Tokyo" or "Printed by T. Hasegawa, Tokyo"

Seen just below are two such examples of "early-edition" vintage of prints which were thusly unquestionably published by Hasegawa. The first example is a verso-sealed print (Koho SHODA's "Shrine Gate at Miyajima"), while the other is a similarly sealed, verso-stamped, original "presentation folder" of a different print. These two examples given, it is our observation that many "early-edition" Hasegawa-published "Night Scene" prints also exist which LACK this verso-stamping. In any case, clearly without question, when one does encounter a verso-sealed "Hasegawa Publisher" print, one can obviously be assured that such a print is indeed an "early-edition" state.

Original Verso-sealed "Hasegawa" Print ("Miyajima") (above),
and verso-sealed "Presentation Folder" (below)

Original "Matted Presentation Folders"

Another characteristic which is occasionally encountered with "early-edition" vintage of prints which were published by Hasegawa is that they are in some cases found to still be top-tipped into their original, "matted presentation folders" as illustrated below. These top-hinged folders have deeply "embossed" inner window edges, designed such that they could be used as matting when these prints were framed. When found to still be in these stiff cardboard folders, one can be assured that such a print is indeed an "early-edition" state.

Original "Matted Presentation Folder," sometimes found with "early-edition" Hasegawa-published Prints

"Kento Marks" -- Proof Positive of No Margins

A final and rather rare characteristic sometimes encountered with these "early-edition" Hasegawa-published prints is the presence of tiny "kento marks" that one can occasionally observe at their outer printed edges.

For those readers perhaps unfamiliar with "kento," these are the two raised "L-shaped" and "straight-shaped" guides that are carved into the lower/right corner and mid/right side of EACH of the print's various woodblocks. These "printing guides" are then used to achieve the consistent and repeated accurate alignment (known as "registration") of the paper as it is moved from woodblock to woodblock over the multi-day printing process. (To learn more, see our earlier Ukiyoe-Gallery "'Hanshita,' or Black Ink 'Key-block' Outlines" article.)

Differing somewhat from the typical "raised kento" as described above, in the case of many early 1900's prints the block carvers would instead carve a "shallow kento" down INTO the block-set's surfaces. The resulting printing process is the same, except that the paper's edge is inserted slightly downward into this "shallow kento" area, instead of contacting a raised carved edge. However, as a result of this shallow depression which is carved into the block's surface, this often results in two tiny UNprinted areas (see in the print as "kento marks") caused by this un-inked void in the "background" block's extreme edge. As a result, occasionally seen are two small gaps of color--one "void" at the print's lower/right corner, and another "void" somewhere mid-way up the print's right edge.

The significance of noting these "kento marks" is the PROOF that these are, in fact, NOT prints which have later been trimmed--but are instead originally printed without margins. These similar tiny "kento marks" are widely observable in the many pre-earthquake "tanzaku" (tall/narrow) format prints produced by Koson. Apparently the high quality hand-made paper was so expensive that these various early 1900's publishers cut as many sheets as was possible out of a larger full sheet of paper. Hence, no paper was "wasted" as margins. Below are seen two examples of "Night Scene" prints with tiny visible "kento marks" (printing voids) seen in their outer edges.

"Kento marks" (tiny "voids") as sometimes found with "early-edition" Hasegawa-published Prints

The 21 "Night Scene" Prints -- As Shown in the early "Hasegawa Catalogue"

With this background information given above as to the vintage of prints, just below we see 20 of the 21 "Night Scene" images as listed and illustrated in the original "Hasegawa Catalogue." Inside this catalogue on pages 37 to 41 these prints are numbered and titled as follows.

The 21 "Night Scene" Prints -- As Shown in the early "Hasegawa Catalogue"

The Artists of the "Night Scene" Images

It is interesting to note that Hasegawa's Catalogue gives no attribution to the various artists that designed each of these 21 "Night Scenes" images. In some printings we find small red "artist's seals" within their image area, whereas in other cases of these same prints, these seals are simply omitted.

Curiously, in even other cases, we occasionally will find the artist's name of "Hiroshige" (printed in black as his Japanese signature) on these same prints!! Of course, prints by the earlier 1850's landscape artist named "Hiroshige" were highly sought-after by tourists and print collectors of the 1920's and 30's, so what better way to sell prints than to make these "Night Scenes" appear as if they had been designed by Hiroshige. Indeed, it seems that some of the early 1900's publishers were very clever in the marketing of their landscape prints to what at times could be a naive buying public.

Over time then, 19 of these 21 "Night Scene" prints have been identified as to artist. We now know these artists to include: Koho SHODA, Eijiro KOBAYASHI, Yoshimune ARAI II, Kiyochika KOBAYASHI, and Gyosui SUZUKI. These artist's names, along with "color versions" of each of these 21 prints, are given at our very good friend, Marc Kahn's Shotei.com website, under his sub-section of: "Hasegawa's Night Scene Series."

At this time, 2 of these 21 prints remain unidentified as to the artist who designed them.

A Few Words about Re-carved Blocks

Having handled literally dozens of these various "Night Scene" prints, it has long been our observation that at least some of the original Hasegawa "Night Scene's" block-sets have been partially re-carved over the years. However, so astonishingly accurate has been this re-carving that even with the aid of a magnifying glass it has proven extremely difficult to clearly differentiate between various prints of the same print image. We've spent hours studying these prints--at times scratching our heads and wondering if the "slight differences" seen have been due to re-carving....... OR, perhaps in some cases, simply due to differences in the "inking" and/or "bleeding of inks" when applied to the paper at the time of printing.

That said, it has proven to be nearly impossible to accurately determine which are perhaps "the earliest" prints produced by Hasegawa due to the amazing accuracy with which their pre-War artisans performed such occasional re-carving. Remember also that each Night Scene's "block-set" would likely require anywhere from perhaps 10 to 15 different blocks to produce its final printed image, and that re-carving--if and when done--might well only involve the replacement of ONE of these blocks. Bottomline, when slight differences ARE detected while comparing two known "early-edition" prints, how is one to know then "which came first??"

As one such example of some evidence of re-carving, seen just below are three copies of Koho SHODA's "Shrine Gate at Miyajima" print.

Three Copies of Koho's "Shrine Gate at Miyajima" -- Some Evidence of Re-carving

So accurate and so difficult to detect is this apparently limited use of re-carved blocks at Hasegawa/Nishinomiya, that we've had to use a good degree of magnification to detect some slight differences. Here, in the case of this "Shrine Gate at Miyajima" print (see close-ups shown below--we apologize, it's a BIG image), we'll point out what to us "looks like" some evidence of re-carving to this print's black ink "key-block."

Three points to focus on are: the "tiny tip" at the top of the torri, the tiny "lower pair of tips" on this same torri post, and the "tiny tip" seen at the back of the boatman's head. Seems to us that there's some evidence of re-carving seen in the FAR RIGHT print, when compared to the 2 prints on the left. (Like we said, it's pretty hard to detect evidence of re-carving--and doing so has proven to be a consistently difficult task.....)

Close-up -- Three Copies of Koho's "Shrine Gate at Miyajima" -- Some Evidence of Re-carving

Our good friend and consummate researcher of Japanese prints, Marc Kahn, has himself independently come to concur with this same observation regarding the re-carving he has seen in some of the Hasegawa-published prints that are held in his personal collection. Marc has found this to be true of both his "Night Scene" prints and also among the many "Japanese Fairy Tales" books he has collected. Marc's theory is that Hasegawa as a publisher was very exacting and demanding as to printing quality--hence, as "block-wear" dictated, individual blocks (and especially the thinly carved, black-line "key-blocks" which wore most quickly) were re-carved simply as a means of assuring a high level of quality control in the output of their prints.

Four of the Hasegawa/Nishinomiya "Night Scenes" -- All among the "the essence of shin-hanga"


To collectors of Japanese woodblock prints, certainly the various 21 "Night Scene" images produced by Hasegawa/Nishinomiya Publisher are delightful prints to both view and to collect. Their images are truly evocative of the early 1900's period in Japan with which collectors of Japanese prints were so enamored--a style of prints which came to be known of collectively as "shin-hanga."

Literature (and print) sources used in preparation of this and other articles include:

Contributor: Marc Kahn (comments and observations)

Above documented prints courtesy of: Ukiyoe-Gallery and Marc Kahn (of Shotei.com website)

"Takejiro Hasegawa: Meiji Japan's Preeminent Publisher of Wood-Block-Illustrated Crepe-Paper Books," by Frederic A. Sharf, (page 13: "Takejiro Hasegawa died in Tokyo on 19 July 1938, by which time Yosaku was running the business, publishing under the Nishinomiya name.")

"Guide to Modern Japanese Woodblock Prints: 1900-1975", by Helen Merritt and Nanako Yamada, University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu, ISBN 0-8248-1732-X

"Kawase Hasui -- The Complete Woodblock Prints", by Kendall H. Brown & Shoichiro Watanabe, Hotei (KIT) Publishing, Netherlands, ISBN 90-74822-46-0

"Crows, Cranes and Camellias: The Natural World of Ohara Koson", by Amy Reigle Newland, Jan Perree, Robert Schaap, Hotei (KIT) Publishing, Netherlands, ISBN 90-74822-38-X

(c) Thomas Crossland and Dr. Andreas Grund, August 2004

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