I certainly seem to fall into these 'traditions' easily, don't I! Here we are at the fifth print in the album, and yes, as many of you must have expected, again I made a fan print for it. It seems I must have some kind of inborn desire to have such continuity and stability in my life!

Perhaps though, I shouldn't speak too easily of continuity, for this print is very different from every one of the other 124 prints that I have sent out to collectors in the more than 12 years since I first hung out my shingle as a printmaker. This one is not a reproduction of an old design, but something I put together myself. And when I say 'put together', that's exactly what I mean! The basic concept for this print is mine, and I sketched out the overall design of a fan lying on a tatami mat, but the seven images you see on the fan are taken from some old woodblock prints of the type known as senjafuda. Senjafuda were originally made in a simple black and white form, and it is these that we usually see pasted high up everywhere on the walls inside old temples or shrines, but in the Meiji period they became a kind of hobby activity, with enthusiasts designing and commissioning them for exchange with friends.

The full spectrum of colour printing techniques was used, and many thousands of them were made (and are still being made) that way; some wonderful collections were amassed, occasionally making their way into used book shops where they are eagerly snapped up by modern collectors. One such collector is Mr. Toshikazu Doi of Musashino City, not too far from where I live. He is one of the sponsor/collectors of this year's Surimono Album, and I visited him earlier this year to see his collection. I did so hoping that he would allow me to use some of his senjafuda to make this print (which I was then planning), and I was pleased to find that he found the idea interesting and gave his support.

Most of the seven images you see are taken from his collection:

  1. Yoshida station from a set of 'Tokaido Goju-san Tsugi'.
  2. a kabuki actor wearing the crest of the famous Danjuro clan.
  3. cherry blossoms in the moonlight.
  4. 'Meguro Persimmon', from a series of famous places in Edo.
  5. a strolling minstrel (this one is from a small print in my own collection).
  6. Mr. Doi's own personal 'name' senjafuda.
  7. a swallow and Mt. Fuji.


Mr. Doi's collection does not consist just of old prints from the Meiji era, but includes some that were made in recent years; in fact he and other members of his exchange group are commissioning new prints all the time. I was of course happy to learn this, but it did make me feel a bit sad in one way - how is it that senjafuda survived until the present day, but surimono died out? The main reason of course is that the kyoka poetry groups who were the main sponsors of surimono prints disappeared as poetry fashions changed; senjafuda were more flexible because just about anything could be used as a design.

But what a wonderful thing it would be if we could somehow revive the surimono genre here in the Heisei era! The pieces are all in place: carvers and printers are waiting in their workshops in shitamachi, and there are poetry clubs, calligraphy groups, and painting circles all over this country. Surely there should be plenty of interest in creating new surimono that showcase these arts ...

I was thinking about this a couple of years ago when I had the chance to attend the utakai hajime poetry ceremony at the Imperial Palace. What an opportunity that ceremony could be for the creation of a beautiful surimono print each year as a memento of the occasion! But of course, as a very small and unimportant guest, I could not make such a suggestion.

Whether or not such a surimono revival can happen I am unable to predict, but in the meantime I will continue with my own personal attempts to 'wake it up'. Most of the prints in these albums will be reproductions of beautiful old prints, but just occasionally (very occasionally, I promise you!), you will see something a bit newer, like this month's print.

Now that I think about it, perhaps the print that you are holding here is actually the first new surimono to be created in well over a hundred years! Will it be another hundred years before the next one? We'll see!

August 2001