Ryūkōsai Jokei (流光斎如圭) (artist ca 1772 – 1816)


British Museum - 2 volume copy of the 'Yakusha mono iwai'
Viewing Japanese Prints
Akiko Yano article 'Capturing the Body...'


"Ryūkōsai Jokei 流光斎如圭 is known as the late eighteenth- century Osaka artist who created “realistic” kabuki actor likenesses. (nigao 似顔; kaonise 顔似せ) for the first time outside of Edo. His dates are not known, but according to the dating of his works, he was active between 1776 and 1809. His excellent skills in creating actor portraits were famous among his contemporaries, and he was once described as “capturing their true essence” by one of the most enthusiastic Osaka kabuki fans and connoisseurs of the time."

Source: Akiko Yano in 'Capturing the Body: Ryūkōsai’s Notes on “Realism” in Representing Actors on Stage'.


The Minneapolis Institute of Art gives different dates for Jokei than does Kruml - active 1777-1809.

"Although Edo was the epicenter of ukiyo-e print production, there were also many artists based in Osaka, the commercial center of western Japan. Prints made in Osaka were designated kamigata-e, or pictures from the west. Since Osaka was famous for its many Kabuki and puppet theaters, which catered to an enthusiastic following print designers in Osaka tended to focus on yakusha-e (pictures of actors).

Ryūkōsai Jokei is credited with designing the first nishiki-e (multicolor print) in Osaka. Having begun his career as a book illustrator he later became a yakusha-e specialist. His earliest prints of an actor dates to 1791. Only seventeen prints signed by him are known today; however, an additional nineteen images lacking signatures are thought to be by his hand (Matsudaira, Kamigata ukiyo-e, 111)."

Quoted from: Worldly Pleasures, Earthly Delights: Japanese Prints from the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, entry by Akane Fujisawa, p. 167.


Andrew Gerstle wrote an essay on The Culture of Play: Kabuki and the Production of Texts published by the Journal of Oral Tradition, vol. 20, 2005.

In the author's section on Theater, Poetry, and Art says:

"I want to focus on two performance spheres—kabuki theaters and poetry circles (primarily haiku)—to show how the interactions between these two worlds were an important stimulus for cultural production. One of the earliest books produced in Osaka on kabuki actors is Yakusha mono iwai (A Celebration of Actors, 1784) by the first great Osaka actor print artist Ryūkōsai Jokei (fl. 1777-1809). It presents 49 actors in roles they made famous. However, each actor is listed not by his stage name but by his yago (an actor clan name that is called out during performance) and his haiku pen name (haimyō)."


Before Ryūkōsai Jokei there was an artist identified as Sufutei "...who digressed into portraiture for his own amusement. "...he has come to be seen as a strong influence on the school of distinctive actor portraiture in Osaka, and certainly there are reflections of his idiosyncrasies, and of that curious detachment as of an uncommitted outsider, in the work of the next great exponent of what soon after coalesced into a recognizable Osaka style.

This artist, Jokei Ryūkōsai, had had his initial training under Shitomi Kangetsu, whom we have already seen as one of the stalwarts of meisho-ki. but had been won over to the theatre some time before 1784, the date of his first known book, Yakusha Mono Iwai. On the wrapper... the book is described as Hōfutsu Ehon, hōfutsu having the meaning of 'close resemblance', or 'likeness'. It contains a series of portraits of actors, again in sumi, but depicted full-length, and already recognizably of Osaka cast. It is remarkable how clearly the products of he two main areas of theatre prints distinguish themselves, just as the drawings and paintings of artists of rival cities in Renaissance Italy single themselves out as Venetian, Florentine or Roman. And yet, it is difficult to analyse the sources of the distinction between the prints of Osaka and Edo: they seem to arise from matters of grimace, the expression given by the downturn of the mouth, by the inclination of the head, the poise of the body, all virtually indefinable peculiarities; and more tangibly, from features of Osaka colour-prints, a harder, more lapidary technique and stronger colour harmonies. In his books, Ryūkōsai was only rarely reproduced in colour, and his separate-sheet prints, invariably in hosoban format, are exceptional in being most frequently in a medium much favoured by Osaka publishers - the kappazuri, or stencil, rather than wood-block, being used for the application of colours."

Quoted from: The Art of the Japanese Book by Jack Hillier, volume one, p. 587.


Andrew C. Gerstle in his article "The Culture of Play: Kabuki and the Production of Texts" on page 366 says: "One of the earliest books produced in Osaka on kabuki actors is Yakusha mono iwai (A celebration of actors, 1784) by the first great Osaka actor print artist Ryūkōsai Jokei (fl. 1777-1809). It presents forty-nine actors in roles they made famous."

On page 367 he wrote: "We know very little about Ryūkōsai, but he did illustrate kyōka poetry books and also published a book of haiku poetry. He is famous for a portrait style that does not idolize actors, and his presentation of them as poets as much as actors was significant and influential."