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Women Weavers from the series Occupations of Shōwa Japan in Pictures, Series 2

Wada Sanzō (1883-1967)

Japanese Color Woodblock Print

Women Weavers

print number 5 from the series

Occupations of Shōwa Japan in Pictures, Series 2

by Wada Sanzō, c. 1950 (originally 1940-1941)

Wada Sanzō (1883-1967)

IHL Cat. #1002

IHL Cat. #1023

About This Print

Two later (post-WWII) re-issues by the publisher Kyoto Hangain of the pre-WWII design originally released by Nishinomiya Shoin in 1940-41 (see Other Impressions and States below.)  As the original publisher Nishinomiya Shoin did, the post-War publisher Kyoto Hangain (the successor business to Nishinomiya Shoin) reprinted and reissued particular prints multiple times, resulting in a number of different print states.   In addition, Kyoto Hangain reissued six of the original prints, including Women Weavers, in a smaller, chuban size (8 3/4 x 10 3/4 in.), edition as shown below. (Also see this collection's print Women Weavers from the portfolio Japanese Life and Customs A Set of Six Pictures.)

The publisher's description that accompanied the re-issued print reads:
Women Weavers
The Japanese farmer from olden times has woven the cloth for his own use at home.  In the leisure season for farmers, the women are busy while the men prepare fire-wood and charcoal.

In some silk producing regions, they weave silk stuff for sale.  This picture shows such a weaving scene in a farm house. - Painted by Sanzo Wada. 

IHL Cat. #1002 in folder as issued
click on image to enlarge

A Critical View

Source: 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. 80.

After 1937, the war created a shortage of male labor and women were often hired to take the place of men although at far lower wages.  Despite becoming invaluable to the work force, women were not represented as such in most popular art of the period.  Tellingly, while women working in spinning mills were not depicted in woodblock prints, the old-fashioned weaver was the subject of representation.  In Women Weavers (cat. 93) for his Occupations series, Wada Sanzō portrays these women not as part of the modern industrialized world but as members of a pre-industrial society.  They are not factory workers but women casually working in a domestic setting.  Once woman carries a baby on her back, underscoring the female’s maternal role.  This depiction of the mother at work negates the dangerous and decidedly un-nurturing environments of most work places.  In short, these women seem to labor of their own volition and in the spirit of craft rather than commerce.  This image of women at work as it existed in the romanticized past is emphasized in Wada’s own comments accompanying the print:

“While they ply the loom their thoughts may turn to cherished ones far away and in peace of mind they may learn to appreciate more deeply the value of serenity and tranquil effort…. Finally, the shuttles of the loom as they hum back and forth recall the chorus of the birds and bring to mind once more the peaceful quality of early spring.”

In this print, Wada abjures the poverty, decrepit working conditions, and diseases characteristic of the spinning mills.  By depicting weavers instead of factory workers, Wada camouflages the true conditions in the industrial environments and even denies their existence by using an image of two domestic weavers to represent the modern “occupation” of weaving. 

Other Impressions/States of this Print

As originally issued in 1940-14 by Nishinomiya Shoin 
A post WWII re-issue in a smaller (
chuban) format by
the publisher Kyoto Hangain.  One of six chuban size prints
in the series 
Japanese Life and Customs.
IHL Cat. #1127

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  #1002, #1023
 Title/Description  織女 [shokujo] - Women Weavers [number 5]
 Series  Occupations of Shōwa Japan in Pictures, Series 2 (also seen translated as "Compendium of Occupations in the Shōwa Era" and "Japanese Vocations in Pictures")
Shōwa shokugyō e-zukushi 昭和職業繪盡 (also seen written as 昭和職業絵尽し and 昭和職業), dainishū (第輯) 
 Wada Sanzō (1883-1967)
 三造 Sanzō
 IHL Cat. #1002
"Sanzō" - seal of artist
IHL Cat. #1023
"Sanzō" - seal of artist
 Publication Date  c. 1950 (originally 1940-41)
 IHL Cat. #1002
Kyoto Hangain 京都版画院
 IHL Cat. #1023
Kyoto Hangain 京都版画院 hanmoto Kyoto Hangain suru Ōno
版元 京都版画院 摺大野

 Edition  A later edition of the print first published by Nishinomiya shoin in 1940-41. As originally issued my Nishonimiya shoin this print was the 5th in series 2. It is believed that all the pre-WWII woodblocks for this series were destroyed in Allied air raids in 1945 and that all post-WWII impressions by Kyoto Hangain, the business started by Daiwa Shinagawa the owner of Nishomiya shoin after WWII, were made from re-cut blocks.
 Impression  IHL Cat. #1002 - excellent    IHL Cat. #1023 - excellent
 Colors  IHL Cat. #1002 - excellent    IHL Cat. #1023 - excellent
 Condition  IHL Cat. #1002: good - minor wrinkling and toning
 IHL Cat. #1023: excellent - mounting residue verso top corners

 Genre  shin hanga
 Miscellaneous  originally released by Nishinomiya Shoin as print number 5 in series 2
 Format  dai-oban
 H x W Paper IHL Cat. #1002: 11 3/4 x 15 1/2 in. (29.8 x 39.4 cm) 
 IHL Cat. #1023: 11 1/2 x 15 3/4 in. (29.2 x 40 cm)
 H x W Image  IHL Cat. #1002: 10 3/4 x 14 3/8 in. (27.3 x 36.5 cm) 
 IHL Cat. #1023: 10 1/2 x 14 3/8 in. (26.7 x 36.5 cm)
 Collections This Print  Himeji City Museum of Art Ⅲ-184-5 (dated "1939~1940年"); San Diego Museum of Art 1965.77.r
 Reference Literature  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. 81, cat. 93.
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