Takehisa Yumeji

Undated photo of the artist

Takehisa Yumeji 竹久夢二  (1884-1934)


Takehisa Yumeji, was a leading figure in the Taisho Romanticism movement which combined Western romanticism with native Japanese styles during the Taisho Period (1912-1926). He was a painter, writer, poet, bookbinder and illustrator whose drawings of women with thin bodies and large eyes filled with melancholy were known as Yumeji Bijin-ga. During the height of his popularity he was called the “modern Utamaro” and the Japanese “Toulouse-Lautrec and Edvard Munch”. His prints epitomized the relationship between popular art and the woodblock.1 

He is the printmaker "who best exemplifies the Taisho era."2

1 Modern Japanese Woodblock Prints - The Early Years, Helen Merritt, University of Hawaii Press, 1998, p.23.2 The Japanese Print: A Historical Guide, Hugo Munsterberg, Weatherhill, Inc., 1982, p. 160.


Sources:  British Museum website http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/search_the_collection_database/term_details.aspx?bioId=143481; Modern Japanese Woodblock Prints - The Early Years, Helen Merritt, University of Hawaii Press, 1998,p. 23-31 and as footnoted.

Born Sept. 16, 1884 in the Okayama Prefecture village of Honjo to the son of a sake wholesaler, Yumeji had no formal art training. It is said that while still a teenager he learned the art of line while working with a brush-maker. In 1901 at the age of seventeen his father sent him to Tokyo to study business at the private Waseda School where he developed a wide circle of friends that included Christians and leftists. While a student, Yumeji began submitting illustrations to magazines and by 1905 he had left Waseda, finding that he could make a living selling his art. 

Undated photo of the artist

After leaving Waseda he lived with socialists, sharing their sympathy for the working class and creating a number of political drawings. These drawings were published in the socialist paper Shukan chokugen (Weekly Plain Speaking) and he subsequently made drawings (under a pseudonym) for the socialist magazine Hikari and the socialist newspaper Heimin Shinbun. When Heinmin Shinbun was closed down by the government in 1907, Yumeji retreated from active politics “and turned to the expression of poetic feelings.” He was, however, to remain deeply interested and effected by social issues the remainder of his life.

In January 1907 Yumeji married Kishi Tamaki, who ran a postcard shop in Tokyo. Thereafter he did a lot of design for postcards and other ephemera. Their relationship was extremely turbulent from the start and soon ended in divorce in May 1909, though they remained attracted to each other and continued to work together.

1910 poster from Yumeji's first solo exhibition

In 1909 his first book of sketches and poems was published, Yumeji Picture Collection – Spring Volume (Yumeji gashu - Haru no maki). About these sketches he said “I am going to write a poem using pictures instead of words.” The emotional images he created were rife with nostalgia of the floating world found in traditional ukiyo-e prints. In 1910 he had his first solo exhibition. (The poster from the exhibition is shown on the left.) The large-eyed, thin, sad beauties he created, based on his wife Tamaki and on subsequent mistresses, became the standard romantic image for his generation and they were eagerly bought by both young men and women.

His style was heavily influenced by German 'Jugendstil' (as Jugendstil was itself influenced by ukiyo-e) and he studied the German magazines Jugend and Simplicissimus along with the works of the German Jugendstil artist Heinrich Vogeler (1872-1942). Yumeji was also heavily influenced by the painter Fujishima Takeji (1867-1943) whose paintings captured the romantic spirit of the times.

In 1913 his celebrated book of poetry Dontaku (Holiday) was issued, with book design by Onchi Kōshirō (1891-1955) who had become a friend. It included the poem Yoimachi-gusa (Evening Primrose) which was set to music in 1918 and became a big national success.

I wait even though I know she will not return.

My heart sinks in melancholy like the evening primrose.

It seems that the moon will not appear tonight

- Evening Primrose by Takehisa Yumeji

Between 1914 and 1916 Tamaki and Yumeji founded and ran the Minato-ya shop in Tokyo which sold moku hanga (woodblock prints) and other paper goods which he designed. Yumeji created drawings specifically designed to be turned into prints. The blocks may have been carved by Igami Bonkotsu or Okura Hanbei and were printed by Hirai Koichi. Minato-ya attracted a “sophisticated clientele and became something of a gathering place for Tokyo’s more progressive artists” and Onchi’s Tsukubae group held an exhibition there soon after the shop opened.1

In 1914 he met Kasai Hikono, who became his mistress, but who died early and tragically in 1920 at the age of twenty-four. In 1916 he became chief editor of illustrations for the Shin-shōjo (New Girls), a magazine by the publisher of the nation's oldest women's magazine, Fujin no tomo (Woman's Friend).2 (See the heading "The Shōjo Girl" below for a discussion of the shōjo phenomenon.) In 1917 he started creating covers for song sheets for the Senow Company.3 (See Yumeji's Song Sheet Designs below.)

Yumeji and Oyo, summer 1921

In 1919, after Hikono had gone into hospital, he met the third great female model in his life, Oyo, but this relationship ended in 1925.

In the decade 1920-30 he constantly traveled to hot-spring resorts and continued to paint and to design. His most celebrated paintings included the series Nagasaki junikei (Twelve Views of Nagasaki, 1920) and Onna judai (Ten Female Subjects, 1921). These were watercolors, but he also worked in oils brush and ink and nihonga techniques.

Ten Female Subjects were issued as prints from the paintings by the publisher Katō Junji 加藤潤二 in 1938. In 1941 the publisher would issue six of the prints in the Nagasaki junikei series. The prints were designed to closely imitate the original paintings.

Despite the popularity of his work, Yumeji was ignored by the increasingly conservative government art exhibitions the Bunten and Teiten. This was not surprising as he was an outsider, with a Bohemian lifestyle, shunning the artist associations that brought publicity to their members. He was also an outsider to the literary establishment.

Cover Designs for "The Ladies' Graphic" (Fujin gurafu)


woodblock print, 1924

Autumn Tune,

woodblock print, 1924

Snowy Wind,

woodblock print, 1924

In 1931 Yumeji traveled to the United States and Europe, largely to escape the stifling effect of rising militarism in Japan. In Berlin he delivered a lecture in which he called lines the “essence of art” because they express inner life. Lines, he said, are not to depict objects but to transmit the artist’s spirit. While in Berlin he "taught nihonga [Japanese-style painting] at the Itten-Schule run by Johannes Itten, who was one of the meisters at the time the Bauhaus was founded."4 He returned to Japan in 1933, troubled by the rise of Nazism and the parallels he saw with Japan’s militarism.

Shortly after his return he checked into a sanitarium in Nagano. He died there at the age of fifty. Yumeji Takehisa is buried in the Zoshigaya cemetery in Tokyo.

Yumeji's grave in Zoshigaya Cemetary, Tokyo

Yumeji’s influence on both shin hanga and sosaku hanga were considerable, as well as on graphic design and literary illustration in general. Having passed out of popularity by 1940, his reputation began to make a dramatic come-back in the 1970s, going hand in hand with renewed interest in the Taisho era of which he is now considered the representative figure.

1 Images of a Changing World: Japanese Prints of the Twentieth Century, Donald Jenkins, Portland Art Museum, 1983, p. 55.2 Website of Kodomo no kuni The International Library of Children's Literature / National Diet Library http://www.kodomo.go.jp/gallery/KODOMO_WEB/authors/takehisa_e.html3 Being Modern in Japan: Culture and Society from the 1910s to the 1930s, Elise K. Tipton and John Clark, University of Hawaii Press, 2000, p. 204.4 The National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto (MOMAK) website "Commemorate of Acquisition: The Kawanishi Hide Collection" https://www.momak.go.jp/English/exhibitionArchive/2011/389details.html#1 [accessed 12-14-23]

The Shōjo Girl

Source: "Yoshiya Nobuko, Out and Outspoken in Practice and Prose," Jennifer Robertson, appearing in The Human Tradition in Modern Japan, edited by Anne Walthall, Wilmington: Scholarly Resources Books, 2002, p. 157-158.

In 1915, Yumeji collaborated with Yoshiya Nobuko (1896-1973), one of Japan's most successful woman novelists, illustrating a number of her stories. Nobuko serialized novels appearing in various women's magazines were immensely popular, as was Yumeji's work, with a new audience, the shōjo, or girl. (Literally, a “not-quite-female female.”)

A “really real” female was a married woman with children. The so-called shōjo period defined the emergent space between puberty and marriage that began to grow into a life-cycle phase, unregulated by convention, as more and more young women found employment in the service sector of the new urban industrializing economy. Included in the shōjo category were the “new working woman” and her jaunty counterpart, the flapper-like “modern girl,” or moga (modan garu), who was cast in the popular media as the antitheses of the “good wife, wise mother.”

Cover for Yumeji's composition Evening Primrose (Yoimachigusa), 1918 Designed by Takehisa Yumeji

Yumeji's Song Sheet Designs

In 1910 the music publisher Senoo (Senow) Ongaku Shuppansha began issuing musical scores, the majority of them by Western composers. Over 1000 scores for  classical and popular music, including children’s music, were issued, many under the titles “Senoo Gakufu” (セノオ楽譜) and “Senoo Shin-kouta.”  From 1916 until 1929, Yumeji designed over 280 covers  for Senoo’s published scores and contributed the lyrics for 24 songs of his own, the most famous of which is “Evening Primrose” (Yoimachigusa), published in 1918, and seen on the left. The scores became very popular although few people could read or play the scores. They were bought because of their cover art.

Six Yumeji-designed score covers make up part of this collection, IHL Cat. #s 561, 562, 563, 564, 565, 2253, as shown below.

Green Hill, frontispiece for Joshi bundan (Women's Literary World)


Yumeji's Prints

While Igami Bonkotsu and Okura Hanbei both worked as block carvers for Yumeji, it is not clear, according to Merritt, who carved the prints of the Minato-ya period (1914-1916). Hirai Koichi was Yumeji’s printer during this period and Hirai reported that Yumeji closely supervised his work. Prints from this period carry the Minato-ya sal and are quite rare. With the closing of Minato-ya, the blocks were sold to Yanagi-ya, a bookstore in Osaka, which issued prints from them as well as from Yumeji’s paintings and illustrations. Katō Junji (aka Katō Junzo) of Nihon Hanga Kenkyusho (Kato Print Institute) also published many prints of Yumeji’s works after his death and in 1963 issued a set of six or seven woodblock prints titled Legends of Snowy Nights as a collection of small works by Yumeji. (See IHL Cat. 344, 357, 358.) Posthumous prints were also published by Kyoto Hanga-in and in the 1980s by Matsunaga. The printer Naotaro Nagao (1920-?) was reprinting Yumeji's work into his 80s. He relates that Yumeji and his wife Tamaki visited his workshop when he was a apprentice and instructed him on how to create the colors Yumeji was after.1

Smith states that "technically excellent prints" were produced after his paintings and drawings both during and after his lifetime. He goes on to say: "In themselves these prints represent a further conflict, for they are on the one hand reproductive and on the other genuine and successful attempts to convey the flavour of a most individual artist."2

While Yumeji is most famous for his depictions of young women, he created a number of landscapes for woodblock including the below print Paper Lanterns.

Paper Lanterns (ちょうちん), c. 1914

25.4 x 32.0 cm

published by Minatoya

Image from Takehisa Yumeji Ikaho Kinenkan website

"Paper lanterns are visible in the middle ground of this deserted street scene. The verticality of the telephone poles contrasts the horizontal lines of the wires and the street. Such landscape views devoid of figures are rare in Yumeji's oeuvre. The unusually realistic style of this print also points to the reciprocal influence between Yumeji and his followers, including Fujimori Shizuo (1891-1943)." - Takehisa Yumeiji, Nozomi Naoi, et. al., Brill, 2015, p. 31.

1 Rokkaan INCGallery website http://www.rokka-an.com/e-about%20nagao.html2 The Japanese Print Since 1900: Old dreams and new visions, Lawrence Smith, British Museum Publications Ltd., 1983, p. 20-21.

Mueums Dedicated to Yumeji

There are at least three museums in Japan dedicated to the works of Yumeji; one in the Ueno, Yanaka area of Tokyo, one in his home prefecture of Okayama and one in Kanazawa.

Takehisa Yumeji Museum, Bunkyo-ku,Tokyo

Source: Website of the Yayoi Museum & Takehisa Yumeji Museum https://www.yayoi-yumeji-museum.jp/yumeji/outline.html [accessed 12-14-23]

Looking Back on Takehisa Yumeji, an Illustrator and Poet Depicting Beauty, Love, and Grief in the Taisho Era

The Takehisa Yumeji Museum opened on November 3, 1990. The museum houses collections of Yumeji's works owned by lawyer and curator Takumi Kano, and is located in Hongo where Yumeji stayed in the Kikuhuji Hotel. Yumeji also enjoyed meeting his dear lover, Hikono Kasai, in Hongo. Hongo is surrounded by both tranquility and the greenery of trees, reminiscent of days of old. You can enjoy extensively the romance of the Taisho Era, including not only pictures of Yumeji's style of depicting beautiful women, which may remind you of the good old days, but also works reflecting attempts at modern design at our museum, which is the only museum exhibiting the works of Yumeji in Tokyo.

Exhibition Activities

We conduct a special exhibition every three months (January - March, April - June, July - September, October to December). For the special exhibitions, we plan to show various themes reflecting both the life and art of Yumeji. We explore deeply these themes as a museum which researches the works of Yumeji. We have 200-250 works of art drawn by Yumeji Takehisa on constant display.

Yumeji Art Museum, Okayama, Japan

Source: Website of the Yumeji Art Museum https://yumeji-art-museum.com [accessed 12-14-23]

About Yumeji Takehisa

The Yumeji Art Museum is dedicated to Yumeji Takehisa (1884-1934), who became one of the most famous leading Japanese painters during the Taisho era. He also played an active role as a poet and illustrator.

Yumeji was born in Okayama, Japan. Yumeji’s art is believed to have been inspired by the beautiful nature of his hometown and the memories he treasured of his family and friends. During the Taisho era, the beautiful-eyed women of his paintings were popular as Yumeji Bijin-ga. His fantastic works were beloved by many people of all ages. In addition, Yumeji was called the “modern Utamaro” and became widely known as the Japanese ”Toulouse-Lautrec and Edvard Munch”. Even now, his artistry is evaluated highly not only in Japan, but also in many foreign countries.


The Yumeji Art Museum introduces the great artist Yumeji Takehisa who was born in Okayama.

Kanazawa Yuwaku Yumeji-kan Museum

Source: https://www.kanazawa-museum.jp/yumeji/english/index.html [accessed 12-14-23]

This museum is public institution dedicated to the art of Takehisa Yumeji, and especially highlights the significance Yuwaku had to him. It was founded by the city of Kanazawa in 2000, and presents him according to the three key themes of Travel, Love, and Faith.

Takehisa Yumeji(竹久 夢二) 1884-1934 

Known broadly as an idol of popular culture in his lifetime, Takehisa Yumeji has now become a lasting symbol of Japan's good old days in the first half of the 20th century. Born in a small village of Okayama Prefecture, this self-educated painter, designer, poet and writer succeeded in embodying what is often called as "Taisho Romanticism."


"Takehisa Yumeji in the Memory" 

Commemoration of acquisition: The Kawanishi Hide Collection

The National Museum of Modern Art Kyoto

From 2011-11-11 to 2011-12-25

Source: "Takehisa Yumeji in the Memory: Commemorate of Acquisition of the Kawanishi Hide Collection," Tomoko Hori, The Japan Times

The Kawanishi Hide Collection of some 1,100 artworks was established by the Kobe-based printmaker Hide Kawanishi (1894-1965). One of its highlights is the work of Yumeji Takehisa (1884-1934), a popular Japanese painter with whom Kawanishi exchanged letters. Kawanishi treasured and kept Takeshisa's letters in scrapbooks, and his collection of artworks is said to have been based on the artists' friendship.

To commemorate the acquisition of this collection, which the National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto, has been working on since 2006, this exhibition showcases around 600 works by Kawanishi and Takehisa. Although many exhibitions of Takehisa's work have been held in Japan, this show presents some rarely shown oil paintings and original drawings; till Dec. 25.

Flyer from MOMAK exibition

click on images to enlarge


"Takehisa Yumeji and Taisho Roman" Exhibition - Takehisa Yumeji Museum

From 2010-01-03 to 2010-03-28

Source: Tokyo Artbeat website https://www.tokyoartbeat.com/en/events/-/2009%2F9272 [accessed 12-14-23]

Despite its short span of only 15 years, the Taisho Period (1912-1926) saw the rise of cultural lifestyles amid the influx of Western culture and a sweeping tide of modernization. Furthermore, a new female culture burgeoned, providing women with a chance to acquire education and jobs as "new women".

Centering on art and romantic records of painter and symbol of the Taisho period, Takehisa Yumeji, this exhibition introduces women's lifestyles of the time from various perspectives.

"Yumeji Graphic" Exhibition - Takehisa Yumeji Museum

From 2009-04-03 To 2009-06-28

Source: Website of the Yayoi Museum & Takehisa Yumeji Museum https://www.yayoi-yumeji-museum.jp/

In November 1905, Yumeji Takehisa started his career as a painter at the age of 22 after submitting an illustration piece to the magazine "Chugaku Sekai (the Middle School World)". At a time when nihonga painters were dominating the field of book illustration, Takehisa's work dealing with everyday motifs left a strong impression on viewers, gaining much attention from the young generation.

From the mid-Meiji through Taisho period, when the publication of magazines expanded along with the development of printing technology, Takehisa flourished as the foremost book illustrator of the time, working for over 2200 volumes of 180 magazines. By the end of the Taisho period, when the issue of "art and the masses" came to the fore, he devoted himself to the creation of innovative graphic design in the field of "commercial art", widening his appeal as an artist.

This exhibition traces the career of this prolific artist, with focus on his magazine illustrations and graphic designs.

Celebrating the 125th anniversary of his birth, this exhibition reexamines Yumeji's oeuvre from various perspectives, while also introducing the "real" Yumeji through the presentation of his previously unexhibited work.

"The 125th Anniversary -Unknown Yumeji Takehisa" Exhibition - Takehisa Yumeji Museum

From 2009-07-03 To 2009-09-27

Source: Tokyo Artbeat website https://www.tokyoartbeat.com/en/events/-/2009%2F2990

This year marks the 125th anniversary of the birth of Yumeji  Takehisa (1884-1934). From the Meiji through to the Showa period, Yumeji rushed through 49 years of his life, making an imprint on the cultural realm as both painter and poet.

While Yumeji harnessed his talent as an artist, it's said that he was also busy with his romantic life, and that he traveled to many places and lived a cosmopolitan life. Since his passing, Yumeji has been introduced in various ways through exhibitions and books. However, there are still many previously unexhibited works and unknown sides to this singular figure, a source of unending fascination for his audience.

"Yumeji Takehisa -the World of Performing Arts II"

From 2008-10-02 To 2008-12-23

Source: Tokyo Artbeat website http://www.tokyoartbeat.com/event/2008/0DAE.en

Takehisa's hometown of Honjo village, Oku county in Okayama prefecture was a shukubamachi (post station) where the performing arts had long flourished. Born into a family of art lovers and growing up in a village where performing artists like Echigo lion dancers and joruri puppeteers came and went incessantly, Takehisa nurtured his own interest in Japanese traditional arts. Some of his work reflects his extensive study of and fascination with this particular genre.

Takehisa experienced not only traditional Japanese arts such as joruri and kabuki, which he saw in his childhood, but also western plays performed at the Geijutsu-za, whose sponsor Hogetsu Shimamura was also his former teacher at Waseda. He also took inspiration for his work from the theatrical designs for children's plays written by Ujaku Akita. Takehisa also showed a strong interest in new forms of entertainment: cinema, as well as Ballets Russes (Russian Ballet) which created a worldwide sensation at the time.

This exhibition introduces the world of performing arts from the Taisho period through Takehisa's works, inspired by the theater, opera and film.

Recreation of Yumeji's Tokyo Studio

In 1924 Yumeji opened a studio, designed by him, in Matsubara in Tokyo's Setagaya Ward. Called Shōnen Sansō, it is now restored and relocated in Oku.

Shōnen Sansō 少年山荘


Yumeji Modern Designing the Everyday in Twentieth-Century Japan by Nozomi Naoi, University of Washington Press, April 2020

Takehisa Yumeji by Nozomi Naoi, Sabine Schenk, Maureen de Vries, Hotei Publishing, 2015.

 The catalog for the 2015 exhibition of the artist's works held at the Nihon no Hanga museum in Amsterdam.

Prints in Collection

click on thumbnail for print details

Graphic Designs for Musical Scores