1960 Listening

an award winning print

The story of an award winning print

The Michener/Tuttle contest

In 1959 a contest was announced by the novelist James A. Michener and the Charles E. Tuttle Company. The goal of the contest was to obtain a selection of 10 prints that would reflect the Japanese print movement of that time and to publish the prints in a book. The artists that created a winning print received a cash prize of $ 1,278 each. The terms of the contest included that each artist could send in a maximum of three prints. Each print should be an original, unpublished print of the designated size (for use in the book all prints must have the same size), self-designed, self-carved and self-printed. For use in the book, each prize-winning artist must supply 510 numbered copies of his winning print, printed by himself or by an artisan under his supervision. It was allowed to make a maximum of ten additional copies for his own, and then to destroy the blocks. Or the stencils.

Listening: awarded and published

Watanabe Sadao’s print Kiku was awarded and included in the book The Modern Japanese Print – An Appreciation, by James A. Michener, that was published in 1962 in a very luxury edition of 510 numbered copies of which 475 copies were sold to the public. I do not know were the 35 ‘not-for-sale’ copies have gone, but I suppose those copies were for the winning artists, mr. Michener, the publisher and so on. The book appeared in a popular edition in 1968, with small reproductions of the winning prints tipped in. The Kiku reproduction in the popular edition is numbered 22/510. This could be an indication that the first 35 copies were the ‘not-for-sale’ ones. The book has a format of 15.25’ x 21.5’ (38,7 x 54,6 cm) and Kiku measures 12.75’ x 20’ (32,4 x 50,8 cm). The original stencil required a larger sheet of paper, see the last photo of this page. To fit the size of the book, the stencil was printed on smaller sheets of paper.

A second nominated print

It is not certain how many prints Watanabe sent in for the contest, but it is likely it were at least two prints. In the last chapter of The Modern Japanese Print, popular edition, is stated that another print of Watanabe Sadao also was nominated but not included in the book. About this print is written: “Untitled. Biblically inspired as many of this artist’s works are, the spiritual intention of this print is rendered in the same hardy dye-technique of the prize-winner included in this book.” This print is a real cliffhanger as it is unknown.

Watanabe's story about the print

The print named ‘Kiku’ or ‘Listening’ does not refer directly to a story of the Bible. This can be concluded by the comment that mr. Watanabe gave about the print. He wrote: “I have always aspired to portray stories and episodes from the Bible. In this disturbed world, I would like to be able to heed the voice of Heaven. The person shown in this print is no one in particular but was created in this spirit. Being somewhat reluctant to comment on my own work, I have jotted these words down here in this simple fashion for whatever help they may be in preparing a commentary.”

Kiku shows a man concentrated to listening. His right hand near his ear. Eyes shut. Body forward for hearing better. His left hand in the position of receiving. The diagonal lines of the composition, the man and the decorative plants, underline the tension of his eagerness to listen. The red background strengthens the intense concentration of the Listener.

Watanabe used the kanji 聴 for listening, which has the component (radical) for ear 耳on the left side and the component (part) heart 心 on the lower right. So the kanji used for the print's title suggests that it's about listening with your heart.

Michener's story about the print

Mr. Michener commented Kiku in his book. He argued that Kiku is an example of the international quality of the modern Japanese print and saw Western and Japanese influences in the print. Mr. Michener interpreted the man depicted as Christ. He wrote his remarks before he read mr. Watanabe’s comment.

Listening was not the first awarded print

Kiku was not the first print of mr. Watanabe that was awarded. In 1947 he received the first Japan Folk Art Museum Prize for ‘The story of Ruth’. This print was also awarded in 1948 with the Kokugakai Prize. In 1956 ‘Girls and a lot of quails’ was awarded by the Japan Print Academy an two years later, in 1958, ‘The Bronze Serpent’ received a first prize at the Modern Japanese Print Exhibition in New York. Kiku was the next print to be awarded.

This print and its award contributed to the fame of mr. Watanabe's stencil prints in the world.

© Jan J. Catsburg


The Modern Japanese Print: An Appreciation. Michener,

Michener, James A., The modern Japanese Print – An Appreciation,

James A., Charles E. Tuttle Company, Rutland - Tokyo: 1962, first edition.

Rutland, Vermont & Tokyo, first popular edition 1968, second printing 1970.

Pyle, Anne H.H., ‘A Christian Faith in the Tradition of Japanese Folk Art’, in: Printing the Word: the Art of Sadao Watanabe, (American Bible Society), New York, 2000, pp. 15-28.


One of the 510 copies of the print of mr. Michener's 1962 book


One of the unnumbered prints, printed on a generous sized sheet of momigami, showing the full stencil.

All award winning prints that were published in The Modern Japanese Print.

Artists: Hiratsuka Unichi, Maekawa Sempan, Mori Yoshitoshi, Watanabe Sadao, Kinoshita Tomio, Shima Tamami, Azechi Umetaro, Iwama Reiki, Yoshida Masaji, Maki Haku