Shin Hanga, meaning “new prints” in English, emerged in early 20th-century Japan as a revival of traditional woodblock printmaking techniques. This movement combined the age-old craftsmanship of ukiyo-e prints with modern themes, styles, and technologies, resulting in a distinctive genre that captured the spirit of a changing Japan. This primer delves into the notable characteristics, influential publishers, renowned artists, and the broader cultural influences that shaped the Shin Hanga movement.

Shin Hanga, born in the Taisho era (1912-1926) and flourishing through the Showa era (1926-1989), represents a dynamic fusion of traditional Japanese woodblock printing and contemporary artistic sensibilities. Unlike the Sosaku Hanga movement, which emphasized the self-carving and self-printing of artists, Shin Hanga maintained a collaborative approach, involving artists, carvers, printers, and publishers. This collaborative effort aimed to produce high-quality prints that appealed to both the domestic and international markets.

Aesthetic Elements

Shin Hanga prints are characterized by meticulous attention to detail, vibrant colors, and a harmonious blending of traditional and modern themes. Artists sought to capture the beauty of landscapes, nature, and everyday life, often infusing their works with a sense of nostalgia and romanticism. The use of multiple woodblocks allowed for intricate color gradations and subtle tonal variations, showcasing the technical prowess of the artists and craftsmen involved.

Subjects and Themes

The subject matter of Shin Hanga prints is diverse, encompassing landscapes, beauties (bijin-ga), actors (yakusha-e), and scenes of urban life. While traditional ukiyo-e themes persisted, Shin Hanga artists explored new avenues, depicting modernized versions of traditional subjects or introducing contemporary elements. The landscapes often featured iconic Japanese vistas, such as Mount Fuji or cherry blossoms, providing a link between the old and the new.

Emphasis on Collaboration

Unlike the earlier ukiyo-e tradition, Shin Hanga artists collaborated closely with skilled carvers and printers, resulting in a division of labor that aimed at achieving the highest quality prints. This collaborative process elevated the technical and aesthetic standards of Shin Hanga prints, distinguishing them from both their historical predecessors and contemporaneous Western art movements.

Influential Publishers

Watanabe Shōzaburō (Seal: Watanabe): One of the most well-known publishers of shin hanga, Watanabe played a crucial role in popularizing the movement both in Japan and internationally. He collaborated with artists like Kawase Hasui and Hiroshi Yoshida.

Shinagawa Takamizawa (Seal: Takamizawa): A prominent publisher known for producing high-quality woodblock prints. They worked with various shin hanga artists, including Hiroshi Yoshida and Tsuchiya Koitsu.

Doi Sadaichi (Seal: Doi): The Doi family operated a publishing house that worked with several shin hanga artists, such as Kasamatsu Shiro and Ito Shinsui.

Bijutsusha (Seal: Bijutsusha): A Tokyo-based publisher that produced prints in collaboration with notable shin hanga artists like Itō Shinsui and Kaburagi Kiyokata.

Kawaguchi & Sakai (Seal: Kawaguchi & Sakai): This publisher was involved in producing prints with artists like Hiroshi Yoshida, contributing to the popularity of shin hanga during the early to mid-20th century.

Hasegawa Jirō (Seal: Hasegawa): Known for working with shin hanga artists, including Hiroshi Yoshida and Tsuchiya Koitsu, Hasegawa Jirō’s publishing house contributed to the development of the movement.

Shōbidō Tanaka (Seal: Shōbidō): This publisher collaborated with shin hanga artists like Hiroshi Yoshida, producing prints that showcased the beauty of Japanese landscapes.

Baba Nobuhiko (Seal: Baba): Baba was a publisher who worked with artists like Hiroshi Yoshida and Tsuchiya Koitsu, contributing to the success of shin hanga during its peak.

Unsodo (Seal: Unsodo): Unsodo is known for its collaboration with artists like Tsuchiya Koitsu and Shiro Kasamatsu, producing shin hanga prints that often featured scenic landscapes.

Watanabe Seitei (Seal: Seitei): Associated with the Watanabe family, Seitei was a publisher who collaborated with various shin hanga artists, contributing to the movement’s popularity.

Renowned Artists

Hiroshi Yoshida (1876–1950): Hiroshi Yoshida was a leading figure in the shin hanga movement, known for his detailed and realistic landscapes. He often incorporated Western techniques and perspectives into his prints.

Kawase Hasui (1883–1957): Hasui was particularly famous for his serene landscape prints, capturing the beauty of Japan’s various regions. He collaborated extensively with the publisher Watanabe Shōzaburō.

Ito Shinsui (1898–1972): Ito Shinsui was a prominent shin hanga artist known for his bijin-ga (images of beautiful women) and landscapes. His prints often featured vibrant colors and elegant compositions.

Tsuchiya Koitsu (1870–1949): Tsuchiya Koitsu specialized in landscapes and scenes of Japanese life. He worked with various publishers, including Watanabe and Doi, and was known for his skillful use of light and shadow.

Shiro Kasamatsu (1898–1991): Kasamatsu was known for his prints featuring landscapes, particularly scenes of Tokyo and its surroundings. His work often captured the changing seasons and traditional Japanese architecture.

Ohara Koson (1877–1945): Ohara Koson was primarily focused on kachō-e (bird and flower prints). His detailed and delicate depictions of birds and flowers contributed to the shin hanga movement.

Toshi Yoshida (1911–1995): The son of Hiroshi Yoshida, Toshi continued the family legacy as a shin hanga artist. He created landscapes, wildlife prints, and bijin-ga, showcasing a wide range of subjects.

Hiratsuka Un’ichi (1895–1997): Hiratsuka Un’ichi was known for his innovative and bold prints. He experimented with abstract and modern elements, contributing to the diversity within the shin hanga movement.

Kobayakawa Kiyoshi (1896–1948): Kobayakawa Kiyoshi was recognized for his bijin-ga and landscapes. He often depicted scenes of everyday life and traditional Japanese culture.

Tsuchiya Rakusan (1896–1976): Rakusan was a versatile artist known for his kachō-ga (bird and flower prints) and landscapes. His detailed and intricate compositions showcased his mastery of the woodblock printing technique.

Cultural Influences

Shin Hanga emerged during a period of significant societal and cultural transformation in Japan. The movement reflected the tension between preserving cultural heritage and embracing modernization. Influences from Western art movements, such as Impressionism and Art Nouveau, can be observed in the color palettes, compositions, and stylistic choices of Shin Hanga artists. The prints became not only artistic expressions but also cultural artifacts embodying the zeitgeist of early 20th-century Japan.

Conclusion

Shin Hanga, with its commitment to traditional craftsmanship and collaboration, stands as a testament to the resilience of Japanese woodblock printing in the face of modernization. The movement’s notable characteristics, influential publishers, renowned artists, and cultural influences collectively contribute to its enduring legacy. Shin Hanga continues to captivate audiences worldwide, offering a visual journey through the evolving landscapes of both nature and culture in early 20th-century Japan.