Artist: Toyohara Kunichika (豊原国周)

Alternate names:
Arakawa (his mother's family name - 荒川)
Beiō (go - 米翁)
Hōshunrō (go - 豊春楼)
Ichiōsai (go - 一鶯斎)
Kachōrō (go - 華蝶楼)
Shima Sanjin (go - 志満山人)
Sōgenshi (go - 曹玄子)
Utagawa Kachōrō (early artist's name, 1853)
Ōshima Yasohachi (birth name - 大島八十八)

Lifetime: 1835 - 1900

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"Toyohara Kunichika was born Ōshima Yasohachi in the sixth year of the Tenpō ear (1835) in Kyōbashi in the capital Edo... The Kyōbashi was part of the capital's 'Low City', the merchant and artisan areas that comprised the heart of Edo culture. 'I was a true child of the Kyōbashi district that surrounded Edo castle', he states in [an] Yomiuri interview [from October 1898].

His father "...was the proprietor of a public bathhouse called Ōshūya... popularly known as the Daruma bath..." Its noren showed a "...bobbing toy in the shape of Daruma..." Kunichika said that his father, Ōshima Kyujū, was 'a dashing man' who had a tattoo of a kappa on his thigh, which earned him the nickname Kyujū the kappa.

"During his youth Yasohachi assumed the surname of Arakawa from his mother, Arakawa Oyae, the daughter of the teahouse proprietor Arakawa Sannojō." It seems that families of a certain class could apply to change their surname. That process is referred to as myōji gomen (名字御免). Kunichika's older brother, Chōkichi, the titular head of the family, was the one who wanted this change to his mother's family's name. This meant that after 1875 Kunichika's name appeared as Arakawa Yasohachi on his prints.

At the age of 11 Kunichika was apprenticed to a thread and yarn store (itoya), but was more interested in doing drawings than he was in learning that trade. So in 1846 he began to work for his brother who opened a 'raised picture' (oshi-e) shop and Yasoharchi began drawing designs for him. "It is also believed that around this time he became a student of the undistinguished artist... Toyohara Chikanobu and designed actor portraits for battledores."

"Nothing is known about the relationship between Yasohachi and his teacher Chikanobu." However, he may have facilitated Yashohachi entering the workshop of Toyokuni III in 1848 when he was 13 years old. "Yasohachi's entry into Kunisada's Kameido studio was instrumental in determining his future artistic course. Throughout his career Kunichika's art remained grounded in the Utagawa style that he absorbed in Kunisada's studio. Kunichika's significance as a print designer during the twilight years of the full-colour woodblock print lay in part continuing to work in a more conventional ukiyo-e vein."

Kunichika's artistic maturation came along at a time of great changes in Japanese culture in general. In the arts it was affected by the influx of Western ideas and techniques. Nevertheless, Kunichika remained a popular figure in the area of woodblock prints.

"...it [is] difficult to pinpoint precisely when Kunichika made his artistic debut as an Utagawa pupil. However, previously documented and extant examples suggest that his first works as a Kunisada apprentice were issued in the early 1850s. They also make the frequently cited date of 1848 for Kunichika joining Kunisada's studio plausible as apprenticeships normally lasted six or seven years. It was customary for ukiyo-e students to work on book illustrations and what might be Kunichika's earliest documented work is the illustration of 1851 novel Revenge at Igagoe (Igagoe adauchi listed by scholar Yamazaki Akira. Sadly, its existence cannot be verified. Kunichika's first broadsheet designs were most probably released at this time, too..."

"It is today recognised that Kunichika's earliest extant work is the single-sheet print Woman after the bath of c. 1853." [Illustrated in Time Present and Time Past..., illustration #1, p. 9.] "The signature on this print, 'picture by Utagawa Kachōrō' (Utagawa Kachōrō ga), is now acknowledged as an early artist's name that perhaps preceded his reception of the name Kunichika... The signature 'picture by Kunichika'... on the triptych Springtime scene (Haru no kei hana asobi no zu) of 1854 might well intimate that Kunichika had already made his artistic debut by this time." Nevertheless, Kunichika's acceptance as an important artist was basically ignored at this time, while his teacher Kunisada was at the top of the field.

"It appears that Kunichika enjoyed a relatively high standing in the Kameido atelier in the last years of Kunisada's life in that he was commissioned to execute several portraits of his teacher. In 1863, two years before Kunisada's death, Kunichika designed a portrait of Kunisada, with shaven head as was customary of old men of the Edo period... Upon his teacher's death, Kunichika was commissioned to design two memorial portraits (shini-e)."