(also: kamigata-e, oosaka-e)
are woodblock prints designed, printed, and published in the Osaka-Kyoto area (in comparison to prints made in Edo, also called edo-e)
What are the characteristics of Osaka Prints?
The main subjects of Osaka prints are portraits of kabuki actors, their roles, and kabuki plays in general. Sometimes the images include the stage settings or essential attributes of the actor's part.
In comparison with Edo prints, Osaka prints are often more detailed in expression and color. Sometimes even the plain background was filled with color. The facial expressions of the portraits are more distinct and delicate. This remarkably high workmanship and high quality of materials, color and paper, make Osaka prints very precious. The so-called Osaka prints became favored among connoisseurs.
Excellent things need not always come from the capital.
During the Edo period, Osaka indeed was the competing city for woodblock printmaking.
Osaka's theaters were very well visited, and woodblock prints of actors or kabuki plays were in high demand. The sharp outlines, the focus on perfection, the color brilliance, and the habit to embellish the prints with mica (metallic shimmer) and embossing make Osaka prints outstanding. Still, the edition sizes were much smaller than in Edo.
But what makes Osaka prints different from ukiyo-e made in Edo?
As often, smaller does not mean less valuable. Fortunately, the smaller editions increased the quality of the prints. Because of the reduced edition size, the woodblocks used for printing haven't been utilized as heavily as the woodblocks used in high numbered editions. Viewer prints were made and therefore maintained very fine impressions. These are the main reasons why Osaka prints are popular for collecting.
Are Osaka prints not as valuable as Edo prints?
As Japanese woodblock prints became popular in the Western world, actor portraits and especially works from Osaka artists have often been second choice. Artists from Osaka just haven't been as well-known as their famous Edo-based colleagues and kabuki actors might have seemed very bizarre to Westerners.
As time passes, many experts and collectors have rethought and revaluated. Osaka's artists often surprise with very daring and inventive designs. Some Osaka artists are now as well-known as Hokusai, Hiroshige, Kuniyoshi, and Kunisada. It is just possible that these great Edo artists traveled to Osaka, and inspiration grew both ways. While Osaka print artists seemed to have been overshadowed, they are first choice now.
Osaka Prints could not have become as special as they are if not Edo-based workshops produced constantly and relieved the pressure of the always demanding market. Therefore, Osaka's artists and workshops could flourish to their utmost artistic skills.
Actor Asao Gakujûrô and Nakamura Utaemon III
Three Kabuki Actors in a in a New Year's play