Ogawa Usen

undated photo of artist

Ogawa Usen 小川芋銭 (1868-1938) 


Sources: Guide to Modern Japanese Woodblock Prints: 1900-1975, Helen Merritt, University of Hawaii Press, 1992, p. 115; Mie Prefectural Art Museum website http://www.pref.mie.jp/bijutsu/hp/collection/works/usen_e.htm 

Ogawa Usen (1868-1938) was born in Edo with the given name of Tarō.  He later changed his name to Mokichi and he is also referred to as Sōjū Usen.  He studied Western style painting with Honda Kinkichirō (1885-1921).  He became a member of the Japan Fine Art Academy in 1917.  He was also one of the eight original members of the Sango-kai, founded in 1915, which fostered a free exchange of ideas between the Western-style and Japanese-style painters in the group.

Usen also created woodcuts and cartoons in magazines and newspapers, working for the Yomiuri shinbun and Heimin shinbun.

In 1896 he moved near the Ushiku swamp in Ibaraki Prefecture.   His most famous works are of the natural phenomena of this area and, in particular, of kappa (water imps, see image below.)  Usen saw kappa as "symbols of freedom in the realm of nature."1

Tree Spirits Out on an Early Summer Day

Light color on silk, 1921

 Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art

 A Water Imp is Born of a Fresh Water Mussel

Japanese ink on paper, 1937

 Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art

There is a commemorative hall on the grounds of Usen's residence called "Ungyotei", which features displays of many of Usen's work and personal effects.2  Also on the grounds is the below monument to Usen's water imps. 

1  "The Metamorphosis of the Kappa Transformation of Folklore to Folklorism in Japan," Michael Dylan Foster, Asian Folklore Studies, Volume 57, 1998, p. 13 http://www.nanzan-u.ac.jp/SHUBUNKEN/publications/afs/pdf/a1215.pdf2 City of Ushiku, Ibaraki website http://www.city.ushiku.ibaraki.jp/section/shimin/english/lake.htm 

Prints in Collection

click on thumbnail for print details