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Bijin-ga Prints: Takahashi Shotei

During the early 1930's, Takahashi Shotei (also called Hiroaki) began working with the Tokyo publisher Fusui Gabo. Though best known for his landscape prints, Shotei also designed several prints of nude women in sensual poses, a contrast to his earlier, more conservative work published by Watanabe Shozaburo. It is likely that Watanabe would have considered these designs too risque for his Western customers. The demure kimono-clad woman depicted in Geisha at Brazier is typical of the bijin-ga that Shotei designed for Watanabe.

In contrast to this traditional portrait, Woman at Mirror portrays a moga (modern girl) with a distinctive wavy hairstyle. The moga threatened traditional Japanese values and social roles with her open sexuality and economic freedom. However, despite her modern look, the woman in this print is posed like a traditional geisha dressing before a mirror. Some critics have interpreted this as an attempt to divest the moga of her social significance and recast her as simply another passively beautiful woman. (1) It is interesting to compare this design with the print, Standing Nude, by Ishikawa Toraji.

Woman with Kitten is a study in erotic sensuality, very different from the demure geisha depicted by other shin hanga artists. The lush red background was printed several times until the paper was deeply saturated with color. The languid playfulness of the woman, her open posture, and her disheveled hair all bring to mind the sensual prints of Utamaro. (2) Awabi Pearl Fisher depicts one of the famous female pearl divers who were known for their independence and passion. Shotei avoided potential censorship by subtly suggesting his subject matter with seaweed-like towel strands. (3)

1.  Light in Darkness: Women in Japanese Prints of Early Showa (1926-1945), University of Southern California, 1996, pg. 11-12

2.  Shin-Hanga: New Prints in Modern Japan, Kendall Brown & Hollis Goodall-Cristante, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1996, pg. 64

3.  The Japanese Print Since 1900, Lawrence Smith, British Museum Publications, 1983, pg. 71

1. Geisha by Brazier
(1925, oban)

2. Beauty Before Mirror
(n.d., oban)

3. Woman and Kitten
(n.d., oban)

4. Awabi Pearl Fisher
(1931, oban)

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