Tagawa Ken (田川憲 1906-1967), whose given name was Ken-ichi (憲一), was born in Nagasaki and graduated from the Nagasaki Business School in 1924. He moved to Tokyo, where in 1927 he met Onchi Kôshirô, who inspired him to learn woodblock printing. Also in Tokyo, he studied drawing and oil painting at the Kawabata Gagakkô ni Nyûgaku (Kawabata Painting School: 川端画学校に入学) starting in 1928. He made his first woodblock prints in 1932. Then, in 1934, Tagawa returned to Nagasaki, where he had his first solo exhibition of prints at the Nagasaki-kenritsu Nagasaki Toshokan (Nagasaki Prefectural Nagasaki Library: 長崎県立長崎図書館), published a collection of prints called Shinpan Nagasaki fûkei (Newly published views of Nagasaki: 新板長崎風景 see below), and founded the Hanga Nagasaki no Kai (Nagasaki Print Association: 版画長崎の会). He was also directly involved in establishing and publishing Hanga Nagasaki (Nagasaki Prints: 版畫長崎), which appeared in February to August 1935, and again from July 1953 to January 1963 in six additional issues.
The port city of Nagasaki engaged in commerce with the West from the sixteenth century, first with the Portuguese, and then with the Dutch, before Japan was forced to open its borders in the 1850s under the so-called "gunboat diplomacy." Having been born and reared in Nagasaki, Tagawa's style and subject matter were influenced by the sensitivities of that city. Although he was a sôsaku hanga artist who was well aware of, and sometimes directly involved in, the creative art movement centered in Tokyo, he was also a printmaker whose subject matter was driven in large part by the particular history and cultural exchanges between Nagasaki and the West.
For more about this artist, see Tagawa Ken Biography.
In 1934, Tagawa produced an impressive collection of self-carved, self-printed, self-published prints in book form titled Shinpan Nagasaki fûkei (Newly published views of Nagasaki: 新板長崎風景). This work was released in both a small private edition (the first 50 impressions?) and a slightly larger commercial production (150 impressions?) for a total of 200 copies. In this exceptional work, Tagawa designed every aspect of the book. The cover was constructed with handmade Izumo mingei-shi (Izumo folk-craft paper: 出雲民藝紙). The Izumo mingei-shi papermaking enterprise was founded by the first papermaker to be designated a National Living Treasure (in 1968), Abe Eishirô (安部栄四郎 1902-1984) who was born in Bessho, Iwasaka Village, in the Yatsuka District of Shimane Prefecture (now Yakumo Town, Matsue City).
There are 23 tipped-in woodblock prints, plus various other printed images, including blue Dejima map endpapers unique to the private edition. The color image near the beginning of the book is also different from the depiction of a church in the commercial edition. All the illustrations first appeared in June and July of 1934 in the Nagasaki edition of the Asahi Newspaper. More books like this one were planned but never emerged. It is thought that all 200 copies (combined private and commercial editions) were printed personally by Tagawa (including 4,600 tipped-in prints in three months!) with unsold copies (¥3 for the private edition; ¥2 for the commercial edition) given over time to friends. The Chinese ship on the cover appears to symbolize the origin of all foreign trade, namely the relations between Japan and China (and Korea) that has been ongoing since antiquity.
A large image of the entire contents of Tagawa's book is linked to the small montage at the top of this page, while a detail from one page is shown on the right. This is a view of the two-storey entrance gate, Ryûgumon (Gate of the Dragon Palace: 竜宮門), on the grounds of the Sôkufuji temple (崇福寺) in Nagasaki. This gate, first built in 1673 but reconstructed in 1849, has been granted status as a Kokutei jûyô bunkazai ("Nationally Designated Important Cultural Property": 国定重要文化財). The Sôfukuji is a Ôbaku (黄檗) Zen temple originally built by the Chinese monk Chaonian (Chozen) in 1629 as a family temple for the Chinese from Fuzhou, Fujian Province who had settled in Nagasaki. Architecturally, Ôbaku and Japanese styles are intermingled. Maso (媽祖), the goddess of the sea and and patron to sailors and fishermen, who in Buddhism is worshiped as an incarnation of the Mercy Goddess Kannon (觀音菩薩), is enshrined in one of the halls. The Inner Gate, Dai'ippomon, and the main Buddha Hall, Daiyû-Hôden, were both fabricated in Ningbo, China, disassembled, shipped to Nagasaki and reassembled in 1695. Today, each is classified as a National Treasure.
The leading sôsaku hanga artist Hiratsuka Un'ichi wrote one of the prefaces. Also, a second volume seems to have been planned, but was never realized.
Our impression is from the private edition and is numbered 44/200. It includes a detail from a blue-colored map of Dejima for its endpapers and is in very good condition. As it is difficult to find this edition, we are pleased to be able to offer this special opportunity for collectors of sôsaku hanga books to acquire such a desirable copy.
- Chiba-shi Bijutsukan (Chiba City Art Museum: 千葉市美術館): Nihon no hanga 1931-1940 (Japanese prints 1931-1940), Vol. IV, 2004, nos. 28-1 and 28-2.
- Merritt, Helen, and Yamada, Nanako: Guide to Modern Japanese Woodblock Prints 1900-1975. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1992, pp. 141, 203.
- Tagawa Ken: Shinpan Nagasaki fûkei (Newly published views of Nagasaki: 新板長崎風景), 1935 [collection of original woodcuts].
- Tagawa Ken hangashû: Nagasaki shijô (Tagawa Ken — Collected Prints, Nagasaki Poetry 田川憲 版画集 長崎詩帖), 1953 [collection of poems and original woodcuts].
- Zehnder, Amanda: Modern Japanese Prints: The Twentieth Century. Pittsburgh: Carnegie Museum of Art, 2009. p. 168.