spacer 12
VJP title
Utamaro print showing


spacer 16

Stencil Prints: Kappazuri-e
(Yoshitoshi Mori and Watanabe Sadao)


Mori Potter Yoshitoshi Mori (1898-1992) and Watanabe Sadao (1913-1996) were the two best known sosaku hanga artists to use the medium called kappazuri (stencil printing: HG), a technique related to katazome ("stencil dyeing"). Katazome is said to have originated in Okinawa (the method there was called bingata).

The paper most widely used in Japan for stencil printing is called shibugami, made from several layers of kozô paper laminated with persimmon tannin. The sheets are dried and smoke-cured to strengthen them and make them flexible and waterproof. Once the artist makes a drawing, it is fixed to the shibugami with a thin adhesive. The basic pattern is then carved into a "key impression" stencil (the equivalent to the keyblock in woodblock printing) called the omogata. If colors will also be used for the final design, separate stencils are sometimes cut for each color. If the stencil pattern has thin lines they can be reinforced with silk gauze, which still allow for uniform printing of colors.

The first stage of the printing process involves the application and drying of a dye-resist paste to cover all the portions of the design to be left unprinted by the design. The patterns and colors can then be brushed over the stencil while affecting only those areas without resist paste. Typically the first colors printed are the lighter areas so that darker colors can be overprinted. After all the colors are printed and dried, the key impression stencil is finally used to print the key design over all the previous colors. The dye resist paste is then washed off (called mizumoto, "to wash by water") and the paper is dried on a wood board.

The two artists shared similar formative artistic experiences. In 1940 and 1941, respectively, Mori and Watanabe first met and worked with Serizawa Keisuke (1895-1984), a master of stencil-dyed illustrated books who was a leader in the folk art movement (he later received the Award of Cultural Merit from the Japanese government in 1977). Serizawa Keisuke's influence on Mori and Watanabe was considerable (as it was on Shikô Munakata). They were involved as well with the founder of the folk art movement, Yanagi Sôetsu (1891-1961), who advocated an honest and dedicated approach to traditional techniques and materials.

Although both Mori and Watanabe made some woodblock prints, nearly all their works were stencil-dyed prints. They experimented with various types of papers, but the most obvious difference was Watanabe's use of a type of kozô paper called momigami (crumpled, wrinkled paper), which was a thick paper purposely crumpled by hand and then only partly smoothed out before printing. It gave his prints a deeper, rough, and more expressive texture than would have been possible with smooth papers.

Mori kanji Mori, who began as a textile designer, first made monotype kappazuri on wood blocks and glass in 1951 and exhibited his first kappazuri-e on paper in 1954 at the Nihon Bangain (Japan Woodblock Academy) after receiving encouragement from Yanagi Sôetsu. He straddled the worlds of the artist and the artisan-craftsman until 1962, when he moved closer toward artistic expression through kappazuri-e, resulting in Serizawa Keisuke criticizing Mori in a well-known debate for abandoning the crafts movement. Mori thereafter devoted himself to the art of kappazuri-e. His subjects included kabuki scenes, craftsmen, festivals, and figures from traditional stories. He printed on both colored and unprinted grounds. The figure above right illustrates an example from a series of seven prints from 1973 depicting artisans. Though untitled, this design is known as "Potter under Tiled Roof." It is signed "Y. Mori," dated "73," and numbered 18/70. Arguably the best design from the group, the strength of the potter is admirably portrayed as he works the clay to form the vase. The simplicity of the roof and the boldness of the figure add a sense of monumentality to the design.

Watanabe St Peter Watanabe kanji Although the techniques of the two artists were similar, their subject matter was not. Watanabe, who was baptized a Christian in 1930, based his designs exclusively on biblical subjects, though his Christian stories and figures are interpreted through a filter of traditional Japanese techniques and show the influence of old Buddhist figure prints. Watanabe typically printed on a colored ground, so he would first apply a color to the paper before taking the other steps described earlier.

In the figure on the right, a yellow ground was printed before the stenciling of the other colors and key impression outlines for the image of Saint Peter holding the key to heaven. The print is signed "Sadao Watanabe," numbered 65/70, and dated 1970 in white pigment. The figure of St. Peter is iconographic in his bold frontality, and the simplification of form and patterns contributes a quality of timelessness that Watanabe may have intended at least on an intuitive level. © 1999-2001 by John Fiorillo

[For an early early Osaka stencil print, see Nagahide]


  • Abe, Setsuko and Matsuoka, Haruo: Mori Yoshitoshi Kappa-ban. Tokyo: Mori Exhibition Organizing Committee, 1985, pp. 9-23 & plate 109.
  • Watanabe, Sadao and Takenaka, Masao: Biblical Prints by Sadao Watanabe. Tokyo: Shinkyo Shuppansha (Protestant Publishing Co.), 1986.
  • Michener, James: The Modern Japanese Print: An Appreciation. Rutland & Tokyo: Tuttle, 1968, pp. 23-31.
  • Smith, Lawrence: Modern Japanese Prints 1912-1989. London: British Museum Press, 1994, pp. 35, 55-56 and plates 68-72 & 74.
spacer 16
Viewing Japanese Prints
Designed & Written by John Fiorillo
Site launched 1999
All texts and pictures are copyright © (All Rights Reserved)
and may not be reproduced without permission.