Modern Containers, Traditional Motifs Part 2

This is the 200th Post for the blog! I was just going to phone it in, and do a retrospective. Instead, I figured, why not a special post, why not a treat on a special day, with an additional treat of special and fascinating subject matter.
In this week’s regular Monday article, we looked at traditional motifs that frequently appear on bonsai containers and come from hand scrolls, folding screens and statues, myths, and legends. In this post we will look at traditional motifs that are derived from the famous ukiyo-e(woodblock prints) of Ando Hiroshige and Katsushita Hokusai.

The Fifty-Three Stations of the Tōkaidō 

The Fifty-Three Stations of the Tōkaidō are a series of woodblock prints by Utagawa Hiroshige(born Ando Hiroshige) made in 1833-1834. He created the prints after his first journey upon the Tōkaidō road, where he was part of an official party escorting a gift of horses for the Imperial court.
The Tōkaidō road was a major trade and travel artery through Japan, connecting Edo to the capital at the time, Kyoto. The stations along the Tōkaidō road were way stations for travelers and merchants to restock supplies, eat, and rest. While Hiroshige created more than 30 versions of the prints, the Hōeidō version is the original and most famous, and also the source material most often used for depictions on bonsai containers.

The 16th print, 15th post, Kanbara, A Village in the Snow. Likely my favorite print from the series.
A depiction of Kanbara by blog favorite Shunka Seizan. I always expect to see more winter images on bonsai pottery, given that the Gafu Ten is in January, but they’re surprisingly rare.
Kanbara, A Village in the Snow painted on a suiban by Sano Daisuke. Incredibly detailed.
A cascade piece depicting the 15th station painted by Hayashi Toujaku.
Another winter depiction, clearly inspired by Kanbara from Sano Daisuke.
Kanbara as painted by Echizen Hosui.
Most of a full series of the 53 Stations painted by Tsukinowa Yusen, considered the greatest bonsai pottery painter ever to have lived. This set was made a Shohin National Treasure in 2015 and was displayed that year at the Gafu Ten. Better images can be seen in the album Yuuga(I think? They may have been added too late), the second volume which records Shohin National Treasures(the first being Miyabi).
Leaving Edo: Nihonbashi, (The bridge of Japan), the first print of the series.
A version of Leaving Edo, nail carving in panel by Bigei.
Hokusai’s first print in the series as painted by Tosui, Mizuno Shikao.
A yellow glazed window version painted by Shunka Seizan.
A full set of The Fifty-Three Stations of the Tōkaidō painted by Tosui, 3rd Generation, Mizuno Shikao.
The 38th Station, Okazaki
A suiban with the 38th Station painted by Sano Daisuke.
Okazaki as painted by Miyazaki Isseki. Hiroshige’s works often feature on Isseki containers.
Kakegawa station as depicted by Shohachi.
10th station : Hakone (High rocks by a lake)
The 10th Station as depicted by 3rd Generation Tosui, Mizuno Shikao, on a suiban.
Detail view of one of the stations painted by Miyazaki Isseki.
Detail view of the 12th station by Tsukinowa Shosen, grandson of Yusen.
The 48th station, Sakashita, as painted by Miyazaki Isseki, with his typical unique use of negative space.
An almost chaotic depiction by Shinano Chazan in his own unmistakable style.
Last for our look at bonsai pottery interpretations of The Fifty-Three Stations of the Tōkaidō is a full set of Suiban painted by Sano Daisuke, with Ruri glaze. A fantastic set, and only a handful of sets of Daisuke’s 53 Stations, containers or suiban, remain. The vast majority were separated for individual sale. Somewhere floating around here in the United States a full set of rectangles of the stations by Daisuke is for sale, unseparated, for just at 6 figures…
Two Hiroshige from the 53 Stations followed by a Van Gogh, just to show exactly how much these prints have influenced Western art as much as Eastern art and bonsai pottery.

The 36 Views of Mount Fuji

Mount Fuji is considered a symbol of Japanese National identity, and is sacred in Japanese religious tradition. Perhaps no other visual representations of “Fuji San”(Mr. or Sir Fuji, an often heard referral showing respect and deference) is more emblematic than Katsushita Hokusai’s 36 Views of Mount Fuji. The multicolor woodblock prints depict Mount Fuji from various views and locations, with surrounding towns and environments, and in differing weather. These iconic woodblock prints(ukiyo-e) were created at the height of Hokusai’s career, from 1830 to 1833. The vast majority of bonsai container depictions from the 36 Views are of Fine Wind, Clear Morning, Thunderstorm Beneath the Summit, and The Great Wave Off Kanagawa, although many other scenes do appear regularly.

Fine Wind, Clear Morning, the second of Hokusai’s 36 Views of Mount Fuji
A classical example of Fine Wind, Clear Morning on unglazed Shudei painted by Katsushita Kodou.
A more free form depiction from 3rd Generation Tosui, Mizuno Shikao, in the signature Tosui style.
A version of Fine Wind, Clear Morning from Tani Ranzan on rectangle in Ranzan’s own unique painting style.
Thunderstorm Beneath the Summit, the 3rd print from Hokusai’s 36 Views.
A depiction of Thunderstorm Beneath the Summit from Daisuke friend and pupil Toho(Shuji Shimada)
A recent gold award winning piece from the 16th Contemporary Kobachi Artists exhibition, painted by Junichi Nakayama. More on this artist and show in an upcoming article.
Depiction of Thunderstorm Beneath the Summit by Yoshiyuki Kawada, part of his full set of Hokusai’s 36 Views of Mount Fuji. You can view them all on his Facebook page.
Fujikake Yuzan go-sai hexagon. Very unlike his usual style and the source material. A fascinating piece.
Fuji View Field in Owari Province, the 9th print from Hokusai’s 36 Views.
Another from Yoshiyuki Kawada’s full set of Hokusai’s masterpiece woodblock prints, showing the 9th View.
Tosui, Mizuno Shikao. As far away from Kawada’s version above as one can get.
Enoshima in Sagami Province, the 17th of Hokusai’s series of views of Mount Fuji
Kawada’s take on Hokusai’s 17th print from The 36 Views of Mount Fuji. Very well sculpted, with fine details despite the difference in scale from the original.
A version from Fujikake Yuzan, part of his own complete set of Hokusai’s 36 Views.
Detail view from Tama River in Musashi Province painted by Fujikake Yuzan, from the same set as the container above.

The Great Wave Off Kanagawa

Katsushita Hokusai’s The Great Wave Off Kanagawa. Considered to be the most famous and recognizable piece of Japanese art in the World.

While The Great Wave Off Kanagawa is actually a part of Hokusai’s 36 Views of Mount Fuji series, it deserves its own section due to its fame and the frequency with which it appears on bonsai containers. The print dates to the late Edo period, 1829-1833, and depicts 3 boats battling a giant rogue wave in the Sagami bay, with Fuji San in the background.

A fantastic depiction by 3rd generation Tosui, Mizuno Shikao. Painted in his unique style, which usually isn’t to my taste, but this is one of my favorite versions.
A Classical interpretation painted by Toho(Shuji Shimada).
An interesting depiction giving more prominence to Mount Fuji painted by Tani Ranzan.
A very traditional depiction carved by Ameniya Shinobu.
Awesome celadon glazed piece from Tadashi Ono, the best sculptor of bonsai containers of the current generation.
A taller cascade painted by Ishida Shoseki. The brushwork is excellent and I quite like the foot details.
Three very different interpretations of Hokusai’s Great Wave by Yoshiyuki Kawada. Excellent examples showing the versatility with which classical motifs can be depicted on modern bonsai containers.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my 200th post, and reading about the traditional woodblock prints that inspire modern bonsai container art. In the next installment of the series, we’ll look at shapes and details to pots that have named origins, be they individual artists, kilns, or eras.

Thanks for reading!


About japanesepots

I've been collecting Japanese Bonsai pots for a few years, and feel that the famous, and some of the lesser known but great Japanese pot artists could do with a little more writing and exposure in English. Additionally, this blog will feature My own And others bonsai for discussion. The purpose of this blog is to further knowledge of Japanese pottery and Japanese style bonsai. If you have any questions about Japanese bonsai pottery, or would like to acquire pots by some of the potters presented in the blog, feel free to email me at
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3 Responses to Modern Containers, Traditional Motifs Part 2

  1. cenovak says:

    So interesting, thanks for posting this!

  2. Dennis says:

    Nice job I enjoyed this blog very much!

  3. rjnwmill says:

    Ryan, I hope this finds you well. I am looking for a pot for a pyracantha I have. I let it go for years. Two years ago I decided to try my hand at dead wood & carving. When I started the process, I found that the tree had significant termite damage with an active infection in the deadwood.

    I removed the infested material, started the shaping on the dead wood and treated the tree for termites. I showed the tree to a friend who has some younger kids. They took one look at my work and announced I’d inadvertently created “Groot”. I learned Groot was a comic book character; a man tree. The kids were right of course. My “artistic skill” was evidenced by a piece of work demonstrating that I had no idea what I was creating.

    Two years later, the tree is healthy and I decided I would get it in a pot. I had picked a Sara Rayner pot with a crackle finish and a weeping glaze that I thought would look good with the bark. When I began the repot, I was disappointed to to see that the span of the trunk would not fit in the chosen pot. {The exterior dimensions on the pot are 9 1/2 x 8 3/8 x 3 3/8. Illustrative pictures of the tree’s recent history are included below.}

    So, I’m in the market for a suitable pot. I would welcome your thoughts as to size, shape & colors. After reading your recent blogs that mentioned Ray Minarai and seeing his work, I thought his “weeping glaze style might work and the colors could perhaps tie with the bark, the dead wood, the green foliage, the white spring flowers and the fall red berries. However, I have not been able to reach Mr. Minarai through the contact link on his web site.

    Again, I’d appreciate your thoughts. I am a novice in this game and I really don’t know the breadth of the possibilities. If you feel a Minarai pot might be suitable, I would sure appreciate some help in initiating a dialog, Thanks for the help.

    Robert Miller 562 858-5355

    The starting point two years ago

    Recent photo:


    The Sara Rayner pot I’d hoped to use.

    Just missed…


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