Thursday, December 6, 2012

Takehisa Yumeji, artist entitled dreams

Willowy beauties, the sweet taste of melancholy, and lyricism characterize the art of Takehisa Yumeji (竹久夢二, 1884~1934, real name: Takehisa Mojiro), a leading figure of the Taisho Romanticism movement in Japan.  “Yumeji-style” beauties and the lovely designs created by him won him great popularity among young women of his day and his drawing power has still persisted to this day. He was a really prolific artist who produced more than 10,000 works that range from Japanese-style paintings, oil paintings, illustrations for books and covers, woodblock prints, commercial designs and stationary designs to poetry. There are more than five museums and galleries dedicated to him throughout the country. I dropped in at one of the largest ones last month when I went to Gunma prefecture.           

Takehisa Yumeji Ikaho Museum (竹久夢二伊香保記念館) in Gunma prefecture 

A born artist, he learned business in Tokyo in accordance with his father's wish. Originally, he wanted to be a poet and gave up his studies by 1905. He had no conventional art training at a sanctioned art school. Partly because of this, he was not received well by the arts community of his day. He opened a fancy goods store called “Minato-ya” at Nihonbashi in Tokyo where he sold his works along with postcards, stationary goods, and fancy goods decorated with kawaii (cute/lovely) designs created by him. The store really flourished and had lots of fans. Ironically, his commercial art and nation-wide popularity were not well thought of by the art world. Thus he was always outside of this community throughout his life. 

Located near Lake Haruna, Ikaho(伊香保) is an atmospheric hot spring spa, blessed with exceptional hot water. Its history dates back to more than 1000 years. Takehisa Yumeji loved and visited Ikaho frequently. The town is famous for a long stone stairway that is lined with inns and souvenir shops. He had a small atelier by the lake. Recently his wooden modest atelier has been reconstructed at the place where it originally stood. In the park surrounding the building, the song "Yoimachigusa, the evening-primrose", the lyrics of which he wrote, is played softly all day long.

Lake Haruna (榛名湖) and Mt.Haruna-fuji (1390.3m 榛名冨士)

榛名山賦, 1931  Mt. Haruna is featured in the painting.

His small atelier has been reconstructed. ↑ ↓

Yumeji's willowy beauties were modeled on real women. Though he was talented and versatile, I think that he was a hopeless womanizer. The photos you can see below are some of the women he loved. All of them have thin bodies and pretty faces. They must have been his muses.

left: Tamaki, his wife(they divorced).  center: Hikono, his most beloved sweetheart.  right: Oyo, Yumeji lived with her for several years. 

Interestingly, he is considered an initiator of Kawaii culture, one of the characteristic trends of modern Japan. According to Keiko Nakamura, curator of Yayoi Museum and Takehisa Yumeji Museum(Tokyo) and one of the top researchers on kawaii culture, Yumeji was a pioneer of Japanese fancy goods which usually have kawaii designs on them. He also contributed to connecting people's everyday lives to art. *1

Froshiki (wrapping cloth) designed by Takehisa Yumeji ↑

Ever since the efforts Yumeji made 100 years ago, Japanese fancy and stationary goods, particularly for young female consumers, have always trended toward being kawaii and many adorable characters and designs have been created by other artists. For example, Sanrio Company, the creator of the brand Hello Kitty, had long adopted Setsuko Tamura's kawaii designs for their fancy goods and stationary pieces before the saccharine cash cat was born in 1974.  *2

The Tamura Setsuko Exhibition is now being held at the museum. 

pen case designed by Masako Watanabe       image source

He named himself "Yumeji" which includes "yume" meaning dreams. Come to think of it, he must have had a big dream to realize what he'd dreamed of. "Myths are public dreams, dreams are private myths."*3  Now he's become a myth leaving an immense variety of works infused with his labyrinth-like dreams.

center: Mt.Akagi (1828m)


Great News!!

"Rings of Trust" by Kittie Howard, my fellow blogger, launches today!! It is available now on Amazon.   This is her second novel. Congratulations, Kittie!! 


Linda Starr said...

Fascinating biography and a lesson to be learned about being persistent with one's art. Your photos of the landscapes are captivating the mountains so barren I was surprised to see them so.

helen tilston said...

Dear Sapphire

I have found the saga of Takehisa Morijo life fascinating. His taste was exquisite. His women all, like you said, beautiful. I am also very drawn to his fabric design.

Not unlike Van Gogh and other great artists, it appears his notoriety has increased since his death. All too sad and I hope he had happiness in life and some joy in knowing the legacy he was leaving.

Helen xx

Minoru Saito said...


Scott said...

Artist, dreamer, lover of women. I found it interesting Yumeji was an outsider in the art community, yet his work seemed to speak to so many. I liked that one of his goals was to bring art to every day life.
The geology of Haruna is so cool. Breathtaking in it's subtlety. Reminiscent of The Bubbles in Acadia,Maine.
I was struck by the froshiki. The Gingko print. So light and graceful. A female as well.
"Yumeji's Theme" was beautiful. The combination of his art and the violin. Haunting. Thought provoking. It made me feel like he may have been slightly misunderstood. The severity of judgement.

sharon said...

great post...very unusual art...

karumina said...

Thank you very much for this special takehisha Yumeji ...
Ah! Now I just realized! the theme of the composer "Shigeru Umebayashi" ...! wow! i love it! for the film "In the Mood for Love" ... and now i see ... "Yumeji" .... Is great!
I love to meet the creator of images so delicate and beautiful! It is good to remember! and a pleasure to visit you!
thank you very much and hugs

☆sapphire said...


Thank you!! The Haruna mountains were once active volcanoes!!


Thank you for reading this post!!
His fabric designs are still popular in this country!! After his death his contribution to Japanese modern art, including to industrial designs, has been reviewed and re-evaluated. He has lots of fans still now.




Thank you for your thought-provoking comment. The Haruna mountains were once active volcanoes. I love the lake and its surroundings. "It made me feel like he may have been slightly misunderstood." I agree. I may have looked at his love affairs unduly critically because I'm a woman?!


Thank you for reading this post.
Is your email G-mail? I could not reach you....


Thank you!! Oh you saw the movie. I only watched it on DVD. I too think that the theme music is beautiful. Glad to hear that you liked the post.

Kittie Howard said...

Myths are public dreams, dreams are private myths."*3 Now he's become a myth leaving an immense variety of works infused with his labyrinth-like dreams.

Scott's comment above is so perfect (I also thought of Acadia, Maine), I can't add to what he wrote except to paste the above from your post, an absolutely gorgeous ending to a gorgeous post.

Thank you, dear Sapphire, for the beautiful shout-out you gave "Rings of Trust." I'm truly humbled and respectfully bow.

Brigitta Hill said...

Dear Sapphire,
thank you for your very interesting post! What is striking: everybody will see a resemblance from Matisse(1869 - 1954) to Yumeji (and not vice versa, I mean Matisse is influenced by Japan), but I am also reminded - and there I cannot say why - of Carl Larsson (1853 - 1919). They ARE different in their drawings - but there is a likeness too. The older I become, the more I believe in influence of a Zeitgeist, spanning over countries (well - being a 'Rat' in Asian astrology I should be content with the spiritual influence of a year :-)

Cari Jiménez said...

Gran Post. Bss

☆sapphire said...


Thank you for reading this post. I'm now thinking seriously of having a kindle which is quite new in Japan, I'm now selecting which type I'll buy!! I wish you abundant success and joy in the Rings of Trust project!!

Dear Britta

Oh you are so right! Some of his works look like Matisse. Yumeji loved van Dongen and was influenced by his works a lot, for example, "Kurofuneya", the second photo(right), a woman with a black cat, looks a lot like one of Dongen's, The basic composition is the same. "I believe in influence of a Zeitgeist, spanning over countries" Thank you so much for this mention. "Zeitgeist"!! I'll remember this term in German forever!!


Thank you!!

Hikari no Chou said...

Wonderful and interesting blog!
I added you at my blogroll!
Best wishes,

Rurousha said...

I like the red leaves and the blue lake more than the skinny girls! Grin. (You know me ... )

It was interesting to read about the start of the kawaii culture. I often wonder why it's got such a powerful hold on contemporary society in Japan.

I'm in two minds about cute. My own preference is for minimalism, but then I find myself going "awww!" when I see a cute toy or a cute mascot. Go figure! ^^

☆sapphire said...


Welcome and thank you so much!! I'll visit your blog later.


I can understand how you feel about the kawaii culture in contemporary Japan. Japanese young girls usually go through a baptism of the culture in their childhood and teens. My daughter had an obento-bako(lunch box) which had a Hello Kitty on its cover when she was in kindergarten. It was once her favorite but she has no interest in the cat now. Just like her, I think that most Japanese girls outgrow things like this as they get older. I know well a lot of people have not outgrown manga even in middle age, though(grin).
Anyway, the kawaii culture has many features, including minimalism. To be honest, I don't like very much the way Yumeji looked at women. I just read a few books about him, though.

stardust said...

It’s bitterly cold today. Here in Gakuenmae, Nara, it was sunny with strong wind but at my husband’s hometown about 40 minutes by car it was snowing. The first woman in the picture looks so cold in the falling snow. I wonder if Yumeji’s image of women is/was preferred by mainly women who is longing for a slim body? The sense of beauty about women would differ from person to person and time to time as well as from culture to culture. I like the furoshiki designed by Yumeji rather than his paintings. The color of Mount Haruna in late autumn is simply beautiful.



Magia da Inês said...

Foi muito bom conhecer a arte de Takehisia Yumeji, essas fotografias, esses desenhos e gravuras lindos.
Eu já conheço a Hello Kitty.
Bom domingo!
Boa semana!

you-wee because said...

Hey, Sapphire, you're a real artitist of story telling!
Impressive to see who carefully you selected your assortment of photos, paintings and text!
So you really posted an artful short story about the remarkable artist Yumeji!


cosmos said...

hopeless womanizerとばっさりおっしゃっている所が小気味いいです^^

☆sapphire said...


Thanks for reading this post. "I wonder if Yumeji’s image of women is/was preferred by mainly women who is longing for a slim body?" What a humorous question!! I suppose probably, not women but men like to see such women as Minoru-san says. I've heard that fancy and stationary goods with lovely designs (beautiful women, floral patterns, etc.) were popular among young women back then. よいお年を!!

Magia da Inês s

Thanks so much!


Oh thank you so much. I'm really flattered about the way you feel.



zoe said...

fascinating---i really like his style, the women are very lovely....his atelier was in such a beautiful location! the art community can be so strange about its rules and little cliques...
i love the woman with the cat at the top, and also that little kitten on the table!! what a cutie!!
it sounds as though he had a creative life, his own way. :)

Massimo said...

I love this blog, and I love this post ! so interesting and fascinating.. very different from our world ... ciao

☆sapphire said...


Thanks for reading this post. "it sounds as though he had a creative life, his own way" Yes. I think he dud have a very creative life enjoying freedom. He loved cats!!


Thank you!!