Graveyard at Sengakuji by Umetaro Azechi (Japan, 1902-1999). From the series Scenes of Lost Tokyo. Printer HIrai Kōichi (Japanese, active 20th century). Publisher: Uemura Masurō (Japanese, active 20th century). Printed in 1945. Color Japanese woodblock print on paper. Artist seal bottom right.
This work comes from the series Scenes of Lost Tokyo. The series was printed in 1945 during the occupation of Japan by the Allied forces. Tokyo had sustained devastating destruction due to World War II, and although the prints were intended for the occupation forces, many believe that they were also intended as a message to the Japanese people. You can imagine the mindset of the Japanese people at the time. They had witnessed much of their community and physical cultural heritage destroyed at the hands of the war. The introduction, who many believe was written by Koshiro Onchi, provides a poignant account of the emotional state of the community at the time. The following translation is provided by Lawrence Smith:
As for Tokyo, which did not escape the ravages of war, an awesome number of buildings were damaged or reduced to ashes by air raids, starting in reverence with the Imperial Palace, then those of the Meiji Enlightenment, of 300 years of the Edo period, and furthermore the structures produced by 2,600 years of history. To stand on the burnt earth is an unfathomable feeling.
Here, members of the Japanese Print Association planning together have put those scenes into woodblocks as a reminiscence of Creative Prints, and have decided to publish them as a retrospective document for those who share those regrets. The fifteen selected views were not all of course totally destroyed, but all of them received some misfortune. It was a lucky thing that Nijubashi, remaining so vividly in our hearts from our childhood as a revered object of worship, was not damaged. This apart, it is deeply regrettable that these famous places were either completely destroyed or damaged. These pictures are all the products of the efforts of artists motivated by this sadness through loss. We in the art world rejoice that we can serve our elders with filial piety in this way. We are happy to be able to request the sympathetic understanding of those with the same feelings. Now, as the first artistic banner of a revived Japan with a new life, we are pleased to offer this collection to the public for sale.
The belief is that the depiction of these damaged / destroyed cultural sights in their original glory, in conjunction with the thought of breathing life into a "revived Japan", was a statement encouraging the Japanese people to carry forward these Japanese cultural icons and heritage in what no doubt would be a challenging period of revival as the city re-built after the war.
The series includes 15 prints by 9 of the leading print artists at the time. This work specifically depicts the Graveyard at Sengakuji. Sengakuji is a small temple near Shinagawa Station in Tokyo. The temple is famous for its graveyard where the 47 Ronin are buried.
The 47 Ronin are 47 leader-less samurai who avenged their master by killing lord Kira on December 14, 1702. Afterwards, they carried Kira's head to Sengakuji, and were later sentenced to commit seppuku, which is ritual suicide (a similar fate to the master who they avenged). This historical event has become part of Japanese legend and has been reproduced in various plays, books and movies. A festival is held at the temple every year to to commemorate the event.
Size: 7 13/16" h x 10 3/8" w