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Mori Yoshitoshi (1898-1992)

Prints in Collection

Nio Guardian (Red)
Niō Guardian (Red), 1960
IHL Cat. #1682
[donated to the Portland Art Museum]

c. 1970-1985

IHL Cat. #1477
Tempura Chef
Tempura Chef, 1988
IHL Cat. #1192

Biographical Data

Yositoshi Mori
(date unknown)


Mori Yoshitoshi 義利 (1898-1992)

Truly a "son of Edo" and famous for his kappazuristencil prints 合羽摺絵, which he did not start creating until wellinto his fifties, Mori spent the earlier part of his life as a successfultextile designer and dyer, active in the mingeifolk craft movement which advocated the use of historical folk crafts as the starting point for new craft production.   His stencil prints draw from traditionalJapanese subjects, portraying kabuki actors, courtesans, craftsmen, folktraditions and festivals, and figures from the classics such as The Tale of Genji and The Tale of Heike

As his print work developed and became a vehicle forartistic expression rather than simply “craft”, he came in conflict withleaders of the mingei movement, Yanagi Sōetsu and Serizawa Keisuke, and he would abandon that movement to focus on his artistic stencil prints.  He would become known as a major figure in the sosaku hanga (creative print) movement.

In addition to his stencil prints he created paintings on glass, calligraphic works and a small number woodblock prints.  His prints have been shown throughout the United States and internationally.

Mori’s art dramatizes not only the subject matter itself but also the abstract relationships of space, color, and line, which strengthen the total expression.
- Japanese Prints Today: Tradition withInnovation, Margaret K. Johnson, Dale K. Hilton, Shufunotomo Co., Ltd., 1980,p. 58.


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 1stJanuary, 1985, 1985, p. 14-23 and as footnoted.

Early Life

Born on October 31, 1898 in the home of his grandfather MoriGenjirōlocated in Nihonbashi, Tokyo, he was the first born son of Yonejirō and MoriYone.  His maternal aunt gave him thename Yoshitoshi.  At the age of four hisfather 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 inNihonbashi.  Traditional music was partof his new household, with a granduncle heading a school for wooden flute (yokubue) and his mother and auntteaching nagauta (lyrical songs withshamisen, originating with kabuki).  In1906, at the age of eight, one year after entering elementary school,Yoshitoshi’s mother remarried and moved in with her husband, leaving Yoshitoshito continue living with his aunt.  Alsoin this year the eight year old Yoshitoshi suffered a shock when he was thefirst to find his dead grandfather who had committed harakiri, distraught over the failure of the family business.

First Artistic Stirrings 

At the age of thirteen he was forced to leave his private higherelementary school and start working odd jobs because of the death of his uncle and resulting moneytroubles.  This is also the year that hebecame interested in the actor prints of Utagawa Toyokuni (1769-1825), the illustratedbooks of Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839-1892) and Mizuno Toshikata (1866-1908), and the theater prints ofOgata 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 GotōKōho.  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 themagazine Kōdan Rakugokai, he was offereda contract by the magazine.  Thiscontract went unfulfilled due to the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, whichforced 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 ownworkshop, drawing kimono patterns and dyeing, and became a member of MonyōRenmei (Association of Kimono Pattern Craftsmen).  Over the next few years his business andreputation 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 oldShimizu 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 theJapan 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 LivingNational Treasure in 1956), Serizawa Keisuke (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 wasborn, as the Pacific War raged.  Becauseof wartime prohibitions on luxury items, life was difficult for silk-dyeing artists.  Mori lost his apprentices tothe draft and as now chairman of the Monyō Renmei, assisted members in dealingwith wartime shortages and restrictions. 

1944 was a particularly hard year as air raids on Tokyointensified.  His wife became very illthat year and Yoshitioshi “wore himself out with worrying about his wife’shealth and caring for this three small children.”  However, he was granted permission that yearto make and sell dyed kimonos, signing his work with the craftsman name of Kōshū.

Postwar Years

Yoshitoshi’s mother died in 1945 and he and his family were forcedto relocate after the Great Tokyo Air Raid. With the end of the war he received sufficient cloth and dye, underpost-war allocations designed to help preserve traditional Japanese arts, to continue working.

The early post-war years saw his textile work gain increasing fameand his winning of several awards at exhibitions.  In 1949 he built his home where he would liveout his life in Nihonbashi, Chūōku and became an associate member of the craftsection of the Kokugakai (National Picture Association).  


In1951, at fifty-six years of age, he began making mono-stencil prints on wooden blocksand 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 theNihon 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-endMarket 1 and Year-end Market 2. 

Yearend Market (1) 暮の市 (1), 1957
35.4 x 47.2 in. (90 x 120 cm) ed. 30
Source: scanned from  Mori Yoshitoshi Kappa-Ban, p. 30.

Yearend Market (2) 暮の市 (2)1957
23.6 x 28 in. (60 x 71 cm) ed. 30
Source: scanned from  Mori Yoshitoshi Kappa-Ban, p. 31.

Continuing to win praise for his work, Yoshitoshi finallydedicated himself to prints in 1960 at the of sixty-two, with the signing of atwo-year contract with the Tokyo’s Nihonbashi Gallery to exclusively show hiswork.  1962 saw his work Kagura no doke (Comic Shrine Dancers) included in James Michener’sseminal 1962 portfolio of prints and accompanying book The Modern Japanese Print an Appreciation, further increasing hisexposure outside Japan.3

In 1962 as his work became less craft-like and more artistic,tensions developed with Serizawa over the differences between crafts and artand he left the craftsmen’s division of Kokugakai.  He would leave the Nihon Banga in in 1964,remaining free of professional associations until 1982 when he was recommended for membership in the Japan Print Association. Through the 1960s he continued to show his prints extensively, including numerous exhibitions in the United States.

Rediscovering His Roots

At the age of seventy-two, in 1970, Yoshitoshi visited Europe.  This proved to be aformative event in his older years credited with his refocusing his work on classic Japanese subjects such as The Tale of Genji and The Tale of Heiki, turning out two large series of prints based upon these two epic works of Japanese prose.  

Through the 1970s Yoshitoshi designed hundreds of prints culminating, at theage of eighty-one, in a 1979 solo show at the Honolulu Museum of Art, the first livingJapanese artist to be so honored.  Suffering from failing eyesight in his late seventies, cataract surgery in 1981 allowed him to continue his print work.  In 1984he was presented with an honorary Ph. D. in Art from the University ofMaryland, the first Japanese artist to be so honored and in 1991 he was honoredby the Tokyo Metropolitan Government.  He continued working until his death on May 29, 1992, at the end of his final solo show at the WakoGallery Tokyo.

1 His graduation from the Japanese-style painting division of Kawabata Gagakkō is not mentioned in Mori Yoshitoshi Kappa-Ban, but several other sources including Merritt's Guide to Modern Japanese Woodblock Prints, p. 95 and Roberts' Dictionary of Japanese Artists, p. 112 do mention it.
2 Serizawa would also apply the technique of traditional stencil-dyeing (katazone) to paper.
3 The Modern Japanese Print: An Appreciation, James A. Michener, with Ten Original Prints by Hiratsuka Un'Ichi, Maekawa Sempan, Mori Yoshitoshi, Watanabe Sadao, Kinoshita Tomio, Shima Tamami, Azechi Umetaro, Iwami Reika, Yoshida Masaji, Maki Haku; Rutland, Charles E. Tuttle Company, 1962.

Signatures and Seals

Source: Scanned from Mori Yoshitoshi Kappa-Ban, Abe Setsuko, et. al., Organizing Committee for the Mori Yoshitoshi Exhibition on 1st January, 1985, 1985, p. 144

Making a Stencil Print (Kappazuri-e)

Kappazuri (stencil printing) is similar to katazome (stencil dying), which is said to have originated in Okinawa. The paper most widely used in Japan for stencil printing is called shibugami, made from several layers of kozō paper laminated with persimmon tannin. The sheets are dried and smoke-cured to strengthen them and make them flexible and waterproof. Once the artist makes a drawing, it is fixed to the shibugami with a thin adhesive. The basic pattern is then carved into a "key impression" stencil (the equivalent to the key block in woodblock printing) called the omogata. If colors will also be used for the final design, separate stencils are sometimes cut for each color. If the stencil pattern has thin lines they can be reinforced with silk gauze, which still allow for uniform printing of colors. The first stage of the printing process involves the application and drying of a dye-resist paste to cover all the portions of the design to be left unprinted by the design. The patterns and colors can then be brushed over the stencil while affecting only those areas without resist paste. Typically the first colors printed are the lighter areas so that darker colors can be overprinted. After all the colors are printed and dried, the key impression stencil is finally used to print the key design over all the previous colors. The dye resist paste is then washed off (called mizumoto, "to wash by water") and the paper is dried on a wood board.

The Printing Process
Source: Scanned from Mori Yoshitoshi Kappa-Ban, Abe Setsuko, et. al., Organizing Committee for the Mori Yoshitoshi Exhibition on 1st January, 1985, 1985, p. 142-144


Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo;Museum of Modern Art, Kamakura; New York Museum of Modern Art; BarcelonaArt Museum, Berlin National Museum; The British Museum; Detroit Institute ofArt; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Art Instituteof Chicago; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Portland Art Museum, Honolulu Academyof Art; Fine Art Museums of San Francisco and the official residence of the Prime Minister of Japan among manyothers.