VOLUME 15 NUMBER 3
FALL 2014

Japanese Prints Collection – Burns Library

The John J. Burns Library holds well-known collections of Jesuitica, British Catholic authors, and Irish history and music, but there are also a few surprises among our holdings. Something one might not expect to find here is an amazing collection of Japanese prints, including examples from some of the most famous Japanese printmakers. The Japanese Prints Collection contains over 150 Japanese woodblock prints dating from the mid-eighteenth to the mid-twentieth centuries. The majority of this collection consists of ukiyo-e woodblock prints, the bulk of them by Andō Hiroshige (1797-1858), who issued the immensely popular print set One Hundred Famous Views of Edo in the 1850s. There are also prints by Hokusai (1760-1849) and Utamaro (1753-1806), as well as more modern pieces drawing on the great Japanese woodblock print tradition.

Rain at Onmayagashi Illustration: Rain at Onmayagashi from the series Famous Places in Edo, by Ando Hiroshige, undated. Box 1, Folder 12, Japanese Prints Collection, MS.2013.043, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

The collection is at the Burns Library courtesy of two major donations by alumni. James W. Morrissey (1897-1949) graduated from Boston College (1920), as did all four of his brothers. When he died, his collection of Japanese prints passed to his brother Dr. Arthur M. Morrissey, who donated the prints to Boston College in December 1949 as a memorial to his brother. Dr. Morrissey generously continued to add to the Library's collection for many years. Dr. Eugene Laforet (1924-2002) was also a graduate of Boston College (1944). He and his wife, Mitsuko Tashiro Laforet, donated their collection of Japanese prints to Boston College in honor of her father, Dr. Shiro Tashiro.

In spring 2014, the Archives & Manuscript Department was fortunate to host Bookbuilders of Boston intern Erin Furlong, a senior at BC majoring in Linguistics and minoring in East Asian Studies. Although previous inventories of the Japanese prints existed, they were incomplete and inaccurate, and the time had come to catalog them properly. Erin did extensive research on Japanese woodblock printing in the Tokugawa (1603-1858) and Meiji (1858-1912) periods and consulted with curator Sarah Thompson at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston to correctly identify all prints. Her semester of hard work resulted in a finding aid that will help future researchers explore this beautiful collection.

Monkey Sun Wugong Illustration: Monkey Sun Wugong from the series Heroes Representing the Twelve Animals of the Zodiac by Utagawa Kuniyoshi, circa 1840. Box 5, Folder 3, Japanese Prints Collection, MS.2013.043, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Ukiyo-e means "pictures of the floating world," popular in Japan during the Tokugawa period (1603-1868). In the seventeenth century in Japan, ukiyo referred to the urban, pleasure-seeking culture that arose in major cities like Edo and Kyoto, whose denizens spent their time at teahouses, kabuki theaters, bathhouses, sumo matches, and pleasure districts. These were popular ukiyo-e subjects, as were geisha, ghosts, folk stories, and, beginning in the 1830s-1840s, landscapes and scenes from nature. The Japanese Prints Collection at Boston College contains fine exemplars of traditional ukiyo-e themes and styles, including azuri-e ("blue print"), bijin-ga ("beautiful women"), theater scenes, landscapes, and heroes from Japanese history. There are forty-six prints from Hiroshige's famous series "The Fifty Three Stations of the Tokaido Road," as well as several images from the series "The Sixty-nine Stations of the Kisokaido Road" and "Chushingura."

View of Asakusa by Utagawa Kuninao, circa 1920s Illustration: View of Asakusa by Utagawa Kuninao, circa 1920s. Box 7, Folder 10, Japanese Prints Collection, MS.2013.043, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

As Erin and I worked through the collection, we were surprised to see images that looked like conventional ukiyo-e prints, but with telephone wires or trains running through the landscapes. These were products of the shin hanga ("new print") movement, which emphasized the traditional process of printmaking and flourished in the 1910s and 1920s. At the same time, an opposing movement called sōsaku hanga ("creative prints") emerged that called for a sole artist who created the prints alone. The usual artisanal process of both shin hanga and traditional ukiyo-e required four to five people to design, engrave, print, and publish a single artwork. A lone artist had greater artistic control over the finished product, and many sōsaku hanga prints are strikingly modern in their use of line and color.

Sangatsudo Temple Illustration: Sangatsudo Temple by Shiro Kasamatsu, 1962. Box 4, Folder 4, Japanese Prints Collection, MS.2013.043, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

The Japanese Prints Collection has several lovely examples of sōsaku hanga prints by Kihei Sasajima, Kiyoshi Saito, Okiie Hashimoto, Tekiho Imoto, and Unichi Hiratsuka. The shin hanga movement is represented in the collection by prints from Kawase Hasui, Takahashi Shotei, and Ishiwata Koitsu. In addition to the illustrations here, there are many more images on Flickr. The entire collection is available to researchers in the Burns Library; please contact us at 617-552-4861 or burnsref@bc.edu for more information.

Shrine Garden Illustration: Shrine Garden by Un'ichi Hiratsuka, 1953. Box 7, Folder 6, Japanese Prints Collection, MS.2013.043, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.
Adrienne Pruitt
John J. Burns Library