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Fortune Teller from the series Occupations of Shōwa Japan in Pictures, Series 2

Wada Sanzō (1883-1967)

Japanese Color Woodblock Print

Mainstreet Fortune Teller

print number 10 from the series

Occupations of Shōwa Japan in Pictures, Series 2

by Wada Sanzō, 1940 and c. 1950

Wada Sanzō (1883-1967)

IHL Cat. #1057
First edition, 1940

IHL Cat. #1075
Second edition, c. 1950

About These Prints

A fortune teller advises a couple in an evening divining session in this tenth print from series two of Occupations of the Shōwa Era in Pictures. This collection has both first and second editions of this print, the first edition published by Nishinomiya Shoin and the second by its successor, the publishing house Kyoto Hangain.

While this design originally dates from 1940, the presence of fortune-tellers on city streets was still much as it was in 1905, when professor Basil Hall Chamberlain wrote in Things Japanese, his guide for travelers, "No careful observer can walk through the streets of any large city without noticing here and there a little stall where a fortune-teller sits with his divining rods in front of him, and small blocks inscribed with sets of horizontal lines, some whole, some cut in two. The manipulation of these paraphernalia embodies a highly complicated system of divination called Eki, literally "Changes," which is of immemorial antiquity. Confucius himself professed his inability to understand the matter thoroughly, and would fain have had fifty years added to his life for the purpose of plunging more deeply into its mysteries. The common fortune-tellers of to-day have no such qualms. Shuffling the divining rods, they glibly instruct their clients in all such thorny matters as the finding of lost articles, the propriety of removing to another quarter of the town, the advisability of adopting a child, lucky days for marriage or for undertaking a journey, occasionally - if those in power be not much maligned - even affairs of state."1

Below are the translated artist commentaries for the first and second editions of the print..

The below commentary accompanying the 1940 edition, is copied from Memories of Shōwa, as translated by the authors.3 

 [First Edition, 1940, published by Nishinomiya Shoin]

The Mainstreet Fortune Teller

For a fee of fifty sen fortunes are told in such diverse areas as marriage, occupation, lost items, missing persons, illness, and the rise and fall of the stockmarket, by means of reading, physiognomy, fortune telling, and onomancy.

At a loss and in dire need they run to this place asking anything that is on their minds.

But what are the conditions for trusting this spokesman? First, half of his hair needs to be grey, and he needs to be very old. He definitely shouldn't wear Western clothes. And even if the color is faded, a kimono with one's family crest and a hakama are considered as absolutely necessary parts of the outfit. However, wearing Chinese or Korean clothing seems to be a way to excite people's curiosity even more.

What is even more interesting is that the buyer, that is, the person who seeks fortune-telling, forgets that they paid fifty sen and put themselves completely at the mercy of the fortune teller.

[Second Edition, c. 1950, published by Kyoto Hangain]
A Fortune-teller

It is very common to see one or two fortune-tellers in the precincts of a Shinto shrine or a Buddhist temple. Many people who are not well educated are apt to be enthralled by such superstition, and they consult the fortune-teller when their wish to know in regard to change of residence, marriage, loan of money, change of job, trip and in fact nearly all the matters of their daily lives. 

Most of the fortune-tellers open their road-side shops in the evening. Judging by his clothing, the husband seems to be a merchant, and he may have asked the fortune-teller to divine what will become of his business. The fortune-teller is trying to find the means by his divining rods. 

Depicted by Sanzo Wada. Printed by KYOTO-HANGA-IN

1 Things Japanese, Basil Hall Chamberlain, John Murray, London 1905 (fifth edition), p. 129. 

Examples of Post-War Reissues by Kyoto Hangain

This is one of the most popular prints of the three series, having been re-printed numerous times, including a reduced size print after WWII by Kyoto Hangain, as can be seen by the examples below.  For details of the reduced chuban size print see Fortune Teller from the portfolio Japanese Life and Customs A Set of Six Pictures.

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.

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 Shōwa Japan in Pictures (Shōwa shokugyō e-zukishi), also translated as Occupations of the Shōwa Era in Pictures and 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 Shōwa Japan 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 Shōwa Japan 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 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 #1057; #1075
 Title/Description 大道占師 [daidō uranaishi] - Roadside Fortune Teller [number 10]
 Note: title is printed on original edition print IHL Cat. #1057) but untitled on post-war print IHL Cat. #1075
 SeriesOccupations 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
 Seal Sanzō both seals
 IHL Cat. #1057

 IHL Cat. #1075
 Publication Date IHL Cat. #1057 1940; IHL Cat. #1075 c. 1950
IHL Cat. #1057
Nishinomiya Shoin 

IHL Cat. #1075
Kyoto Hangain 
版元 京都版画院
 Edition IHL Cat. #1057 - first edition
 IHL Cat. #1075 - second edition
 PrinterIHL Cat. #1075 - second edition
 Impression IHL Cat. #1057 excellent; IHL Cat. #1075 excellent
 Colors IHL Cat. #1057 excellent; IHL Cat. #1075 excellent
 Condition IHL Cat. # 1057 excellent - overall toning; still tipped onto its original backing cardboard
 IHL Cat. #1075 excellent - light toning, still tipped onto its original backing sheet
 Genre shin hanga
 Miscellaneous originally released by Nishinomiya Shoin as print number 10 in series 2
 Format dai-oban
 H x W Paper IHL Cat. #1057 11 3/8 x 15 1/8 in. (28.9 x 38.4 cm) 
 IHL Cat. #1075 11 3/8 x 15 7/8 in. (28.9 x 40.3 cm)
 H x W Image IHL Cat. #1057 10 1/8 x 14 1/2 in. (25.7 x 36.8 cm)
 IHL Cat. #1075 9 7/8 x 14 1/2 in. (25.1 x 36.8 cm)
 Collections This Print Himeji City Museum of Art Ⅲ-184-10 (dated "1939~1940年")
 Reference Literature Memories of Shōwa: Impressions of Working Life by Wada Sanzō, Maureen de Vries and Daphne van der Molen, Nihon no hanga, 2021
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