Kobayakawa Kiyoshi (小早川清 1896-1948*) was born in Hakata, Fukuoka province, Kyushu. Starting in 1918, he studied with the Nihonga (Japanese-style painting: 日本画) artist Kaburagi Kiyokata (鏑木清方 1878-1972), whose other students included Ito Shinsui, Kawase Hasui, Torii Kotondo, Shiro Kasamasu, and Yamakawa Shûhô. During the 1920s and 1930s, he exhibited Nihonga (Japanese-style paintings: 日本画) at exhibitions such as Kiyokata's private art association called the Kyôdokai (Homeland Society: 家園學會), the Seikokai (Blue Hakama Society: 青袴会) group of Nihonga painters led by Gotô Shintarô in the 1930s, and the Teiten (帝展) or Teikoku Bijutsu Tenrankai (Imperial Art Academy Exhibition, 帝國美術展覧會), the official government-sponsored salon in Tokyo that began in 1919 (replacing the Bunten 文展, more formally the Monbushô Bijutsu Tenrankai, Ministry of Education Fine Arts Exhibition 文部省美術展覧会 1907-1918).
Kiyoshi is best known for his bijinga (pictures of beautiful women: 美人画) in a modern updated style. An often quoted comment by Kiyoshi appeared in the March 3, 1938 issue of Ukiyo-e geijutsu (Ukiyo-e Art: 浮世絵芸術) magazine: "I copied ukiyo-e and studied them, but I have found nothing to learn from them as an artist. Since only people who live in Edo could depict the atmosphere of Edo, there is no use copying their style. In the Showa period [1926-1989], we have the art of Showa. Even if I try to draw a scene reminiscent of the time of Harunobu, my drawing would invariably express the healthful beauties of today. I do not just draw customs and manners, but try to capture the essence of the time in which we live." [from Amy Newland; see ref below]
Kiyoshi's first woodblock print may have been his design of the heroine Osai in Yari no Gonza Kasane Katabira that he contributed to the 18-print collaborative series Dai Chikamatsu zenshû (Complete collection of Chikamatsu: 大近松全集) published in 1922-26 (1923?). After this, he produced another 13 prints in total, and of these, seven were issued by three professional publishers: one with Watanabe Shôzaburô (渡辺庄三郎) in 1927, three with Hasegawa Shôten (長谷川書店), and three with Takamizawa (高見澤), the Ensodô firm around 1933. Particularly important, however, were his six self-published designs for Kindai jisei shô no uchi (Series: Fashions of the modern world: 近代時世粧ノ内 or "Styles of contemporary make-up") from February 1930 to March 1931, carved by Takano Shichinosuke and printed by Ono Tomisaburô in a limited edition of 100 impressions for each design. The most celebrated print from Kindai jisei shô is titled Ichi-horoyoi (No. 1, Tipsy: ほろ酔ひ), as shown above. The subject of a moga (モガ) or modan garu (modern girl, モダンガル) was taken up by Kobayakawa in this celebrated shin hanga work. The young woman is — shocking for the time — glassy-eyed and inebriated, open-mouthed, and gazing provocatively at the viewer (or companion?) across a table in a café, nightclub, or dance hall. Smoking a cigarette and drinking a cocktail, she is all dolled up in the latest Western-flapper fashion. Her boldly dotted, low-cut, sleeveless dress would have signaled sexual availability. She is adorned, as well, with a string of pearls, and coiffed with bobbed hair, a barrette fastening the front wave and a spit-curl dangling over her forehead. The moga's lips are painted bright red (complementary with the saturated and suggestive red background), while the bright green cabochon ring and wristwatch mark her as an eager consumer of up-to-date accessories. All told, Kiyoshi and his assisting artisans captured with technical brilliance the "shameless" moga on display in a public space.
Late Taishô and early Showa (1920s-early 1930s) was a time of transition in Japan when modernity clashed with tradition. Exemplifying this tension were women whose changing roles in urban society granted them a measure of independence. Many left rural homes for the cities, with Tokyo more or less the epicenter of jazz-age trends. Moga took on jobs such as office workers, shop girls, bus conductors, department-store elevator operators, waitresses, dance-hall girls (dansu-jô), and even "gasoline girls," filling cars with fuel and washing windscreens. However meager their earnings, these hip young women had enough disposable income to embrace a growing consumer culture and eagerly adopt Western fashions and behavior. They made their own decisions about what to wear and how to entertain themselves. Many had a weakness for vibrantly patterned clothes and accessories. They would go to the cinema or theater, and party in the dance halls. Moga and mobo (modern boys: モボ), not unlike their counterparts in the West, worked by day and danced into the early hours of the morning. Dance halls were introduced to Japan in the 1920s and flourished from just after the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 until they were gradually suppressed with increasingly moralistic regulations in the 1930s.
Kiyoshi portrayed dancers three times in his prints; two of those designs are shown above. A flamboyant gesture highlights the print above left. The stretch of the flapper's arms and legs and the bending of the back express rather suggestively a new wave of freedom in Tokyo's cafés and dance halls as it rebuilt and modernized following the widespread devastation caused by the Great Kantô Earthquake of September 1, 1923. Cafés, in particular, were considered hotbeds of promiscuity, in effect serving purposes similar to those offered in Edo-period ageya (houses of assignation: 揚屋) or even brothels where lively banter and entertainment were seen as an expression of decadent sexuality (not infrequently acted upon). In Kobayakawa's design, the dancer's short, colorful dotted dress, beaded cap, and bare skin are set against a deep black background, creating a most dramatic effect. Difficult to see here, but the little toe of her left foot has slipped out from her shoe, as if to signal that her riské dance has slipped the confines of traditional decorum. The dancer shown above right performs a dance of Western origin (butô: 舞蹈). Her red dress is reminiscent of a jester's costume, complete with what appear to be small bells sewn at the lower ends of the dress. As with the previous dancer, the greater exposure of the female body in dance halls was shocking to the conservative arbiters of public behavior. In fact, ballet and certain other kinds of Western dance were continually under threat of prohibition at this time. Western jazz dancing was despised as especially corrupting and banned by 1934. Dance halls, finally, were forced to close in 1940.
Unlike the vast majority of models used for shin hanga, much is known about the woman who posed for Kiyoshi's print shown on the left. She is Gotô Mitsue (後藤まつゑ 1906-1997), one of eleven children growing up in poverty in Gifu prefecture. At around age 14 she apprenticed as a low-ranking geisha called an oshaku-waitress (one who served saké) in a hot springs resort in Nagano prefecture, but then moved to Tokyo to pursue musical training on the shamisen (three-string, long-necked instrument: 三味線), where at age 19 she also joined an okiya (geisha house: 置屋) called the Ichimatsuya (市松屋), taking the professional name Asakusa Ichimaru (浅草市丸) in 1926. Ichimaru developed formidable skill as a shamisen player and a vocalist (kiyomoto style, as taught by a famous female shamisen artist and authority named Enchiga Kiyomoto).
By 1930, Ichimaru had earned a reputation as the geisha with a "nightingale-like" singing voice combined with elegant beauty and consummate skills on the shamisen. She was thus in great demand at high-class teahouses and restaurants in Tokyo's geisha districts (Asakusa, Yanagibashi, Akasaka, and Shinbashi). The Victor Recording Company signed her in 1931, launching a recording career and allowing her to retire from the geisha world in 1933. Her recorded songs for films raised her status to that of a superstar. She had her own radio program starting in the late 1940s, which ran for a decade. During the 1960s-80s she appeared frequently on TV while continuing to perform in concert venues. While composing her own wistful kouta ("little songs": 小歌 or 小唄) for kabuki shamisen accompaniment in a style that would become known as "Ichimaru Air," Ichimaru founded the Edo Kouta Ichiju Society in 1984, taking an active role in training students in this style. She recorded 270 pieces of modern hauta (端唄) narrative songs and zokkyoku (俗曲) folk melodies, as well as kouta, and won various prestigious awards including the Geijutsusai Shôrei Shô (Art Festival Award) from the Ministry of Education in 1970; the Shiju Hôshô (Imperial Medal of Honor, Purple Ribbon: 紫綬褒章) in 1972; and the Imperial Zuihô Shô ( Fourth class, Order of the Sacred Treasure: 瑞宝章) in 1981. Yet, when she died at the age of 91, nearly her entire fortune had disappeared, some of it going to her impoverished family over the years, but much of it stolen by a housekeeper-maidservant.
Kiyoshi met Ichimaru in 1932. His print was based on a hanging-scroll painting (kakemono-e: 掛物絵) that received very positive responses when exhibited at the Teiten exhibition of 1933. In the painting she is shown standing in formal attire while holding a fan. The gestures of her inclined head as well as her hairstyle and facial expression are virtually identical between painting and print. Kiyoshi received a special mention (tokusen, 特選) at the 1933 government-sponsored Teiten exhibition for his painting of Ichimaru.
Seated casually on a European-style chaise longue (long reclining chair), a Japanese beauty wearing a fashionable and eye-catching deep-red dress and jacket gazes off to her left beyond the frame of the two-panel screen (see image above). Draped over the end of the chair is a taxidermied fox stole, another up-to-date accessory adopted from the West. The young beauty is meant to represent an ideal type of modan garu of the early 1930s near the end of what has been called the "Greater Taishô" period (1912 to the early 1930s). The beauty's casual poise and elegant adornments speak of luxury and privilege, locating her in the well-to-do leisure class of Japanese society.
* Note: Various publications and citations have given Kobayakawa's birth year variously as 1889, 1896, 1897, or 1899. Provisionally, the date used here is 1896, taken from Merritt and Yamada (see ref. below). © 2020 by John Fiorillo