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The Toyokuni Confusion

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Written by   675
2 years ago (Last updated: 1 year ago)

When you see names as Tokugawa Ieyasu or Suzuki Harunobu, which is the family name and which is the given name?

Japanese names are written with the family name first. In the examples above, Tokugawa and Suzuki are family names, while Ieyasu and Harunobu are given names. Artists are often referred to by their given name only, as Harunobu, Kuniyoshi, Sharaku, Utamaro,... although that can be a pseudonym.

When it comes to artists and actors, it is more complicated, because they often changed pseudonyms and the same artist can be known under many different names. Moreover, they often adopted as a family name, the name of the school they belonged to or the name of their most important teacher. Sometimes they also created their given name/pseudonym from their teacher's. Kuniyoshi and Kunisada, for instance, took the first part of their pseudonyms from the name of their mentor and teacher, Toyokuni. Another example of that is that Yoshitoshi took the first part of his pseudonym from the end of the pseudonym of his teacher Kuniyoshi. They also all belonged to the Utagawa school, and called themselves Utagawa Kuniyoshi, Utagawa Kunisada, etc. Yoshitoshi, for some reason, did not follow that tradition. There are numerous artists with the name "Utagawa" something, since the Utagawa school during a long time was the largest and most dominant school.

Toyokuni I: Actors Onoe Matsusuke (right) and Onoe Eizaburô (left)

Students sometimes adopted their teacher's pseudonym in full, but with number II or III, and so on - and especially when the teacher died or if they did inherit his position as the head of a school. Thus we have the famous Hiroshige, but also Hiroshige II and Hiroshige III. These numerations sometimes cause confusion, especially when there are different claims of being number II or III.

Toyokuni II (Toyoshige): Actor Bando Mitsugoro III in the Role of Kizo, 1825-1830.

A famous case is Toyokuni. Toyokuni I (1769-1825) was a great artist and the head of the Utagawa school. When he died, his son-in-law and student, Toyoshige (1777–1835), inherited his position and called himself Toyokuni II. Another student, more known as Kunisada (1786-1865), who would later become the ultimate superstar of ukiyo-e of his time, also called himself Toyokuni II. When Toyoshige died, Kunisada succeeded him and was then generally recognised as Toyokuni III. But the fact remains that for a time there were 2 artists called Toyokuni II.

Utagawa Kunisada: The courtesan Karakoto, kamuro Karaki and Karano of the house Kukimanji, 1847

What is worse, Kunisada continued to insist of being Toyokuni II also when others saw him as Toyokuni III, so after his death, his student, commonly known as Kunisada II (1823-1880), took the name Toyokuni III, while the environment saw him as Toyokuni IV. As a further complication, the artistic style of these artists is sometimes very similar; so similar in fact, that it is impossible to say which one of them is the creator. Even renowned museums can display a copy of the very same print, but attribute it to different artists.

Kunisada II (Toyokuni IV): Actor Nakamura Tsuruzô I (Nakamura Nakazô III) as Awayuki Nashirô from the series The Book of the Eight Dog Heroes (Hakkenden inu no sôshi no uchi), 1852.

As for Kabuki actors, names are treated similarly. They are often numbered versions of the name of their mentor or most important teacher, or someone whose position in the hierarchy of a theatre they inherit. So, just as the artists, actors can change name several times during their career. We can see an example of that in the print above: The actor was at the time known as Nakamura Tsuruzô I, but had previously been Nakamura Nakazô III.

Copyright © 2020 Meleonymica/Mictorrani. All Rights Reserved.

You find all my articles on Japanese Art & Culture here.

Interested in Japanese culture? Join my community Japanese Art & Cultural History (7c1f).

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Written by   675
2 years ago (Last updated: 1 year ago)
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Comments

I know nothing about Japanese history. I'll just read the articles about the characters here later. But I'm amazed that the way they write their names are similar with the Koreans. Thanks to your articles, I am being introduced to fresh topics 💗

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2 years ago

I like that. Your "world" is growing larger that way. That's one consequence of that I am writing about many topics. People are reading me for the sake of one topic, then they suddenly get another in front of them and discover new things. Well, rather many of them probably skip the new topic and never really discover it, but a few do.

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2 years ago

If I think about it it all sounds normal to me except for family name first. Kind of weird if you ask we but there are countries in Europe who do the same.

Those teachers do what popes, kings, emperors do and artists are worldwide the same.

Interesting it is and I love those photos.

Question: how can one answer through a community? Visiting directly via the community?

💕

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2 years ago

Yes, or, in my case, follow the link you see at the bold bottom of the article before you comment. That link leads to a community version.

In the feed you can see if it is a community link, because then there is the blue field with a community name.

If you like these images, they're woodblock prints, you can see a lot of them in my articles about Japanese art and culture.

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2 years ago

That was a great learning experience I really enjoyed the pictures you included in the article as well, keep it up!

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2 years ago

You'll find many more of these pictures in my other articles about Japanese culture. You can find them all here: https://read.cash/c/japanese-art-cultural-history-7c1f

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2 years ago

Is this one of the reasons why it's very rare that two japanese people has the same name?

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2 years ago

How do you mean? Exactly what do you mean is the reason? I am sorry, I don't understand how you are thinking here.

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2 years ago

If you look at Japanese given names, It's very rare to find two similar given names. That's what I meant.

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2 years ago

It is not all that rare. But even if it were, I wonder why anything I wrote in the article could be the reason for it.

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2 years ago

You didn't really mention anything referring to that. But when you described how Japanese artists choose their names it made me remember a video I watched talking about a mixed family "creating" a new name for their daughter. That's all of the story. Sorry for the confusion haha.

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2 years ago