Zusetsu ART and Masao Ebina


woodblock print by Masao Ebina of The Tale of Genji

Kobai (Red Plum Blossom) by Masao Ebina. Note the fine gold strings and pattern on the koto.


Many of you know that I am an artist with many years’ experience of illustrating picture books, school books and activity books for young children for the UK’s top publishers. It is this experience that has led me to design our range of Zusetsu furoshiki, and to introduce the beautifully designed and illustrated products made by skilled Japanese artisans that we stock in our Zusetsu store.


I’ve been surrounded by art and influenced by artists for as long as I can remember. And with our exploration of early Japanese literature and the accompanying manuscript illustrations, as well as our love of Japanese woodblock prints it was clear to us that our next big step with Zusetsu was to open up our art store. Welcome to Zusetsu ART!


woodblock print by Masao Ebina of The Tale of Genji

Yadorigi (Mistletoe). In this fine illustration, kind Kaoru meets with the sister of his beloved.


In our new store you will be introduced to beautiful, newly printed shin-hanga prints from Kyoto. They are so special we are writing an article specifically dedicated to them which we will publish soon!


But the artist we shall begin with today is someone very close to my heart, Kyoto-born artist Masao Ebina. The vintage prints that I already collect, and the five carefully selected woodblock prints that we are offering in-store, are a part of just 200 sets (some dismantled) of illustrations that were created in the 1950’s for the stunning work of literature that is at the very heart of Japan’s classic literature: Murasaki Shikibu’s The Tale of Genji.


woodblock print by Masao Ebina of The Tale of Genji

In Tenerai (Writing Practice), the silver detail on Ukifune's juunihitoe robes,

and the gold detail on the table and flooring is exquisite.


Masao Ebina illustrated one artwork for each of the 54 chapters and he included in the top right corner the symbolic reference to the traditional fragrance game called Genjiko that is played in the incense ceremony kodo. You can read more about Genjiko here in our blog Kyoto and a Tradition of Fragrance.


The figures of Genji and other beloved characters from the Tale are drawn in the style of the ancient manuscripts – rounded faces, with no individual characteristics. What we do see in these drawings is exquisite attention to detail in the patterning on the robes and on objects of furniture. Often the detail is brought out by finely printed gold or silver inks that reflect the light.



woodblock print by Masao Ebina of The Tale of Genji

The bell crickets sing and the water pours from the bamboo into a pool of koi, in Suzumushi.


There is lovely drawing away from the central figures: a water feature gently splashing into a pool of koi; a plum tree beyond the blinds.


I wanted to share what it feels like to own a real Japanese print, printed on delicate Japanese paper with a small smudge of ink in the margin.


woodblock print by Masao Ebina of The Tale of Genji

In this woodblock print, Prince Genji dances Seigaiha, Blue Sea Waves. His good friend Tō no Chūjō appears just on the edge of the illustration, which emphasises that Genji's performance was peerless and otherworldly, and all eyes would have been on him.


You can read more about this dance, and Genji's incredibly moving performance of great beauty, and even listen to the ancient music in our blog Looking at Traditional Japanese Patterns!



woodblock print by Masao Ebina of The Tale of Genji

Beautiful detail of Ukifune from Tenerai


The five prints that we are offering for our launch of Zusetsu ART are objects of real beauty.


The above print, from Tenerai (Writing Practice) is the penultimate chapter of The Tale of Genji. Here we see Ukifune, leaning on a writing table, composing her thoughts for poetry and calligraphy practice.


Suzumushi (see detail below), is the 38th chapter of The Tale of Genji. The suzumushi (the 'bell cricket') sings in autumn. On the night of the full harvest moon, Genji and Onna San no Miya exchange poems in praise of its song.


Kobai (Red Plum Blossoms) is the 43rd chapter of The Tale of Genji. Makibashira asks her husband Kobai if he has sent Prince Niou a letter, and he replies, 'I did...His Highness likes plum blossoms, and I could not refrain from picking him a branch of the red plum over there by the eaves, since it is so beautiful now.' (Royall Tyler translation).


And, Yadorigi (Mistletoe) is the 49th chapter of The Tale of Genji. The illustration depicts Kaoru and the sister of his beloved Oigimi, Naka no Kimi at Nijou.


Follow the link to our new Zusetsu ART store to find out more. We hope you love them as much as we do!



woodblock print by Masao Ebina of The Tale of Genji

Detail of the soft grey sheen and the gold ink pattern on the juunihitoe robes of Onna San no Miya.



In our new art store we are excited to introduce freshly printed shin-hanga Japanese landscape woodblock prints, that have been printed from the original carved blocks. Watch this space for an article dedicated

to discovering all about them, soon!


Thank you for reading,

Cathy and Yukki xx

woodblock print by Masao Ebina of The Tale of Genji

Detail of the beautifully rendered robes in Yadorigi.