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End of an era ...

Posted by Dave Bull at 2:58 AM, June 2, 2012 [Permalink]

The first impressions of the first print in my project to re-create the complete series of Katsukawa Shunsho's designs for the Hyakunin Issho (100 Poems from 100 Poets) came off the blocks on the 7th of January 1989. This was - coincidentally - the same day that the Showa Emperor died, the opening of a new era for Japan, the Heisei Era. According to my plans and calculations, it would take me probably ten years of work before reaching the final impression of the 100th print.

As things turned out, it was a pretty turbulent ten years. Not only was Japan coming down from the famous 'Bubble' era, my own life too took many twists and turns during that time, with my divorce coming early in the series, and some years later, my children moving over to Canada to continue their education in the more suitable environment there.

But although there were good years and there were difficult years, I kept steadily at it, no matter what else was happening around me, and work proceeded pretty much exactly as planned, with the 100th print finished in mid-December of 1998, exactly ten years after the first one.

Why do I bring up this 'history' now?

By the time the project was wrapping up, it was pretty much fully subscribed, with just about 100 people receiving each print. I held a large 10-day exhibition at the Gallery Takano in Shinjuku Tokyo, with the intent of showing off the series and of collecting subscriptions to the new print set I was planning - the Surimono Albums.

The exhibition got tons of media interest, and we drew very good crowds all through the entire run. And there were orders. Mountains of orders ... But not only for the new series, as I had anticipated, but also for the Hyakunin Isshu prints ... way beyond what I had left in stock.

So I began a second printing of the series, to run concurrently with my work on the Surimono prints, doing two each month. I accepted orders for these prints as complete sets of 100 only, to be shipped either two each month (for just about five years), or for one per month (taking just about ten years). Most of the people wanted the prints two-at-a-time, so I did the re-printing work on that schedule, finishing the work quite a few years ago.

But there were some who asked for one-at-a-time, and for these people, it took much longer to receive the entire set. I also took a few more orders at subsequent exhibitions over the next few years on a similar basis, and as it happens, those collectors received their final print just this month.

So now, for the first time since early 1989, I have nobody collecting the Hyakunin Isshu series. It is now 'history'. End of an era, indeed!

Honestly speaking, the series is really not something that is 'collectible' by an average person. We can't even fit them all in one photo!

Packed in their cases, it still takes up a giant amount of shelf space:

So you really had to be a pretty strong poetry fanatic to want the set, although luckily for me, in those years there were plenty of people matching that description here in Japan! It was this series that put me in a financial position to buy my house, not to mention feeding and sheltering my family for all those years.

All in all, making the Hyakunin Isshu series was an incredible experience, one that transformed my life, and I don't regret for an instant the day more than 23 years ago that I made the decision to 'go for it' ...


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