A closer look at single prints in the 1730s through the 1750s – Pillar prints We already saw three new developments in the format of single prints: the first examples of printing just two colours, the benizurie, from 1744, and pillar prints, or hashirae, as an experiment with a quite demanding surface to work with, and perspective prints, ukie, as a totally innovative way to represent a three-dimensional reality.
As for pillar prints, hashirae, Okumura Masanobu makes a claim to be the originator, hashirae kongen (はしら繪根元). And, although this may well be justifiable, he no doubt was real innovative, both as a designer of prints and as a publisher, the three earliest datable examples should be identified with the designer Torii Kiyoshige (act. 1721-73) and with the publisher Urokogataya. It is quite well possible that Masanobu, in his capacity of a publisher of prints, came up with the idea, maybe just discussing some ideas with his regular clients, and found himself sufficiently encouraged. And maybe he did issue some examples predating the earliest datable pillar prints. And then there is the suggestion that pillar prints just owe their invention to a simple accidental warping of a printing block, and making a publisher realize that one figure might be more attractive than a couple – quite well imaginable as Japanese printing blocks were cut xxxx. But it certainly was a risk to begin with, we must realize that prints of such a large size would certainly cost quite some money, if only because of the format of both the printing blocks and the size of the sheets of paper.
The earliest hashirae prints measure 638 – 738 x 146 – 262 mms., later, we also see some that even measure 1018 – 1050 x 162 – 163 mms. Yet, they seem to have been an almost immediate success, with six designs by Torii Kiyoshige datable to the years 1736-55, probably all published by Urokogataya; twenty-four by Okumura Masanobu datable to the years 1743-49, most likely all published by himself; ten by Nishimura Shigenaga, published by Tsuruya and Urokogataya in 1743; two by Furuyama Moromasa (act. 1690s-00); one by Torii Kiyonobu II; and at least thirty-four by Ishikawa Toyonobu datable to the years 1743-49, mostly published by Urokogataya, but some by Izumiya, Murataya, Nishimura, and Maruko. Yet, remarkably, we cannot, so far, identify any hashirae designed by Kiyomasu II. Later on, we would see much larger numbers, first by Torii Kiyomitsu, later by Harunobu, Isoda Koryūsai (act. 1767-80) and Torii Kiyonaga (1752-1815, act. 1774-1800), indeed, pillar prints were not just some short-lived temporary vogue.
In chronological order, as far as we can get some idea of the beginning of hashirae based on datable examples, we get the following picture:
◊ Torii Kiyoshige: The actor Ichikawa Ebizō in the role of Shinozuka, Lord of Iga, in the play Junpū Taiheiki (順風太平記), staged XI/1736 at the Kawarazaki Theatre (KN 2:241), published by Urokogataya [H7];
◊ Torii Kiyoshige: Sanogawa Ichimatsu as the page Yoshida Jinnosuke in Myōto hoshi fuku Nagoya (女夫星福名古屋), staged VII/1742 at the Nakamura Theatre (KN 2:377), published by Urokogataya [H8];
◊ Torii Kiyoshige: Matsumoto Kōshirō as Fuwa Banzaemon in Myōto hoshi fuku Nagoya (女夫星福名古屋), staged VII/1742 at the Nakamura Theatre (KN 2:377), published by Urokogataya [H9];
◊ Okumura Masanobu: The actor Onoe Kikugorō as Yoshino, in Haru no akebono kuruwa Soga (春曙廓曽我), staged I/1743 at the Ichimura Theatre (KN 2:415), published by his own firm (Art Institute of Chicago) [H75];
◊ Nishimura Shigenaga: Sanogawa Ichimatsu as Hisamatsu in Monryoku tokiwa Soga (門緑常盤曽我), staged I/1743 at the Nakamura Theatre (KN 2:413), published by Urokogataya (Art Institute of Chicago) [H45];
◊ Ishikawa Toyonobu: Sanogawa Ichimatsu as Hisamatsu in Monryoku tokiwa Soga (門緑常盤曽我), staged I/1743 at the Nakamura Theatre (KN 2:413), published by Urokogataya [H4];
◊ Ishikawa Toyonobu: Sanogawa Ichimatsu as Hisamatsu in Monryoku tokiwa Soga (門緑常盤曽我), staged I/1743 at the Nakamura Theatre (KN 2:413), published by Izumiya [H3];
◊ Okumura Masanobu: Onoe Kikugorō as Kichisaburō, in reality Soga no Gorō in Nanakusa wakayagi Soga (七種わかやぎ曽我), staged Spring/1744 at the Ichimura Theatre (KN 2:446), published by his own firm [H76].
 I am aware that Julian Lee wants to interpret ‘kongen’ as ‘excellent, superb, outstanding,’ but I am afraid that I fail to see why.
 Already in 1921 and maybe even in the 1911 first edition that I don’t have at hand, Julius Kurth in his Der japanische Holzschnitt. München 19212, p. 37, identifies Kiyoshige as the first to design hashirae.