Koizumi Kishio (小泉癸巳男), born in Shizuoka, was the third son of Koizumi Ken'kichi, a master calligrapher who, after the demise of Tokugawa rule, resorted to selling his calligraphy paintings, teaching the art form (under the art name Shôtô), and authoring a widely used calligraphy manual (carved by Horikoshi Kan'ichirô). The young Koizumi relocated to Tokyo in 1909 where for three years (1909-1912) he studied Western-style watercolor techniques with Ishii Hakutei (1882-1958) and Maruyama Banka (1867-1942) at the Nihon Suisaiga-kai (Japan Watercolor Institute: 日本水彩画會). He would also go on to exhibit his prints with the institute fifteen times between 1913 and 1935.
Three of the founders of the institute — Ishii Hakutei, Tobari Kogan (戸張孤雁 1882-1927) and Nakazawa Hiromitsu (中沢弘光 1874-1964) happened to be woodblock printmakers, and their influence upon Koizumi was significant, leading him toward adopting the medium for his oeuvre. Tobari Kogan was especially persuasive in initially guiding Koizumi toward sôsaku hanga (creative prints: 創作版画) when they were colleagues earning a living by carving blocks for newspaper illustrations.
Koizumi learned the craft of cutting blocks from his father's aforementioned block-carver, Horikoshi Kan'ichirô, beginning in 1912. By this time Koizumi had left the watercolor institute. As it happened, he was one of only two notable sôsaku hanga printmakers to have received extensive training in block carving from professional artisans (the other was Hiratsuka Un'ichi). It is said that he might have carved the blocks for some of Tobari Kogan's prints (see Merritt, 1990). In addition to carving and printing woodblocks, Koizumi also learned intaglio printmaking rather late in his life when he took a course in etching given by Nishida Takeo (西田武雄 1894-1961), thereafter producing a few prints in that medium.
Koizumi made his first self-carved, self-printed work in 1913. It was around this time that he left Horikoshi Kan'ichirô's studio. In 1919 he joined the Nihon Sôsaku Hanga Kyôkai (Japanese Creative Print Association: 日本創作版画協会), newly formed in the prior year. As a member, he became an activist for the promotion of sôsaku hanga. Toward this end, he was publicly hostile toward shin hanga (new prints" or neo-ukiyo-e: 新版画), declaring the genre to be equivalent to pretty pictures that could please women and children, and suggesting that those who could not understand or appreciate sôsaku hanga should go and buy an Itô Shinsui. These sentiments appeared in his own coterie hanga/essay/poetry magazine Kimi to baku, "You and I": 君と僕) in 1923. Koizumi along with Ôkôchi Nobutaka (1903-1967 and the poet Kenmoku Tai (dates unknown) had founded the magazine the year before.
In 1916 he published a serialized article in Mizue (みづゑ) titled Mokuhanga ni tsuite (About woodcuts: 木版画に就いて), and in 1924 he wrote a practical and well-received manual titled Mokuhanga no horikata to surikata (The method of carving and printing woodblock prints: 木版画の掘りかたと摺かた). This guide contributed toward the establishment of woodblock carving and printing as a mode of personal expression available to professionals and amateurs alike. The publication of Koizumi's manual and his activism for sôsaku hanga, as well as his own prints and his carving and printing for other artists all contributed toward making him an important figure within the sôsaku hanga movement.
Koizumi appears to have produced his first woodcut around the age of twenty in 1913. By 1920, he completed a twelve-print series featuring views of the eastern part of Tokyo around Asakusa. Among other efforts, Koizumi contributed a few designs to coterie art and poetry magazines (dôjin zasshi: 同人雑誌) in addition to the aforementioned Kimi to baku, such as Shi to hanga (Poetry and prints: 詩と版画) published from 1922 to c. 1925 under the guidance of the printmaker Asahi Masahide (旭正秀 1900-1956) through Ars Publishing Company for the first issue (fall 1922), and then Asahi, Koizumi, and Onchi Kôshirô for the remaining 13 or more issues starting in March 1923. Koizumi also contributed to HANGA published by Hanga no Ie in Kobe under the direction of Yamaguchi Hisayoshi from February 1924 to April 1930. In the seventh issue of HANGA in 1925, Koizumi produced a small-format view of a mountain lake titled Yama no kosui (Mountain Lake: 山の湖水) on the magazine's mounting sheet (size 130 x 203 mm; see image immediately above). The simple carving and color palette were typical for various woodcuts by Koizumi during the 1920s.
Koizumi is best known for his series Shôwa dai Tokyo hyaku zue (One Hundred Views of Great Tokyo in the Shôwa Era: 昭和大東京百圖繪) which he carved and printed himself between 1928 and 1940. (The initial series was completed in 1937; he added more designs in 1940, bringing the grand total of scenic views to 109.) The series was announced as finished in the December 1937 issue of Nihon Hanga Kyôkai kaihô (Japan Print Association bulletin: 日本洋画協会会報). On a separate sheet introducing the entire set, Hakutei called Koizumi the "Shôwa-era Hiroshige" (Shôwa Hiroshige: 昭和廣重). Nevertheless, in the opinion of various critics, only some of the designs are memorable. Much of the work is straightforward in an appealing and, at times, naive manner. Overall, the series constitutes a detailed and nostalgic survey of pre-war Tokyo. At the time of its release, the series was not popular for sale as a complete set. At the urging of Koizumi, the eminent shin-hanga publisher Watanabe Shôzaburô (渡辺庄三郎 1885-1962) purchased ten full sets that he stored in wooden boxes.
The print shown at the top of this page, the fifty-third design from the 100 Views series, is titled Horikiri no hana shobu [en] (Horikiri Iris Garden: 堀切の花菖蒲 園) and measures 302 x 390 mm. Here we see the more mature, detailed block carving and soft application of pastel-like colors that represent attributes often associated with Koizumi's oeuvre. Popular since the Edo period (1603–1867), the cultivation of irises at Horikiri appears to have originated with a figure named Kodaka Izaemon in the 1660s and later truly blossomed with the introduction of numerous hybrids by a descendant of Kodaka. Other plants and flowers also flourished at Horikiri (chrysanthemum, morning glory, azalea). Major advances in hanashôbu breeding were achieved by two retainers of the shogun who then passed on their knowledge to the Kodaka plantation. Tokyoites of Koizumi's day would have responded to his charming design while recalling the rich cultural associations of the iris flower. Today, Horikiri Shôbuen in Katsushika-ku, Tokyo is well known and admired for its 6,000 iris flowers representing about 200 species (cultivars) that bloom every summer. In celebration, the city hosts its annual Katsushika Shôbu Matsuri (Katsushika Ward Iris Festival: 葛飾菖蒲祭).
A more unusual example from the 100 Views series is titled Haru no Ginza yoru kei (View of Ginza at night in spring: 春の銀座夜景) from March 1931. The area called Ginza (銀座) burned down after a devastating fire in 1872. The Meiji government then designated the Ginza as a "model of modernization" and subsidized the construction of fireproof brick buildings and larger, better streets illuminated by gaslights. The district flourished as a symbol of "civilization and enlightenment," promoted by newspapers and magazine companies, which helped spread the latest trends in fashion and design. The area was also known for its window displays, an example of innovative contemporary marketing techniques. Yet once again the area was completely leveled, this time by the 1923 Great Kantô Earthquake. However, when Koizumi designed his print, Ginza had been reborn, populated by shops, department stores, restaurants, and cafes. The brilliant luminance of electric advertising signs and the headlights of motorized streetcars and automobiles were now a symbol of progress and modernization celebrated in Koizumi's print.
Some designs in the 100 Views series were printed with thicker, more prominent keyblock lines and with colors that were more saturated than in other works with pastel-colors. For example, Haru no dôbutsuen (Zoo in spring: 春の動物園), 1934, is the 48th design in the series (shown below). The palette is darker and "heavier" than in the Irises at Horikiri. The onlookers are dressed for chilly weather in March, and most of the men wear Western-style hats and coats. The crowd is being entertained by an aviary on the left and a giraffe on the right.
Around 1940, two other ideas for series formed in Koizumi's mind — twelve scenes of Nikkô National Park, one for each month of the year, and thirty-six views of Mt. Fuji. His intention for these series was to create views that would look back at traditional ukiyo-e approaches to the subject while maintaining a contemporary mode of composition and technique. He worked on the Fuji series starting in 1940, but when the Allied Bombing of Tokyo became increasingly dangerous, he relocated to his in-laws' home in Saitama (north of Tokyo) in 1945, where he died on December 7th. By that time, Koizumi had completed 23 of the projected 36 designs for Seihô Fugoku sanjûrokkei (Thirty-six Views of Fuji, the Holy Mountain: 聖峰富岳三十六景). The design shown below marks a return to simplicity. Hayai shinsetsu no Fuji (Mount Fuji with fresh early snow: 早い新雪の不二) depicts the white form of the sacred peak set against a bright blue, cloudless sky. Along the bottom of the composition is a row of trees drawn in a simple, schematic manner.
Works by Koizumi are included in many private and public collections, such as the Art Institute of Chicago; British Museum, London; Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh; Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; Honolulu Museum of Art; and Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. © 2020 by John Fiorillo