Yumeji Takehisa

Yumeji Takeshita was a Japanese painter and poet (1884-1934) . A representative of the Taisho Romantic era, he became popular in his early 20s for creating the so-called Yumeji-style pictures of beautiful women. He is also known as a pioneer of the “kawaii” culture. He was also active as a poet. In this article, Yumeji’s paintings and designs is explained along with images of his work.

Life of Yumeji Takehisa

 Yumeji Takehisa(竹久 夢二:たけひさ ゆめじ)was born in Okayama Prefecture to a liquor store owner. His real name was Shigejiro Takehisa. After dropping out of junior high school, he moved to Tokyo in 1901. He studied at Waseda Jitsugyo School. During this time, he became friends with Kanson Arahata. Takehisa became interested in painting and studied at the Hakubakai Western-style painting institute.

 At the suggestion of Arahata, Takehisa began submitting his paintings to newspapers and magazines. They began to be published in the magazine “Chugakusei Sekai” (Middle School World). For this reason, Takehisa dropped out of Waseda Jitsugyo School. Takehisa drew illustrations for “Heimin Daily Paper” and published poems.

 The Success of Yumeji-Style Beauty Paintings: Their Characteristics

 Takehisa painted characteristic pictures called Yumeji-style beauties. These are pictures of slender women with large eyes, a chubby mouth, a downcast, melancholy expression, a slight tilt of the head, and a thin line. She is in a squat posture, and her arms and legs are disproportionately large (images is shown later in this article). This painting became truly popular. Takehisa is said to be a pioneer of today’s “kawaii” culture.

 Yumeji-style beauty paintings are said to have been influenced by the beauty paintings of the Japanese painter Kiyokata Kaburaki and the modern paintings of the Western-style painter Takeji Fujishima. Takeji Fujishima was a founding member of the Hakuba-kai, mentioned above.
 Takehisa’s paintings of beautiful women were not only popular for their portrayal of women themselves. The designs of kimonos and obis, Japanese wears, worn by the women were also popular. Takehisa himself also created the designs for these items. At that time, women embroidered their own clothes. They admired the patterns and designs of Yumeji-style beauty paintings and imitated them. They went out on the town wearing Takehisa-designed fashions. Takehisa was therefore also an excellent fashion designer. This was at a time when the concept of design did not yet exist in Japan.

 Thus, Yumeji-style beauties became the dream of young women of the time. Yumeji-style beauties also contributed to the formation of young people’s sense of beauty, creating the image of a beautiful or attractive woman. Of course, this was not the only exclusive image of beauty at the time. Still, its influence on young women in particular was profound.
 In 1909, Takehisa published “Yumeji’s Art Collection: Spring Volume,” which was a great success. Around this time, the expression “Yumeji-style” began to be used. Thereafter, he continued to publish art books and picture books for readers and creators who admired Yumeji-style beauties.

Cover of Yumeji’s art book

Source: “NDL Image Bank,” National Diet Library

 Incidentally, his masterpiece “Kurofuneya” is said to have been modeled on “Oyo” (real name: Sasaki Kaneyo). Oyo was a model for artworks.

 Takehisa also continued to work as a poet. One of his most famous works is “Yoimachigusa”. This was also composed as a song.

 As a graphic designer: selling goods at Minato-ya in Nihonbashi

 Takehisa was also popular as a graphic designer. It is important to note that in 1914, Takehisa opened the Minato-ya store in Nihonbashi, Tokyo. The store was a wooden building with lanterns and show windows, but it was not very spacious. The store sold illustrated postcards, envelopes, postcards, dolls, woodblock and lithograph prints, and Takehisa’s writings. This was an immediate success. Takehisa’s products became a Tokyo specialty and were purchased as souvenirs. You can now buy these goods in present Minatoya shops.

Examples of envelope designs

Source: “NDL Image Bank,” National Diet Library

 Minatoya was also an attempt to make art permeate everyday life and space (and at the same time, a means of supporting his wife’s livelihood). As such, it is recognized as one of the attempts to introduce Western Art Nouveau into modern Japanese art. Takehisa himself, however, also had a nostalgia for the traditional Edo period in this store. This is reflected in the selection of obi and other items. At the same time, Takehisa also displayed the store name “MINATOYA” in alphabets, which also reflects his taste for the Western style.

Takehisa’s taste for the West (European missionaries of the Warring States and Edo periods are shown in the lower right)

Source: “NDL Image Bank,” National Diet Library

 In addition, Takehisa also created covers and illustrations for sheet music and books. He worked extensively on packages for caramels and other confections, advertisements for Ginza Sembikiya and Mitsukoshi, and cosmetics. At the time, Mitsukoshi was attempting to develop from a Japanese wear store to a department store. As a result, it was known as a department store that utilized progressive commercial strategies. Thus, Takehisa’s target was wide, including not only women but also boys and girls. He also worked on classic books such as “Ise Monogatari” as illustrations.

Mitsukoshi advertisement (1910s)

Source: NDL Image Bank, National Diet Library

 Takehisa’s favorite designs were mainly camellias, parasols, and matchsticks. Camellias were in full bloom in Takehisa’s birthplace. The parasol was a product that was becoming popular at the time and was associated with the image of a noblewoman. In this way, Takehisa became a pioneer of graphic design.

 As a painter and poet

 In 1916, Takehisa moved to Kyoto. In 1918, he held a solo exhibition at the Kyoto Prefectural Library. There, he showed a wide range of painting techniques, from Japanese-style painting to pastels. In 1920, he published poems.

 Late Years: Travels in Europe and the United States

 In 1931, Takehisa traveled to the United States. He then moved to Europe. However, during the trip, he became ill from overwork and returned to Japan. He died in 1934.

 Still Highly Popular

 Takehisa still maintains a high level of popularity today. Even in recent years, a museum has been newly established. At least, we have five museums for him.

Good Example of Yumeji-style paintings of beautiful women

Source: NDL Image Bank, National Diet Library

Yumeji Takehisa

Source: National Diet Library, Portraits of Modern Japanese (https://www.ndl.go.jp/portrait/)

Recommended or Selected references

萩原珠緒(2002)「大正初期・日本文化の一側面―竹久夢二の「港屋絵草紙店」にみる異国趣味と東京・日本橋界隈」『 新潟県立近代美術館研究紀要』5: 1-12

高橋律子(2010)『竹久夢二 : 社会現象としての「夢二式」』ブリュッケ
竹久夢二美術館監(2014)『竹久夢二 : 大正ロマンの画家、知られざる素顔 』河出書房新社