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Onatsu Kyōran

Noguchi Kōgai (active c. 1920s-1930s)

Japanese Color Lithograph and/or Photo Offset Print

Onatsu Kyōran (Onatsu's Madness)

by Oda Tomiya, c. 1915-1920

Noguchi Kōgai (active c. 1920s-1930s)

IHL Cat. #1871

About This Print

A magazine illustration for the story of Onatsu Kyōran (Onatsu's Madness) which tells the tale of a young woman gone mad by the loss of her lover.  It is likely that the inscription along the bottom, copied below, and partially transliterated, is from the story.  I do not know if the magazine's version of this story is related to Tsubouchi Shōyō's 坪內逍遙 (1859-1935) 1914 reworking of the story for the kabuki stage.

click on image to enlarge

In the period c. 1915-1920 (dubbed by Kendall Brown as the "'golden age' of bijin kuchi'e reproduced by lithographic and photo-offset printing")1, when this print was likely created, thousands of illustrations by well-known and little-known artists appeared in mass market popular culture magazines such as Bungei kurabu 文芸俱楽部 (Literary Club, 1895-1933) and Kōdan kurabo 講談倶楽部 (Storytelling Club, 1911-1962), and magazines specifically targeted at women such as Fujokai (Women's World, 1910-1943, 1948-1950, 1952)Jogaku sekai 女学世界 (The World of Women's Learning, 1901-1925) and Shufunotomo 主婦之友 (The Housewife's Friend, 1917-2008).2  By around 1915, most of the illustrations were reproduced by lithography and/or photo-offset printing (distinctive half-tone dot patterns are visible in all areas or portions of the print) rather than woodblock.

Unfortunately most kuchi-e have become separated from the original magazines or novels they were inserted in, making it impossible to determine what they may have been illustrating.

In describing the typical themes for many of the stories that appeared in the popular women's magazines, Julia Meech-Pekarik tells us that "The stories these prints illustrate typically center on a series of incredibly fragile and beautiful women from good families who confront personal tragedy with pride and fortitude. Some are driven to avenge the death of a family member, while others commit suicide rather than compromise themselves in love."3

Taishō Bijinga Kuchi-e
Source: Dangerous Beauties and Dutiful Wives: Popular Portraits of Women in Japan, 1905-1925, Kendall Brown, Dover Publications, Inc., 2011, p. XVI.
In Taishō kuchi-e, bijin often look out a window to a nearby landscape or to gaze at plants, pose in front of flora, or, in a few cases, pick flowers or tend them.  In nearly every image there is a seasonal reference so that the woman stands for the season and for the appreciation of it.  Because the clothing of the bijin is linked to the season, the relationship is harmonious.  These images invoke an ideology of naturalness by which the particular construct of feminine beauty, and its associations, are naturalized - see as existing without contrivance.  Nature also may function allegorically, so that fresh snow symbolizes purity and cherry blossoms evoke transience.  The typical downward cast of the eyes suggests a faze inward, as is to imply that the lessons of the season are being internalized by the bijin, who is, fundamentally, reflective.  This quality of "romantic introspection" to suggest personality and an inner life was carried over from Meiji kuchi-e, where it often expressed melancholy or world weariness.

How Long Did It Take to Design a Kuchi-e?
Source: Dangerous Beauties and Dutiful Wives: Popular Portraits of Women in Japan, 1905-1925, Kendall Brown, Dover Publications, Inc., 2011, p. XVI.

Artist's received relatively low pay for creating an illustration, so they had to work quickly.  The designer of this print noted that it took him two hours to create an illustration for the popular mass-market magazine Bungei kurabu.

The Printing Technologies of Taishō-era Kuchi-e
Source: Dangerous Beauties and Dutiful Wives: Popular Portraits of Women in Japan, 1905-1925, Kendall Brown, Dover Publications, Inc., 2011, p. XV.
To fully appreciate Taishō kuchi-e, we need not only know their literary content and social context but also understand the technologies used in their production.  These technologies were not simply expedient means of mass production, but, in fact, were part of a visual revolution that included the desire to reproduce perfectly the images created by designers, the skilled artistry of master printers, and the creation of luxury print meant to function as de facto works of art.

The Japanese had used stone lithography since 1874, and copperplate intaglio printing soon afterward.  Zinc plate lithographic processes were deployed in the 1880s and 1890s, with photographic collotype printing developed around 1890.  By 1902 three-color (red, yellow, blue) chromolithography was deployed, beginning in Bungei Kurabu.  Kiyokata adapted it for his kuchi-e in 1905.  In that same year, the Marinono rotary magazine printing machine was imported to Japan, allowing for much faster printing.  Soon after, the American Rubel rotary press using a rubber sheet was also imported, producing high-quality color printing even on the coarse paper commonly used for mass-circulation magazines. A version of the rotary offset press was manufactured in Japan in 1913, making the technology more affordable.  From around 1914 planographic offset lithography using lighter zinc and aluminium plates, rather than heavy, brittle stone plates, made printing easier and cheaper.  When the Ichida Offset Printing Company started business in 1916, polychrome photographic offset printing became popular, causing a further decline in lithographic printing.

Dangerous Beauties and Dutiful Wives: Popular Portraits of Women in Japan, 1905-1925, Kendall Brown, Dover Publications, Inc., 2011, p. xvii.
2 Women's Magazines and the Democratization of Print and Reading Culture in Interwar Japan, by Shiho Maeshima, University of British Columbia, August 2016, p. 213-214. [A Doctoral Thesis which may be found online at https://open.library.ubc.ca/cIRcle/collections/ubctheses/24/items/1.0314161]
3 The World of the Meiji Print: Impressions of a New Civilization, Julia Meech-Pekarik, Weatherhill, 1986, p. 217.

Print Details

 IHL Catalog
 Title or Description  お夏狂亂 Onatsu Kyōran (Onatsu's madness)
 Artist  Oda Tomiya (1896-1990)
 小田富彌筆 as printed in top margin
 signature and seal in upper right of print
 Seal  stylized red seal as shown above
 Publication Date  c. 1915-1920
 Publisher  unknown
 Impression  excellent
 Colors  excellent
 Condition  excellent
 Genre  bijinga; 雑誌口絵  zasshi kuchi-e (magazine color illustration/frontispiece)
 H x W Paper 
 7 9/16 x 10 in. (19.2 x 25.4 cm)
 Collections This Print