1.  What Is This Site About?

As the title of the website suggests, this site is about modern Japanese performing arts prints from 1900 to the present.  In particular, it focuses on such prints as documentary evidence of theatrical performances.   The "performing arts" are defined broadly to cover not only kabuki, bunraku, and noh, but also modern Japanese and Western plays, opera, song, music, and dance (and in a few cases, even film productions).  Consequently, prints of singers, dancers, and musicians will be included along with actor prints.  Kabuki and noh-themed prints will also be included, such as prints of theatres, kabuki and noh sets, kabuki and noh props, etc.  Depending on the artist, I have also elected to include some prints dealing with Korean, Chinese, or other Asian theatrical subject matter. 

Public entertainments, such as circuses, sumo wrestling, and festival parades, however, are generally not covered, although prints with circus bands are included.  Harlequins and Pierrots are included, but circus clowns are not, puppet prints are included but doll prints are not, and prints of the ubiquitous geisha dancing or playing the koto or a shamisen are included on an ad hoc basis at the discretion of the webmaster. 

Because kabuki and noh plays are often based on legendary or historical figures, it is not always clear if a given print is theatrical in nature or merely illustrates a legend or historical incident. Likewise, there are prints based on incidents in The Tale of the Genji, as well as prints based on incidents in plays based on or inspired by that novel.  The more a print appears to be based on a legendary, historical, or literary incident, the less likely it has been included on this site.  However, I have made some exceptions depending on the artist in question and subject matter involved.

2. What Types of Prints Are Covered?

In general, only woodblock prints (including hand-colored keyblock prints), linocuts, stencil prints, stone lithographs, and intaglio prints such as etchings and mezzotints are covered.  Serigraphs, offset lithographs, and other types of photomechanical reproductions generally have not been included, although exceptions have been made where the subject matter or the artist was sufficiently noteworthy or unusual.  If the medium is not identified, the default meeting should be assumed to be a woodblock print.

In time I may also include paintings from my own collection.  This site, however, will never be a comprehensive source of information about original paintings of 20th Century actors, whether made by kabuki and noh print artists or by Japanese painters in general.  I also intend at some point to add photographs of certain actors upon whom certain prints may have been based but, again, this site is not intended to be a comprehensive source of information about photographs of kabuki actors.

3. Is This a Catalogue Raisonné?

No.   While it attempts to catalogue theatre prints by artists known and currently unknown, the amount of information provided about each print is limited.   The publishers of the prints are not identified, nor are the carvers or printers involved.   Print dimensions are not provided.  Nor has an attempt been made to necessarily translate every bit of text found on the prints.  Moreover, in some cases the quality of the available images was insufficient to allow identification of certain actors and/or their roles at this time, or I had difficulty in reading or translating the kabuki script.  However, the catalogue often includes additional information about the print that may not always be found on the print itself, such as complete name of the specific version of play depicted rather than the generic shorthand title for the play and the date of the performance depicted, if known.  I may not have been entirely consistent, but I have tried to include variant kanji for the names of actors, roles, and play titles if known to facilitate on-line searches.

4. How Are the Prints Organized?

When the site was originally launched in July 2021, prints were only organized according to the name of the artist, and then by date (as more fully explained below).  Starting in May 2023, prints are also organized according to the names of the performers depicted therein, by the names of the plays, films, or dances depicted, and by certain key word topics (e.g.,  music, dance, puppets, masks, kumadori, theatre/cinema buildings, etc.).  In addition, a subset of prints are listed chronologically by the dates/venues of performance.

In a decision that may be controversial to some people, I have decided to organize the prints not by their publication dates but by the dates of production depicted.  I made this decision in part because the publication dates of many prints, particularly smaller prints, woodblock printed postcards, pochibukuro, and senshafuda, are usually omitted from the prints themselves and, unless set forth on a surviving print wrapper, can only be approximated by performances depicted therein.   Second, the print may be published months, years, or even decades after the performance in question, or even in the prior month in order to advertise an upcoming production.  Third, organizing the prints by dates of performance will make it easier to determine how different artists depicted the same performance, what other plays may have been on the same bill, and what the overall arc of a particular actor's career looked like.

That said, performance dating creates its own set of issues, as usually only Meiji-era prints tend to indicate the date of performance (and not always even then).   However, if one knows the name of the actor, the role, the play, and the venue depicted, available reference materials will often allow one to determine the month of the performance.  If the opening date of the performance run was readily available to me, I have included that as well.  If one only knows some of those variables, it may or may not possible to determine the performance date with certainty, although in many cases it can be deduced with the use of additional information, such as the print's publication date or the date of photographs upon which the print appears to have been based.  When multiple possibilities exist, for example, when a given actor has performed the same role several times over the course of his career, especially at the same theatre, I have attempted to indicate that fact, but generally have gone with the performance date closest to the publication date as the operative date unless there is some overriding reason not to do so.  

In those cases when a performance date for a given print is not known and cannot be reasonably deduced, then the print's publication date has been used by default (if known) until better information comes to light.  Likewise, the publication date is always used for prints depicting generic kabuki characters who are not portrayed by any specific actor (e.g., generic or idealized portraits of Benkei, Sukeroku, Kagekiyo, etc.).

To avoid confusion with plays that may have opened earlier in the same month at the same theatre and to be consistent with the approach taken by some reference authorities, kabuki plays that opened near the end of a given month are treated as if they opened in the following month.  For example, if a play opened at the Kabuki-za on October 30, 1901 and ran through the bulk of November 1901, it will be listed as a November 1901 play.   The play's opening date will be noted as October 30, 1901 for form's sake, but the print will nonetheless appear under the November 1901 header.  Dates are given using a Gregorian calendar reported in the American format where the month, day, and year appear in that order.

Although older Japanese prints are generally read from right to left, characters in displayed prints are identified in order of appearance from left to right (and/or top to bottom).

5.  Why Are Certain Print Artists Omitted?

This site is a work in progress.  As prints by additional artists are added to the site, they will be noted in the Updates section, as will new additions by artists already listed on the site.

6. Having Trouble Viewing The Site?

The site looks best on a larger monitor (especially using a Firefox browser).  Individual images can always be opened on a new page in full size.  Visitors using a smaller screen device may find the formatting of images on rows of some pages to be problematic.  The smaller the screen, however, the less images will fit on a single row, and surplus images will wrap around to the next line or "hang" at the right of the next line.  In some cases, this can be manually corrected by adjusting the left/right frame divider to force the image(s) back on the prior row.  iPhone and iPad viewers can also change the Aa font size % on Safari (down to 50% if necessary), which will often also force the spillover images back onto the prior row and allow the viewer to see images on multiple rows at one time.

Alternatively, iPhone and iPad viewers can choose to viewing such pages in "Reader View" on Safari, which will display images in one long continuous column.  This is fine for single sheet prints, but less ideal when the print is a triptych consisting of three separately scanned sheets.

Viewers will notice that the size of images my vary within a row, from row to row, or from page to page.  This is intentional.  For example, a postcard print shown adjacent to an oban size print will appear to me smaller than the oban size print.  A chuban-size print or square surimono print will be shown larger than a postcard size print but smaller than an oban size print, and so forth.  The size of a print shown on this website is not, however, strictly proportional to the size of the print in real life, and is only intended to suggest a relative size differential when the viewer encounters multiple images of different sizes on the same page.

7.  Mistakes?  Omissions?  Corrections?  Additions?

I am studying to read Japanese, but most of the translations of kanji on this site were done with Google Translate, and may not always be accurate.  If the kanji is not printed but in script form, the odds are that I am not capable of deciphering most of it on my own.  Also, I do not profess to be an expert on Japanese theatre or to possess an in-depth knowledge of all things kabuki. or noh.  I have learned a lot in creating this website and I continue to learn new things with each new update, especially when it comes to kabuki costume design that is often critical to identifying kabuki characters.  Nonetheless, gaps in my knowledge no doubt have left me blind to certain errors or omissions that would be immediately apparent to kabuki aficionados and/or those better versed in Japanese.  All I can say under the circumstances is mea culpa, and apologize in advance.  If you will kindly notify me about problems and errors that you have encountered, I will endeavor to correct them.

Within the parameters I have set, I have striven to make the entries as complete as possible for the artists covered to date.  If you are aware of prints by such artists which I have omitted, I welcome images and whatever other information you may have about such prints.  I can be reached at the e-mail address on the entry page of the website.

Darrel C. Karl
Potomac, Maryland