Kagawa Tokio - Potato Print Artist

Kagawa Tokio 香川軍男  (1915-2002)


A western-style painter and print artist from Kitami City on Hokkaidō best known for his "potato prints" (薯版), he worked in the city government of Kitami until his retirement at the age of 49 after which he dedicated himself to print making, book design, and publishing. His best-known work is titled "薯版 AINU" (Imoban Ainuchō ) published in 1972 depicting objects of the Ainu culture.


Born in Toyokoro in Hokkaido in 1915, his father worked for Japan National Railways and as a young child he would accompany his father on his travels for the railway around eastern Hokkaido. At the age of eighteen he settled in Kitami City in Okhotsk Subprefecture in Hokkaidō.

Little is known about his formal art training, if any, but it is reported that he had an affinity for art and books from an early age. Initially, Kagawa worked in watercolors, but after WWII he took up oil painting. He worked for the Kitami City History Compilation Office, compiling local history, and in 1939 co-founded the art group Tōeisha (凍影社). He was also a member of the “Genius Club,” a collection of Kitami poets, literary figures, and artists.

In 1947, he started making potato prints with the production of New Year's cards. At about that time the sōsaku hanga printmaker Kawakami Sumio (1885-1972) visited Kitami and, praising Kagawa's potato prints as unparalleled in the country ("海内無双"), recommended that he exhibit at the prestigious National Art Exhibition (国画会 Kokugakai), but Kagawa chose not to and through his life stayed independent of any art circles. Kagawa struck up a friendship with Kawakami and they would exchange work up until Kawakami's passing in 1972. 

Kagawa contributed both essays and prints to a wide range of articles and books, including issues of Kyūshū Mamehon and Ezo Mamehon, several issues of which are part of this collection. 

Potato prints from the Compiled History of Civilization 開化史撰 by Kagawa Tokio, 1956

Kagawa received the Hokkaido Culture Encouragement Award in 1973 and the Hokkaido Shimbun Culture Award in 1985 for a wide range of artistic activities, including the publication of print collections and book design.

Kagawa's work can be found gracing public places in Kitami, including tiles along Kitami's First Avenue, as shown below. 

Sources: website of Roots & Arts Shiraoi https://www.shi-ra-oi.jp/arts2022/shiraoi/, translation of .pdf of artist's biography in Japanese found at  E3839DE382B9E382BFE383BCE5B19527.5.22.pdf (canpan.info) 

Potato Prints (Imoban) - An Art with Peculiarities

Source: "Prints & Photographs Published" appearing in The Print Collector's Newsletter, Vol. 19, No. 2 (May–June 1988), Published by: Art in Print Review Stable, p. 63. URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/24553619 Accessed: 10-07-2023

Most associated with elementary school art projects, the "potato has an affinity for stamping crude images or traditional patterns," as typifies Kagawa's images.

In the words of the American artist Archie Rand (b. 1949), who, in addition to his paintings created potato print, "'The cut potato is a [living], organic plate.' Its surface is moist when it is first cut but then quickly dries so 'one works fast when potato printing. You cannot proof a potato for editioning later. It usually rots by morning....One just does - the only activity is printing.'" 

Of course, another limitation of potato printing is the size of images that can be created.

Works in Collection

click on image for details

いも版AINU帖, 1972

IHL Cat. #2666

Kyūshū Mamehon 21

Kyūshū Mamehon Association



No. 21

Ex-libris' "Treasures of the Ainu"

IHL Cat. #2295

Ezo Mamehon 28

 Seasonal Topics

Hokkaidō Mamehon Association





cover design and four prints (shown right)

IHL Cat. #2637