Hishikawa Moronobu (菱川師宣)

Morobobu HISHIKAWA (the date of birth unknown, 1618 - July 25, 1694) was one of the leading male painters in the early Edo period, which is the early modern times in Japan.

Establishing the genre of ukiyo-e, he was the first ukiyo-e artist.


He played an important role in developing ukiyo-e paintings, which till then had been just illustrations in picture books, into independent works of art appreciated for their aesthetics.

As the founder of ukiyo-e, he is often called 'the Father of Ukiyo-e.'

Moronobu was born into the family whose business was to decorate textiles with embroideries and impressed metal foils, in Hongo, Hota, Hei County, Awa Province (present Kyonan-machi, Chiba Prefecture).

Later he went to Edo to master the painting techniques of the Schools of Kano and Tosa, which produced official painters for the shogunate and the imperial court. Building on these techniques he established his own style that met the taste of the time, taking advantage of his common background. "Tokaido-bungen-ezu" (The Picture Map of the Tokai-do Highway) which he composed with Doin OCHIKOCHI is known as one of the best pictorial maps produced in the early Edo period.

Hishikawa Moronobu Memorial Museum is in his hometown, Kyonan-machi, Chiba Prefecture.


His masterpiece is "Mikaeri Bijin-zu" (A Beauty Looking over Her Shoulder) (see the top right image) which is an internationally acclaimed original ukiyo-e drawing.

This drawing became widely known when it was used for a postage stamp (worth five yen commemorating "The Philately Week") issued on November 29, 1948.

Moronobu also composed a number of pornographic drawings.

The Best-known Work

Mikaeri Bijin-zu

Bijin-ga (portrait of a beautiful women), original drawing (ink and color on silk). The woman is dressed in red kimono with embroideries of chrysanthemums and cherry blossoms, and her obi tied in 'Kichiya Style' which was in vogue in the late 17th century. In order to depict her costume most beautifully, Moronobu made her stop to look over her shoulder.

[Original Japanese]