In 1928, a group of eight Japanese artists got together to produce a series of prints, called Shin Tokyo Hyakkei, or One Hundred Views of New Tokyo. At this time, Tokyo really did feel new: the Emperor Hirohito had recently ascended to power, and after the disastrous earthquake of 1923 the city was beginning to spring back to life. The artists – Hiratsuka Un-ichi, Onchi Koshiro, Fukazawa Sakuichi, Kawakami Sumio, Maekawa Sempan, Fujimon Shizuo, Henmi Takashi, and Suwa Kanenori – each contributed twelve or thirteen prints over four years, and formed a cooperative society to produce their work, which they sold by subscription.
The history of prints in Japan is long and rich, but the ones we see here were part of a new phenomenon: that of Sosaku Hanga, or ‘creative prints’. This movement put the artist in full control of his or her work: instead of the traditional division of labour, the artist who conceived of and designed the work also cut it and printed it. The emphasis was on personal self-expression, art for art’s sake, a novel idea in the context of woodcut, which was regarded as a means of cheap mass-production rather than artistic experimentation.