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A Set of Three Nōsatsu Kōkanfuda - Fūjin the Wind God, Raijin the Thunder God, Calligraphic Cover Sheet

Shusetsu (active c. 1900)
 

Japanese Color Woodblock Prints

A Set of Three Nōsatsu Kōkanfuda:

Fūjin the Wind God, Raijin the Thunder God, Calligraphic Cover Sheet

by Shusetsu, c. early 1900s

Shusetsu (active c. 1900)

 
IHL Cat. #1686b
 
IHL Cat. #1686a (detail)
納札 nōsatsu (votive card), 風神 fūjin (wind god),
雷神 raijin (thunder god), 非売品 (article not for sale)


 
IHL Cat. #1686c
 
IHL Cat. #1686d

About This Print

Pictured in this set of woodblock prints are the Buddhist and Shinto gods of wind, Fūjin 風神, and thunder, Raijin 雷神, whose names are written in calligraphic form on the cover print.  All three prints were placed in an envelope with the above label adhered to it noting that they were “not for sale.”  It is likely these prints, designed by a nihonga artist who signed his name 守拙 Shusetsu, were commissioned by a nōsatsukai [an association of devotees of nōsatsu (Japanese votive slips)] and meant for distribution to members, hence they were “not for sale”. The names of the members of the nōsatsukai appear as small votive strips in the bottom portion of each print, 75 slips on each of the three prints. While the prints are undated, they likely date to the early 20th century.  

Fūjin and Raijin

Most often pictured as a pair, Fūjin, the wind god, and Raijin, the thunder deity, are portrayed as oni (demons), though in Buddhism both are attendants of Kanno, the Goddess of Mercy, and neither are inherently good or evil, capable of displaying both characteristics. Fūjin and Raijin are depicted in these prints in their typical poses of, in the case of Fūjin, grasping a bag from whose opening comes the winds and, in the case of Raijin, holding a circle of hand drums producing thunder.  The most famous, and oft repeated, depiction of the pair is Tawaraya Sōtatsu's (俵屋 宗達, c. 1570 – c. 1640) screen paintings belonging to Kennin-ji in Kyoto, shown below, which are a National Treasure of Japan.

紙本金地著色風神雷神図
17th Century
66.9 in × 60.8 in.(169.8 cm × 154.5 cm) 

Votive Prayer Slips and Their Descendants

Sources: https://library.uoregon.edu/nosatsu-exhibit; "Folk Toys and Votive Placards: Frederick Starr and the Ethnography of Collector Networks in Taisho Japan", Henry D. Smith II, 2012Japanese Popular Prints from Votive Slips to Playing Cards, Rebecca Salter, University of Hawai'i Press, 2006, p. 94-107; "The Honorable Placards Club", Frederick Starr appearing in ASIA The American Magazine on the Orient, American Asiatic Society, Volume XXI, NO. 2; "Artistic and Religious Aspects of Nōsatsu (Senjafuda), a thesis by Mayumi Takanashi Steinmetz, University of Oregon, 1985.

This set of woodblock prints are descendants of early votive prayer slips (nōsatsu or senjafuda), left as offerings at Buddhist temples by pilgrims. This practice, according to legend, dates to around 987-988 when “the retired priestly Emperor Kazan wrote and presented… a poem (waka) at Kokawa temple which was devoted to the goddess of mercy, Kannon.”1  Votive offerings could be hand-written notes, engravings on stone or wood, paintings on wood, or woodblock prints, the earliest of which date to the 12th century.  Over time the practice of leaving votive offerings, mostly as pasted pieces of paper bearing the pilgrim’s name (sometimes referred to as daimei nōsatsu) on Buddhist shrine buildings, waxed and waned as authorities eased and tightened sumptuary laws, limited Buddhist worship and promoted Shintoism, and shrines themselves discouraged the practice.  It was to reach its peak during the Edo period and “became formalized with the establishment of group of enthusiasts called nōsatsukai who organized the production of votive slips followed by communal trips to paste at shrines and temples.”

Writing in 1916, a time of re-surging popularity for nōsatsukai, the American anthropologist Frederick Starr noted four stages of nōsatsu from “pious offerings left at temples by pilgrims,” to the development of an interest by those making such offerings in “the slips left by others”,  then to when “those who were collecting nōsatsu, anxious to increase their collections, exchanged with others for placards . . . not in their possession,” and finally to “exchange on a large scale . . . at meetings [where] special nōsatsu with elaborate and beautiful designs . . . were made for the occasion.” He further noted that while all four stages were successive in nōsatsu history, “all four still continue.”2

In describing these large scale exchange meetings, sometimes involving hundreds of nōsatsukai members, Starr writes:

[They are] among the most democratic gatherings in Japan. No other assemblage in Tokyo, probably, would represent so many social groups. Most of the members, of course, are not society folk. At the first meeting we attended, impressed by the diversity, we made enumeration. Among those present were a renting-agent, a sign-maker, a letter-writer, a brush-maker, a sauce-seller, a painter, a lantern-maker, a copyist, a poet and a coal-seller. Where else in Japan could one find such an aggregation meeting on terms of absolute equality?3

The themes chosen for kōkanfuda were many and varied including religious, seasonal, historical, literary images or those related to the craft or occupation of the members.  Especially popular where depictions of the seven lucky gods and animals of the zodiac.

Over time the size of kōkanfuda grew into ōban (approximately 10 x 15 in.) and even larger size prints.  As ukiyo-e artists and craftsmen were often part of nōsatsukai, a stylistic link developed between kōkanfuda and ukiyo-e.  As with privately commissioned surimono, kōkanfuda often were deluxe productions, sparing no expense.

The notched outline of standard fuda was used on these larger prints to differentiate them from single sheet ukiyo-e of the same size, as we see on this collection’s kōkanfuda which employ the convention called komochiki of a thick and thin black line framing the subjects, a popular Edo textile pattern thought to reflect iki taste (Edo chic).

1 Japanese Popular Prints from Votive Slips to Playing Cards, Rebecca Salter, University of Hawai'i Press, 2006, p. 94.
2 "Folk Toys and Votive Placards: Frederick Starr and the Ethnography of Collector Networks in Taisho Japan", Henry D. Smith II, 2012, p. 40.
3 "The Honorable Placards Club", Frederick Starr appearing in ASIA The American Magazine on the Orient, American Asiatic Society, Volume XXI, NO. 2, February 1921, p. 121.

Print Details

 IHL Catalog
 #1686a-d
 Title or Description Calligraphic Cover Sheet, Fūjin the Wind God, Raijin the Thunder God and Envelope with Label
 Artist Shusetsu (active c. 1900)
 Signature
守拙 
appearing lower right on IHL #1686c and lower left on IHL #1686d
 Seal unread artist's seal as shown above
 Publication Date
 not dated but likely c. early 1900s.
 Publisher unknown, but likely commissioned by a nōsatsukai
 Impression excellent
 Colors excellent
 condition excellent - some discoloration, possibly foxing, to cover print and minor toning to all prints
 Genre kōkanfuda
 Miscellaneous 
 Format vertical oban
 H x W Paper 
 each print: 14 5/8 x 10 1/8 in. (37.1 x 25.7 cm) 
 H x W Image each print: 13 1/8 x 9 9/16 in. (33.3 x 24.3 cm) 
 Literature 

 Collections This Print

last revision:
9-16-2018
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