Shin-hanga and one man’s vision to rejuvenate ukiyo-e traditions

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Few have heard of Shozaburo Watanabe (1885-1962). Even among those interested in Japanese art, he remains an obscure figure. This should come as no surprise as Watanabe was neither a painter, nor a sculptor, nor a novelist, nor a designer. In fact, he was not an artist at all: he was a publisher and a businessman. And yet, by the 1920s, he had become one of the most influential figures in artistic circles of his time.

Watanabe was no ordinary trader. In his late teens, he apprenticed with an art dealer and developed a passion for ukiyo-e. Alas, by the time he started his own business in 1906, the glorious Japanese tradition of woodblock printing had lost much of its appeal. Worse, the skills that supported it—block cutting, preparation and application of color pigments, precise image printing—were slowly disappearing. If nothing was done, Watanabe feared, this knowledge would soon be lost.

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