The Meaning of Tsuchiya Koitsu's Woodblock Prints of Mount Fuji
by Hans Liu
Tsuchiya Koitsu is considered one of the most prominent artists working in the tradition of shin hanga ('new prints'), a distinct woodblock print movement that flourished between the years of 1912 to 1945.
Koitsu’s prints are highly recognizable for their subtle treatment of light and shadow, which add a dream-like and mysterious quality to his famous landscape prints. Originally an ukiyo-e artist, Koitsu began producing shin hanga prints in the 1930s.
What are Shin Hanga woodblock prints?
Shin hanga was rooted in the production methods of the ukiyo-e prints of the 18th and 19th centuries, when artists collaborated with carvers, printers and publishers in a system of division of labor. The 1930s was a period where Japan was going through tremendous changes; waves of modernization and westernization were sweeping across the nation.
Shin hanga was born specifically to cater to the intense appetite for Japanese woodblock prints from western countries. This is one reason why the specific style of shin hanga differed greatly from what had come before.
The style often depicted a nostalgic view of old japan, and subjects such as temples, rural landscapes, village life and ancient festivals were extremely popular.
The Hidden Meanings of Tsuchiya Koitsu's Mount Fuji
These two breathtaking prints of Mount Fuji by Tsuchiya Koitsu were both framed from the perspective of the famous five lakes in Hakone.
The astounding beauty of the landscapes portrayed here captivated western buyers at the time, but Mount Fuji as a symbol actually meant more than just an attractive Japanese mountain.
Mount Fuji was often used to represent the increasingly nationalistic sentiments that the country was experiencing, especially after Japan had taken control of Manchuria in the early 1930s. By the end of that decade, woodblock prints of scenic locations heavy with Japanese national symbolism had increased fiercely. The small shrine featured in the image above also contributed to the expression of patriotism, as Shinto was the state religion at the time.
National or religious symbols are common motifs in prints and paintings from across the world, but do they change your appreciation of the beauty of an artwork? We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!