Kiyoshi Saito was born on April 27, 1907 in a small village named Bange in the Kawanuma District of Fukushima prefecture in the northern part of Honshu, the main Japanese island. When he was 5 years old, his father lost his business in Fukushima and the family moved further north to the island of Hokkaido, where his father worked in the coal mines in Otaru.
When Kiyoshi Saito was 13 years old, his mother died and he was sent away to become the guardian of a Buddhist temple. He tried to escape but failed. Nevertheless the priests allowed him to return home.
Over the next roughly 20 years, Saito went from apprenticing and becoming a sign painter, to a classic oil painter and printmaker, to a meeting with Koshiro Onchi, artist himself and mentor of the sosaku hanga movement, and soon doors opened to famous galleries, where most notably American purchasers took an interest in Saito’s work.
Kiyoshi Saito emerged as Japan’s most productive woodblock print artist, whose editions soon found worldwide markets. Sosaku Hanga artists were, however, first dismissed in the Japanese art world and their works were considered concessions to American tastes… this abruptly changed in 1951 at the first Sao Paulo Art Biennial, when a panel of judges gave prizes not to distinguished artists for oil paintings and sculptures but rather to two Hanga artists: for the etchings of Tetsuro Komai as well as to Kiyoshi Saito for a woodblock print.