Mori Yoshitoshi (October 31, 1898-May 29, 1992)) 森義利
Sources: Mori Yoshitoshi Kappa-Ban, Abe Setsuko, et. al., Organizing Committee for the Mori Yoshitoshi Exhibition on 1st January, 1985, 1985, p. 14-23 and as footnoted.
Born on October 31, 1898 in the home of his grandfather Mori Genjirō located in Nihonbashi, Tokyo, he was the first born son of Yonejirō and Mori Yone. His maternal aunt gave him the name Yoshitoshi. At the age of four his father left home and the family’s wholesale fish business went bankrupt, forcing him, his mother, brother and grandfather to move into his aunt’s house in Nihonbashi. Traditional music was part of his new household, with a granduncle heading a school for wooden flute (yokubue) and his mother and aunt teaching nagauta (lyrical songs with shamisen, originating with kabuki). In 1906, at the age of eight, one year after entering elementary school, Yoshitoshi’s mother remarried and moved in with her husband, leaving Yoshitoshi to continue living with his aunt. Also in this year the eight year old Yoshitoshi suffered a shock when he was the first to find his dead grandfather who had committed harakiri, distraught over the failure of the family business.
At the age of thirteen he was forced to leave his private higher elementary school and start working odd jobs because of the death of his uncle and resulting money troubles. This is also the year that he became interested in the actor prints of Utagawa Toyokuni (1769-1825), the illustrated books of Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839-1892) and Mizuno Toshikata (1866-1908), and the theater prints of Ogata Gekkō (1859-1920) kept by his mother’s new husband. It was also about this age that he began sketching.
In 1915, at the age of seventeen, he began studying under the print artist Yamakawa Shūhō (1898-1944) while apprenticing to Shūhō’s father Yamakawa Seihō (dates unknown), a kimono patterns craftsman and yūzen dyer. He also received instruction in brush drawing from Gotō Kōho (1882-1958) that year. At the age of eighteen, after coming in contact with a number of ukiyo-e artists and frequenting print stores, he resolved to become an ukiyo-e artist in the style of Kaburagi Kiyokata (1887-1972), a Nihonga artist and the leading master of the bijin-ga genre. Drafted into the army and at the age of twenty and sent to Korea, he served two years. Upon his return he briefly studied again with Shūhō, leaving “because he could not bridge the artistic gap caused by his two-year military service.” However, he would soon start classes at Kawabata Gagakkō (Kawabata Art School), where he would graduate in 1923 from their Japanese-style painting division1, and again study with Gotō Kōho. In 1921 he entered a landscape drawing on silk to the Central Art Exhibition, Tokyo and in the following year, after submitting drawings of bijin to the magazine Kōdan Rakugokai, he was offered a contract by the magazine. This contract went unfulfilled due to the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, which forced him to work as a salesman to support his aunt who lost her house in the quake.
Establishing His Dyeing Business
After working briefly at a dyeing workshop of a family friend, in 1925 he set up his own workshop, drawing kimono patterns and dyeing, and became a member of Monyō Renmei (Association of Kimono Pattern Craftsmen). Over the next few years his business and reputation flourished despite the economic downturn caused by the Great Depression.
Marriage and Family, Folkcraft and the Pacific War
In 1928 at the age of thirty he married twenty-four year old Shimizu Iku and six years later his first daughter Eiko was born, followed two years later by his daughter Kozue. With his reputation growing as a textile designer he would embrace the mingei folk craft movement, often visiting the Japan Folkcraft Museum and the founder of the folkcraft movement Yanagi Sōetsu (1889-1961) for study and assistance. He would also visit the famous textile designer and stencil-dyer (named Living National Treasure in 1956), Keisuke Serizawa (1895-1984).2 In 1940 he met print artists Munakata Shikō (1903-1975) and Sasajima Kihei (1906-1993).
In 1942 at the age of forty-five, his 3rd daughter Ayako was born, as the Pacific War raged. Because of wartime prohibitions on luxury items, life was difficult for silk-dyeing artists. Mori lost his apprentices to the draft and as now chairman of the Monyō Renmei, assisted members in dealing with wartime shortages and restrictions.
1944 was a particularly hard year as air raids on Tokyo intensified. His wife became very ill that year and Yoshitioshi “wore himself out with worrying about his wife’s health and caring for this three small children.” However, he was granted permission that year to make and sell dyed kimonos, signing his work with the craftsman name of Kōshū.
Yoshitoshi’s mother died in 1945 and he and his family were forced to relocate after the Great Tokyo Air Raid. With the end of the war he received sufficient cloth and dye, under post-war allocations designed to help preserve traditional Japanese arts, to continue working.
The early post-war years saw his textile work gain increasing fame and his winning of several awards at exhibitions. In 1949 he built his home where he would live out his life in Nihonbashi, Chūōku and became an associate member of the craft section of the Kokugakai (National Picture Association).
In 1951, at fifty-six years of age, he began making mono-stencil prints on wooden blocks and glass sheets and in 1954 he submitted a print, at the urging of Yanagi Sōetsu, to the Nihon Banga-in (Japanese Woodblock Print Academy, also known as the Nihon Hanga-in) formed by Munakata Shikō. In following years, he would increasingly make and submit prints, winning praise from the foreign judges in the 1959 1st International Biennial of Prints held in Tokyo, for his entries of the below prints Year-end Market 1 and Year-end Market 2.