Keisai Eisen (渓斎英泉)

(1791 - August 20, 1848) was a Japanese Ukiyoe artist who did remarkable work in the late Edo period.

His artist's appellations were Keisai, Kokushunro and Hokutei. He had several stage names including Ippitsuan and Mumeio. He assumed the pen name of Kako as Gesakusha (a writer of light literature).

He was renowned for decadent and voluptuous Bijinga (a type of Ukiyo-e portraying beautiful women) with strong originality and produced many works of Shunga (erotic arts) and Koshokubon (books on love).

On the other hand, he established a reputation for his Ukiyoe landscapes (landscape paintings) and produced "The Sixty-nine Stations of Kiso Road" in collaboration with Hiroshige UTAGAWA.


He was born as a child of a lower-ranking samurai in Hoshigaoka in the city of Edo.

His main name was Matsumoto, however, he took the name of Ikeda after his father, Masabei Shigeharu reverted to his former surname, Ikeda.

His real name was Yoshinobu. His posthumous name 混聲. His familiar name was Zenjiro. Later, he was called Satosuke.

He lost his real mother at the age of six.

Kano school, government service, apprentice of Kabuki playwright

He started studying the art of painting under Hakkeisai of the Kano school at the age of 12.

On the occasion of his coming-of-age ceremony at the age of 15, he entered government service in the Edo residence of the successive lords of Hojo Domain, Awa Province (Mizuno Iki no kami Tadateru). However, he seems to have been inadequate for samurai duties. At the age of 17, he had a quarrel with his superior and was forced out of office being slandered.

Zenjiro became a Ronin (masterless samurai) and, by the help of his father's connection, ended up studying as an apprentice for Kabuki playwright under kinji SHINODA the First (Later, Gohei NAMIKI), a Kabuki (traditional performing art) playwright of the Ichimura-za Theater. He assumed the name of Saiichi (Saiichi with a different Chinese character) CHIYODA.

Ukiyoe artist

However, at the age of 20, he ended up starting to rear his three younger sisters after his father and step mother died successively. Due to the above, he had to give up the idea of pursuing a career as a Kabuki playwright.

At that time, many relatives who served the Mizuno family offered assistance. Zenjiro was, however, not satisfied with it and started taking up his paintbrush in earnest in Fukaya shuku as a disciple of Eizan KIKUGAWA, an Ukiyoe artist.

It was that time when Zenjiro's talent expressed itself and he started his career as an Ukiyoe artist, Eisen KEISAI.

It was also that time when he started using the artist's appellations 'Kokushunro' and 'Hokutei'.

Eizan, his teacher was like his Anideshi (senior apprentice) only four years older than him, but a popular Eshi painter for sweet Bijinga (a type of Ukiyoe portraying beautiful women).

While Eisen lived in Eizan's house without paying and learned Bijinga as a disciple, he frequently visited the house of Hokusai KATSUSHIKA nearby and brought himself under Hokusai's benign influence in painting technique.

Furthermore, he was fond of Chinese-style paintings of Sung and Ming and also he was interested in being devoted to reading.

By the way, it was Eisen who painted Aizuri-e with bero-ai (Berlin blue) for the first time in Japan ahead of Hokusai.

Kunisada UTAGAWA may be referred to as an Eshi painter who learned a lot from the style of Eisen.

It was already mentioned by the critics of the time.

Writer of light literature and Eshi painter

Eisen, a writer and Eshi painter, gave many pornographic Enpon (Koshokubon - books on love) and Shunga (erotic arts) to the public, which cannot be discussed without touching on Eisen.

It was at the age of 22 when he published his first Enpon, "Ehon Sanzeso" (Picture book of previous world, this world and next world). He published another Enpon, "Koi-no-Ayatsuri" at he age of 24.

Although he painted his Bijinga (a type of ukiyo-e portraying beautiful women) sweetly under the influence of Eizan at first, he started making them uniquely voluptuous around that time, by which his works became popular.

Eisen as a Bijinga Eshi painter of voluptuous women gradually developed his technique in that field.

In 1816 at the age of 26, he published a Gokan (bound-together volumes of illustrated books), "Hanagumori Haru no Oboroyo" under the appellation of 'Kako' given by Hokusai.

He ended up not only painting illustrations but also writing the text.

While he wrote Enpon every year and gave popular books to the public under various secret pen names, he wrote the famous masterpiece (a fine piece of work), "Haru no Usuyuki" in 1822.

Furthermore, the representative work in the same year, an Enpon "Keichu Kibun Makurabunko" was a sexually-oriented medical text and an encyclopedia at that time which was referred to as an instructing book on the secrets of sex and at the same time is known as a fantastic book among fantastic books.

At the age of around 30, he started painting Sashie (illustrations) for Ninjobon (a romantic genre of fiction) and Yomihon (reader) and took on Sashie for "Nanso Satomi Hakkenden" (the story of eight dog samurai and a princess of Satomi family in Nanso region) by Bakin KYOKUTEI.

In April 1829, he had his house burned by a spreading fire and further underwent as a guarantor a relative's default, but he was a dissolute and unruly man with eccentric behavior, who got hooked on wine and women. He moved to Hanamachi (licensed quarter) in Nezu calling himself Satosuke WAKATAKEYA and started running a brothel.

His later years as a writer

After the Tempo Reforms by which entertainment as a whole was strictly regulated, he stopped his painting activities leaving them to many of his disciples and devoted himself for literary pursuits including Gokan (bound-together volumes of illustrated books) and Kokkeibon (literally "comical book") under the appellation of Ippitsuan Kako.

"Mumeio Zuihitsu" (Mumeio Zuihitu, 1833, under the name of Yoshinobu IKEDA) was written by Eisen in his later years. Commonly called 'Zoku Ujkiyoe Ruiko (the sequel of biographies and background of Ukiyoe artists) and is maintained today as a precious material on Ukiyoe also for the study of historical artifacts and documents.

He was in friendly relations with Shunsui TAMENAGA, a writer of light literature who was good at Ninjobon (a romantic genre of fiction) and, some say, one of the amanuenses of Eisen.

He died at the age of 58 on August 20, 1848.

His main disciples included Eishun, Eisho SHUNSAI, Eishi BEIKASAI, Senju EISAI, Sencho TEISAI, Senkitsu SHIHANSAI and Senri REISAI.

Bijinga (a type of Ukiyoe portraying beautiful women)

Eisen as an Ukiyoe artist at first painted Bijinga of frail women as his teacher, Eizan, did but later ended up becoming popular by his unique voluptuous painting style.

One of the characteristics of his style was an image of not so well-proportioned, long-torsoed and a little stooped women filled with distorted emotions.

A face with thick lower lip and protruding lower jaw can be regarded as characteristic.

He painted women in Okabasho (whorehouse) like Fukagawa and licensed quarter Yoshiwara as women who had voluptuous beauty and look displaying strong will.

Bijinga painted by Eisen is considered to have symbolically shown a decadent sense of beauty in the Bunka-Bunsei eras in the late Edo period.

The Eisen's Bijinga fitted in with the sense of the timesin that they made the existing sense of beauty reversed and found the beauty in it, which was called 'Egumi' (bitter and astringent tastes).

It can be mentioned that Eisen's talent was found in the fact that he described such feminine beauty in a voluptuous way.

Ukiyoe landscapes

While Eisen dominated the minds of the people with his Bijinga and was well-known by his Shunga, he also established a reputation for his Ukiyoe landscapes (landscape painting).

The Sixty-nine Stations of Kiso Road completed around 1835 by Eisen and Hiroshige UTAGAWA in the form of a joint work consisted of 72 pictures of which 24 were painted by Eisen.

It was planned by the Hanmoto (publisher), Magohachi TAKENOUCHI following a success of the series of "Tokaido Gojusan-tsugi" (the 53 stages on the Tokaido) by Hiroshige. There were circumstances where at first Eisen played a part of Eshi painter but backed out and Hiroshige took over the part.

Eisen art gallery

The pictures 1 - 12 are all in The Sixty-nine Stations of Kiso Road.

Although this series carries the title 'Kami Kaido' (Kisokaido Road), the landscapes mainly painted were along Nakasendo Road of which Kisokaido was a secondary route (Reference: The Sixty-nine Stations of Nakasendo Road).

Picture 1 : "Kiso kaido Tsuzuki no ichi Nihonbashi (Chuo Ward, Tokyo) Yuki no Akebono"
Picture 2 : "Kiso kaido Itabashi no eki" (the first shukuba from Edo on the Nakasendo)
Picture 3 : "Kiso kaido Warabi no eki Todagawa Watashiba"
Picture 4 : "Kiso Dochu Kumagai shuku Haccho tsutsumi no kei"

Picture 5 : "Kiso kaido Fukaya no eki" Fukaya no eki was a place remembered in connection with Eisen as a Ukiyoe artist.

Picture 6 : "Kiso kaido Kuragano shuku Karasugawa no zu"
Picture 7 : "Kiso kaido Kutsukake no eki Hiratsukahara Uchu no kei"
Picture 8 : "Kiso dochu Shiojiri toge Suwa no Kosui chobo" cf. Shiojiri shuku, Suwako (Lake Suwa)

Picture 9 : "Kiso kaido Yabuhara shuku Torii toge (Nagano Prefecture) Suzuri no Shimizu"
Picture 10 : "Kisoji eki Nojiri shuku Inagawabashi enkei"
Picture 11 : "Kiso kaido Magome eki toge yori enbo no zu"
Picture 12 : "Kisoji no eki Godo shuku Nagaragawa Ukai fune" (cormorant fishing in the Nagara river)

[Original Japanese]