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Bicycle Race from the series Occupations of Shōwa Japan in Pictures, Continuing, Series 3

Wada Sanzō (1883-1967)

Japanese Color Woodblock Print

Bicycle Race

from the series

Occupations of Shōwa Japan in Pictures, Continuing, series 3

by Wada Sanzō, 1955

Wada Sanzō (1883-1967)

IHL Cat. #1320

About This Print

Eight racers in colorful racing outfits enter the straightaway on a velodrome track in Japan.  This print is one of twenty-four in the post-WWII publication (published from November 1954 through September 1956) by the publisher Kyoto Hangain of the 3rd series of prints titled Occupations of the Shōwa Era in Pictures, Continuing.  The 3rd series seems to have been issued in both a numbered edition of 200 prints, with each print numbered in a rectangular cartouche located in the bottom left margin, and an unnumbered edition, such as this collection's print. Each print in this 3rd series came with a sheet of explanatory text, written in both Japanese and English.

Text of the Accompanying Explanatory Sheet

 Keirin or Bicycle Race

“Bicycle race” which became very popular after the war, is discussed from various angles.  One criticizes it for its gambling element.  One encourages it as a contributing factor to the improvement of bicycles and foreign trade in a long run.

The Ministry of Industry and Commerce which sponsors “bicycle races” defends it as a wholesome sport.  The Ministry insists that it will never ruin homes as is so often indicated by newspapers reporting various tragedies.  “Recently the race track has been improved.  The rules for the races are well made so as to avoid any frame-up race which is apt to happen in this sport.  The bicycle races are run by local autonomies [sic] now and the money obtained therefrom helps to finance the building of houses, schools and construction of arqueduct [sic]”.  They thus encourage the races.  At any rate it is interesting to notice the frantic eyes of the crowds at these races.

click on image to enlarge

History of Keirin

"Keirin racing originated in Kokura City in November 1948. It has since become a Japanese social institution attended by around 57 million spectators every year. It is also Japan’s most popular sanctioned betting sport. Japanese Keirin fans place bets amounting to 1.15 trillion Yen annually. In regard to public perception, Keirin compares most closely with greyhound or horse racing in the West. Races are held nearly every weekend at 50 tracks throughout Japan." 

Keirin racing is a "track cycling event in which 6 to 9 sprinters compete at one time in a race with a paced start. Riders draw numbers to determine their starting positions and the race begins as the motorized pacer approaches. The riders are required to remain behind the pacer, which starts at the deliberately slow speed of about 16 mph, gradually increases speed, and leaves the track approximately 600-700 meters before the end. With a speed of often more than 40 mph, the first racer over the line is the winner. Keirin races are only about 2 kilometers long, or about 1.25 miles."

About the Series "Occupations of the Shōwa Era in Pictures"
Sources: website of Ross Walker Ohmi Gallery http://www.ohmigallery.com/DB/Artists/Sales/Wada_Sanzo.asp  and website of USC Pacific Asian Museum "Exhibition - The Occupations of Shōwa Japan in Pictures: The Woodblock Prints of Wada Sanzō" 

My special thanks to Shinagawa Daiwa, the current owner of Kyoto Hangain, for providing the below information (in a series of emails in July 2014) about Nishinomiya Shoin and Kyoto Hangain, both businesses started by his father Shinagawa Kyoomi.  Shinagawa's current website can be accessed at http://www.amy.hi-ho.ne.jp/kyotohangain/

Wada’s major contribution as a woodblock print artist came through his 72 print 3-part series Occupations of the Shōwa Era in Pictures (Shōwa shokugyō e-zukishi), sometimes translated as Japanese Vocations in Pictures. The three part series was started during the Pacific War (1937-1945) in September 1938, was then interrupted by war shortages in 1943, and was restarted again after the war in January 1954. This series was a labor of love for Wada and he brought together woodblock print printers and carvers in Nishimomiya near Kobe to work on this project

The war era prints were published by Wada through an old books store, Nishinomiya shoin 西宮書院 run by Shinagawa Kyoomi  
品川清臣.  Wada
 planned a total of 100 designs, with two prints being issued each month. Wada's designs for the prints were rendered in watercolor and the finished prints beautifully captured the look-and-feel of those original watercolors. The series was an immediate hit, but was suspended after 48 prints (issued in two series) in 1943 due to war shortages.

After the war, the series was continued by the same publisher, Shinagawa Kyoomi, who had opened a new business in Kyoto, which he named Kyoto Hangain 京都版画院.  (Shingawa's business in Nishinomiya had burned down during WWII.) At first Kyoto Hangain published re-prints of the earlier prints, but they went on to publish a third series of 24 prints, working closely with Wada, titled Continuing Occupations of the Shōwa Era in Pictures between November 1954 and September 1956. The post-war prints were popular with the Occupation's "deep-pocketed" military and civilian personnel and the series was "featured in an article of the Tokyo edition of the United States military newspaper Stars and Stripes."2 Shinagawa also published a six print portfolio in the 1950s titled Japanese Life and Customs, consisting of six of the prints from the earlier two series in a reduced chuban size, which is also part of this collection.

Occupations of the Shōwa Era in Pictures has been praised for showing “the complexity of Shōwa society…. capture[ing] the pulse of Japanese life during the tumultuous decades of the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s”and condemned as providing a “visual message of subtle or blatant propaganda in support of government-sponsored ideas.”4 

It is interesting to see how the commentary, written by the artist, that accompanied each print in the pre-war releases was softened for the post-war re-issues by Kyoto Hangain.  All references to soldiers being away from home (as Japanese armies were marching through Asia when the series was originally released) or references to Imperial Japan have been stripped away and the commentary becomes innocent, folk-like and appealing to the post-war occupying forces.  (For example, see the prints Women Weavers and Picture Card Show which provide an abridged version of the artist's original commentary and a full transcript of the English text attached to the folders of the post-war re-issued prints.)

1 Keizaburo Yamaguchi gives the publication dates of the post-War series as January 1954 through autumn 1958. (Ukiyo-e Art 16, 1967): 39-42. 
2 "Out of the Dark Valley: Japanese Woodblock Prints and War, 1937-1945," Kendall H. Brown,p. 82 appearing in Impressions, The Journal of the Ukiyo-e Society of America, Inc., Number 23, 2001.
Pacific Asia Museum website http://www.pacificasiamuseum.org/_on_view/exhibitions/2004/occshowa.aspx 
4 Light in Darkness: Women in Japanese Prints of Early Shōwa (1926-1945), Kendall H. Brown, et. al., Fisher Gallery, University of Southern California, 1996, p. 18.

Print Details
 IHL Catalog #1320
 Title/Description Bicycle Race (Keirin 競輪)
Occupations of Shōwa Japan in Pictures, Continuing series 3 [sometimes translated as [Vocations of Shōwa Japan in Pictures, Continuing"]
Shoku Shōwa shokugyō e-zukushi (續昭和職業繪盡し)
 Wada Sanzō (1883-1967)
 三造 Sanzō
 Publication Date
April 1955
Shōwa 30, 4th month
Kyoto Hangain
hanmoto Kyoto Hangain 版元 京都版画院 with Shinagawa seal
苐     [left blank]
彫 柴村 carver Shibamura
 Printer (see image above) 摺 伊藤 printer Ito
 Impression excellent
 Colors excellent
 Condition excellent- minor soiling bottom margin; mounting remnants top margin verso
 Genre shin hanga
 Format dai-oban
 H x W Paper 13 3/4 x 16 5/16 in. (34.9 x 41.4 cm) 
 H x W Image 10 13/16 x 14 7/16 in. (27.4 x 36.7 cm)
 Collections This Print 
 Reference Literature  
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