Vintage Japanese Art


My Aunt Eiko had these in a brown paper bag of all things.

Hundreds of old Japanese artwork kept by my Great-Grandfather Wakio Shibabayama.  Born August 17, 1874 in Kaga City of the Ishikawa Prefecture.

Sumi-e.  Watercolors.  Sketches.  On thinner-than-tissue rice paper.  Dog-eared from what appears to be many years of handling by my Great-Grandfather.


My Aunt Eiko’s knowledge of Wakio (her grandfather on her mother’s side) is unfortunately sketchy.  No pun intended.

Her knowledge of these paintings is even sketchier unfortunately.

But they survived the war and I don’t know how they did.  They are so fragile to say the least.

Surprisingly, some artwork was painted on several sheets of rice paper glued together.  I don’t know what kind of glue it was but it sure beats Krazy Glue.  And it’s non-toxic to boot.  I think.


An apparent samurai in full armor.

Aunt Eiko knows Wakio was an accomplished artist and that he taught art in his senior years.  In Japan (and unlike here), professors were elite.  And quite a few of them were samurai towards the end of the 1800’s.  Unbeknownst to many Westerners, the Japanese government began banning the samurai around 1870 to bring civility to society… but by then, the samurai had begun transitioning to a peaceful life philosophy.  Many took up art.

And I’m not saying Wakio was samurai… but my mother drummed it into my head that “her” family heritage WAS samurai. lol

Aunt Eiko remembers Wakio passing away when he was about 80.  (It does appear that long life is in one’s genes.)

She has little information about this collection.  She recalls these sketches and watercolors were done by his students…perhaps as assignments.  I can read some of their names.

But my Great-Grandfather’s “hanko 判子”, or seal, is stamped on all of them.  In fact, there are several variations of his seal through the years.  You can see them on the samples.

Aunt Eiko also remembers that “a couple of his students” became well-known artists but cannot recall their names.

Here are some samples.  Currency can be seen for reference; in some photos, you can actually see how thin the rice paper is:

This appears to be one of the oldest in his collection. Undated.
Detail of the brush work can be seen immediately below.
fan close up
A close up of the brush detail from the fan painting immediately above.
In spite of being folded for decades, the serenity of this piece still shines. You can see right through it, too.
Appears to be street performers from old Japan.  You can also see it was painted on several sheets glued together.
A dramatic sketch of what appears to be a non-Japanese warrior. Undated.
A serene painting of a gorge.

dragon lily

dragonfly closeup
You can see the remarkable attention to the detail in this close-up…down to individual brush strokes.
A fragile rice paper booklet written in Wakio’s hand… all with a brush and carbon ink. You can also see ties at the right. I don’t know exactly what it is but there is a reference to the “43rd Class” in red at the upper right. Perhaps this was his syllabus.  The seal in blue states 1947 and he was 74 years old.  The red seal apparently functions more like a signature.


But as mentioned, Wakio was an accomplished artist.  Not to say he was famous.  Just accomplished.  My family has several of his original silk paintings, one of which is shown below.

wakio painting

We don’t exactly know where Wakio sought refuge during World War II but these delicate art pieces from long ago survived.  My aunt believes my grandmother inherited these from him upon his death.

And here is the one photo I have of my Great-Grandfather Wakio Shibayama.  You can see it on the scroll above.


Too bad Sony hadn’t invented portable digital voice recorders.  I would have liked to have heard the story behind these remnants Old Japan.

23 thoughts on “Vintage Japanese Art”

    1. I’ve had them for several years now… Just can’t seem to find the time to look into them and catalog…and Aunt Eiko is not getting any younger at 88… or is it 89? 🙂

      1. I completely agree with GPC … this is not just history; it is your family history, and it your children’s legacy. Step one, protect the material. Step two, start your research. Attention! Right, Face! Forward, March!

      2. As it appears you are a Lt. Colonel, I can safely say it will be a cluster phuck if I were to try and organize this mess. …and I did properly complete DD Form 214, NAVMC 11060… Did it get lost, sir? 🙂

  1. Mr. Cox is right! What a wonderful find!

    We returned from Japan with some wonderful examples of art. We have some furniture from the 1700s, a block print of pre-Meiji Edo, late Tokugawa period pottery. One source of pride is that my wife was able to study under the mentorship of Japan’s fourth rated Oshie master and this resulted in 20 (now framed) works by my wife’s own hand. However, our greatest gift from Japan is so many wonderful memories …

    Treasure that art, always Koji-san. It is really priceless.

    1. Thank you, Mustang, for your kind thoughts. You are a fortunate man with your wife having such first hand instruction! I am very happy you have fond memories of Japan.

      For you readers who may be unaware, “Mustang” is a mustang… I consider it a slang military term (he’s the expert, not I) but it means he transitioned from enlisted to officer without a break in service. I hope I don’t insult Mustang by bringing in the Army (he’s a Marine), the one name readers may be familiar with is Audie Murphy.

      …and I am not inferring Mustang is of that generation, either! 🙂

    1. Thank you… With your own ties to WWII, I find it interesting that had NOT the samurai been banned, WWII may not have taken place. When the samurai elite were removed from governmental positions, they were replaced by greedy and unscrupulous businessmen. The samurai by that time (late 1800’s) had adopted a peaceful life. I doubt the true samurai in power would have pursued war.

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