Yōshū Chikanobu

Yōshū Chikanobu 楊洲周延 (1838-1912) 


Yōshū Chikanobu was a leading artist1 of the Meiji period (1868-1912), a time when Japan saw the reinstatement of the emperor as ruler and was undergoing rapid westernization. He was one of the most prolific woodblock print artists of this period, working with both traditional subjects, such as actors, courtesans, scenes of famous sites, beautiful women, and with topical subjects, such as the Satsuma Rebellion (1877) and the Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895.)2 Chikanobu used the flat planes and decorative patterning of the ukiyo-e tradition to striking effect, adding brilliant colors, especially reds, purples, and blues to his compositions.  He worked in a style that often reflected western conventions in art.

1 Along with Yoshitoshi Tsukioka (1839-1892), Kobayashi Kiyochika (1847-1915) and Toyohara Kunichika (1835–1900).2 There is speculation that due to the weak composition and effect in some of the Sino-Japanese War prints attributed to Chikanobu that a number of them may have been produced by his students rather than by the artist himself.

Artist Names

In addition to Yōshū Chikanobu (楊洲周延) he used the artist names () Ikkakusai (一鶴斎), Yōshūsai (楊洲斎), Hashimoto Chikanobu (橋本周延), Naoyoshi (直義) and Toyohara Chikanobu (豊原周延).


Source: Chikanobu: Modernity and Nostalgia in Japanese Prints, Bruce A. Coats, Hotei Publishing, 2006.

Little is known about Chikanobu’s early life.  Born in Niigata Prefecture as Hashimoto Naoyoshi (橋本直義), he was the eldest of two children.  His father was Hashimoto Naohiro (died 1879) who was a lower level retainer of the Sakakibara daimyo.   As a youth Chikanobu trained in the martial arts and in the late 1860s fought in the Boshin Civil War (1868-1869) with the Shōgitai, supporting the Tokugawa shogun’s military government against those seeking to install a modern government under the auspices of the emperor.  In 1868, he was captured during the fighting, but was let go when it was confirmed he was a well-known artist.

As a child, he showed a talent for painting and he trained in a private studio teaching Kano School painting.  He first studied print design with disciples of Keisai Eisen (1790-1848) and then around 1852, at the age of fourteen or fifteen, with Ichiyusai Kuniyoshi (1797-1861).   During his time at Kuniyoshi’s studio Chikanobu may have known Yoshitoshi Tsukioka (1839-1892), who joined the studio in 1850.  In about 1855 or 1856, Chikanobu moved to the studio of Utagawa Kunisada I (1786–1865).  Coats states that Chikanobu’s earliest works were influenced by Kunisada’s style, “but he moves away from the Kunisada figural models by the 1880s.  Over time Chikanobu’s women become taller, thinner and more graceful in their gestures, establishing a new canon of beauty for the mid-Meiji period that reflected a revival of interest in prints of a hundred years earlier.”1

In about 1862, Chikanobu began working with Toyohara Kunichika (1835–1900) studying actor portraiture, which Kunichika, his contemporary, was famous for.  Later on Chikanobu and Kunichika would compete in designing actor prints for the same kabuki plays, but Chikanobu would go on to an expanded range of subject matter.

In 1871 Chikanobu established himself in Tokyo as a woodblock print artist, designing prints of familiar subjects such as the Yoshiwara pleasure quarters, scenic views and actor prints.  In tracing the evolution of Chikanobu's actor prints, Coats writes, “…he moved away from the Utagawa school models he had been taught by Kunisada and Kunichika.  Chikanobu’s actor prints changed from being posters in the 1870-80s, like others produced in the Utagawa school tradition, to compositions in the late 1890s that are individual works distinctly in his own style.”

In the mid-1870s, Chikanobu, like many other artists, designed kaika-e, prints that documented Japan's modernization and the Emperor Meiji and the imperial court's promotion of that modernization. 

In 1877, Chikanobu would document, in over 45 triptych prints, the events around the Satsuma Rebellion, a short-lived samurai insurrection, led by Saigo Takamori (1827-1877).

In 1884, Chikanobu created at least ten triptychs on the attempted assassination of Japan's representative in Korea, Hababusa Yoshitada and the burning of the Japanese legation.  These prints, issued very shortly after the incident, brought him "enormous success."2

By the late 1880s he and much of his audience were becoming dismayed by the rapid changes taking place in Tokyo and were increasingly nostalgic about the lost world of the shogun. Throughout the 1890s, Chikanobu produced single sheet prints, diptychs and triptychs, which promoted traditional values and highlighted aspects of Japanese culture that were being forgotten.  He created prints about filial piety and neighborhood festivals to provide an alternative to what many saw as the deterioration of Japanese society caused by imported ideas and modern methods. Chikanobu's last works in the early years of the 20th century featured brave samurai and heroic women of Japan's past, models of appropriate behavior for the future. By 1905, his print production had dwindled.

Chikanobu died at the age of seventy-five from stomach cancer in 1912.

1 Chikanobu: Modernity and Nostalgia in Japanese Prints, Bruce A. Coats, Hotei Publishing, 2006, p. 16.2 The Sino-Japanese War, Nathan Chaikin, self-published, 1983, p. 34.

Print Series

Chiyoda Inner Palace (Chiyoda no Ooku)1895-1896

Chikanobu's series of forty prints depicting the lives of the ladies of the Chiyoda Inner Palace is considered by many his masterpiece. For additional details on this series, see the following print pages:

A Lady in Waiting Hands The Noh Mask to an Actor from the series Chiyoda Inner Palace

Flower Arranging in Turn, No. 20 from the series Chiyoda Inner Palace

After the Bath from the series Chiyoda Inner Palace

A List of Major Print Series

Source: Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toyohara_Chikanobu [accessed 1-2-24]

Series in the ōban yoko-e (landscape) format, which were usually then folded cross-wise to produce an album: 

At least one series was published in chuban yoko-e format: 

There is one series, attributed to Chikanobu, in chuban tate-e format: 

At least one harimaze-e series in yatsugiri format: 

One harimaze-e series in koban yoko-e  format: 

A partial list of his single panel ōban tate-e series includes: 

Two of his well-known ōban tate-e diptych series are: 

A partial list of his triptych series:

"The Obituary of Yōshū Chikanobu" Miyako Shinbun (Capital City Newspaper), October 2, 1912

Source: Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toyohara_Chikanobu#cite_note-miyako_shimbun8847-1, footnote 1 [accessed 1-2-24]

Yōshū Chikanobu, who represented in nishiki-e the Great Interior of the Chiyoda Castle and was famous as a master of bijin-ga, had retired to Shimo-Ōsaki at the foot of Goten-yama five years ago and led an elegant life away from the world, but suffered from stomach cancer starting this past June, and finally died on the night of September 28th at the age of seventy-five.

His real name being Hashimoto Naoyoshi, he was a retainer of the Sakakibara family of Takata domain in Echigo province. After the collapse of the Tokugawa Shogunate, he joined the Shōgitai and fought in the Battle of Ueno. Thereafter he fled to Hakodate, fought in the Battle of the Goryōkaku under the leadership of Enomoto Takeaki and Ōshima Keisuke, and achieved fame for his bravery. But following the Shōgitai’s surrender, he was handed over to the Takata domain. In the eighth year of Meiji, with the intention of making a living in the way that he was fond of, went to the capital and lived in Yushima-Tenjin town. He became an artist for the Kaishin Shinbun12, and on the side, produced many nishikie pieces. Regarding his artistic background: when he was younger he studied the Kanō school of painting, but later switched to ukiyo-e and studied with a disciple of Keisai Eizen; and next joining the school of Ichiyūsai Kuniyoshi, called himself Yoshitsuru. After Kuniyoshi’s death, he studied with Kunisada. Later he studied nigao-e with Toyohara Kunichika, and called himself Isshunsai Chikanobu. He also referred to himself as Yōshū.

Among his disciples were Yōsai Nobukazu (楊斎 延一), Gyokuei (楊堂玉英) an uchiwa-e painter and several others. Gyokuei produced Kajita Hanko. Since only Nobukazu now is in good health, there is no one to succeed to Chikanobu’s bijin-ga, and thus Edo-e, after the death of Kunichika, has perished with Chikanobu. It is most regrettable. 

- trans. by Kyoko Iriye Selden (October 2, 1936, Tokyo-January 20, 2013, Ithaca), Senior Lecturer, Department of Asian Studies, Cornell University, ret'd.

12 the party organ of the Rikken Kaishinto, the Constitutional Reform Party.


Yoshu Chikanobu: The Ukiyo-e Artist of the Meiji Era

Machida City Museum of Graphic Arts

Saturday 7 OctoberーSunday December 10 2023

Yoshu Chikanobu (1838-1912) is one of the most famous ukiyo-e artists of the Meiji era. He worked on a wide range of subjects especially bijin-ga (paintings of beautiful women), which were the essence of his work. This exhibition traces Chikanobu's career and its charms through about 300 works.

Chikanobu: Modernity and Nostalgia in Japanese Prints (2007-2008)

Yoshu Chikanobu (1838–1912) was a popular artist in the Meiji period, the era from 1868 to 1912 when Japan underwent rapid westernization and the emperor was reinstated as ruler. Like many other print designers of these years, Chikanobu worked with subjects of traditional Japanese woodblock prints, such as actors, courtesans, famous sites, and beautiful women, while at first reflecting western conventions in art and picturing current events, such as the Saigo Rebellion. However, he later changed his approach and embraced more traditional themes stemming from his recollections of life in old Edo, before the modern period ushered in by the Meiji emperor.  This groundbreaking exhibition on the artist was organized by Bruce A. Coats, a Professor of Art History and the Humanities at Scripps College in Claremont, California, and travels throughout the United States and concludes in Japan. The extensive catalogue features new research in an overview essay and chronological surveys of his prints by Professor Coats along with additional essays by Joshua S. Mostow, Allen Hockley, and Kyoko Kurita. The publication also includes a short introduction, acknowledgements, selected bibliography, and index.

November 2, 2010 – February 20, 2011

Yōshū Chikanobu was one of the last great ukiyo-e print designers. He produced images of the kabuki stage, beautiful women (bijin-ga), and historical and legendary events. Chikanobu also illustrated murders and other sensational news of the day and chronicled the modernization of Japanese society in the late 19th century. The exhibition at Morikami, Modernity and Nostalgia, presents over 50 woodblock prints from this prolific artist on subjects ranging from customs and manners of Japanese women to the Sino-Japanese War to nostalgic representations of the recently ended feudalistic Edo Period (1600 – 1868). A series of prints for which the artist is well known imaginatively portrays the lifestyle of the Meiji Emperor and his family, depicting scenes Chikanobu never actually witnessed but was able to imbue with tremendous authority and veracity.

The exhibition was organized by the Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery at Scripps College in Claremont, California, and is funded in part by the Henri and Tomoye Takahashi Charitable Foundation and the Mary Livingston Griggs and Mary Griggs Burke Foundation.

Signatures and Seals of the Artist (a sampling)

The following are representative signatures from this collection.  For additional signatures see the website http://www.chikanobu.com/signature.asp [accessed 1-2-24]

[1] 楊洲斎周延 Yōshūsai Chikanobu with 楊洲 Yöshü seal (1877); [2] 楊洲橋本直義敬画 Yōshū Hashimoto Naoyoshi kei ga with 楊洲 Yōshū seal; [3] Yōshūsai Chikanobu hitsu 楊洲斎周延 with 年玉 Toshidama seal (1877); [4] 應需 楊洲  Ōju Yōshū ga (1877); [5] 楊洲周延 Yōshū Chikanobu hitsu (1881); [6] 楊洲周延 Yōshū Chikanobu hitsu with Toshidama seal (1887); [7] 楊洲周延 Yōshū Chikanobu hitsu with Toshidama seal (1890); [8] 楊洲周延 Yōshū Chikanobu (1894); [9] 楊洲周延 Yōshū Chikanobu with 年玉 Toshidama seal (1902)










Prints in Collection


click on thumbnail for print details