Katsushika Oi

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  • Born: c. 1800
  • Died: c. 1866
  • Other Names: お栄 (Oei)
  • Japanese: 葛飾応為 (Katsushika Oui)

Katsushika Ôi was the daughter of ukiyo-e artist Katsushika Hokusai by his second wife, and an accomplished painter in her own right. She is one of a very few prominent women artists in pre-modern or early modern Japanese history.

Ôi is not known to have designed any single-sheet woodblock prints, but at least two books name her as the illustrator.


Very little is known about her biography, and none of her paintings are inscribed with a date, but Ôi is believed to have been born around 1800. She had one brother, Sakijûrô, and perhaps a sister named Onao, in addition to a half-brother and two half-sisters, Hokusai's children from his first marriage. Ôi married Minamizawa Tômei, the owner of a shop specializing in oils for hair, and the two studied together under the painter Tsutsumi Tôrin III. Following the death of Hokusai's second wife in 1828, after she had been married for less than ten years, Ôi divorced Tômei and moved back in with her father, looking after him and assisting him the remainder of his life.

There are several theories as to the origin or meaning of the name, Ôi, with which she signed her paintings. The name takes a character from Hokusai's art-name Iitsu, which he began using around 1820, with the two characters Ô-i thus meaning "loyal to I[itsu]." Her name has also said to come as a result of her father constantly calling her, shouting "ôi, ôi," a Japanese equivalent to "hey, hey!" Finally, her given name was Ei, with an honorary 'O' tacked on in front as was quite typical for women's names in the Edo period. Thus, she often signed her works "Ôi Ei-jo," jo meaning "woman" or "daughter." Sometimes she replaced the character ei in her name, meaning "flourishing," with a different character, still pronounced ei, but meaning "tipsy," a poke at her own love of saké, in contrast to her temperate father.

She is the only one of Hokusai's daughters known to have lived into her old age. A painting by Hokusai's pupil Tsuyuki Kôshô, from around 1842 or 1843, depicts her at around age 40, with her father, age 84. She is said to have been the only person by her father's side when he died, roughly five years later, in 1849, at the age of 89, supposedly saying with his last words "let me live just ten more years, just five more years."

Following her father's death, Ôi is said to have become reclusive, severing ties with her family, and her painting students. She reconnected, however, with family shortly afterwards, being taken in by her brother Kase Sakijûrô. By around 1857, she had left her brother's family, and was living on her own in Aoyama (a neighborhood of Edo), eking out a living by selling her paintings. She is known to have done some traveling around this time as well, though it is unclear where she was living, or staying, at the time of her death. Some accounts say she was in Kanazawa (Kaga province), others the Kanazawa in Musashi province, and still others Nagano (Obuse, Shinano province), when she died in or around 1866.


"Night Scene in the Yoshiwara" is perhaps the most famous of Ôi's paintings. The small painting, about 40cm wide, depicts the frontage (harimise) of a Yoshiwara teahouse, identified as the Izumi-ya. Unlike the majority of traditional Japanese paintings, "Night Scene in the Yoshiwara" extensively employs techniques of light and shadow, as light emanates from lanterns, and from within the teahouse, illuminating some elements and leaving the rest in shadow. The artist hides her signature cleverly within the image, writing the characters O, i, and ei on three separate lanterns.

Lighting effects are also seen in the painting "Beauty Viewing Cherry Blossoms at Night," traditionally attributed to Katsushika Ôi though it lacks seal or signature. A tall stone lantern, and smaller lantern by her feet, illuminate her face and furisode kimono, while cherry and pine trees are presented in silhouette. The stars in the night sky, innovatively, are represented not as white dots or circles, as was typical, but in reds and blues.

The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston holds in its collection a painting by Ôi depicting "Three Women Playing Musical Instruments";[1] the three have been identified as a young courtesan (furisode shinzô) playing the koto, a geisha playing the shamisen, and a townswoman playing the kokyû.

A painting of a "Woman at a Fulling Block under the Moon" bears the same signature and seal as the Boston piece. Possibly painted earlier in her career, around the 1820s, when she was still working on developing a style different from that of her father, this painting features far less play with light and shadow than some of her other works.

The Cleveland Museum of Art also possesses a painting bearing Ôi's signature. "Guan Yu Having his Arm Bled" depicts the ancient Chinese general allows himself to be bled, in order to prevent the poison from an enemy arrow from spreading through his body; meanwhile, he resolutely plays a game of go. This work displays much of the same attention to light and shadow as some of Ôi's other works, and is interesting further for bearing one of her father's seals, an indication, perhaps, that Hokusai had entrusted her to produce this for a commission he had received.

Only two books are known which list Katsushika Ôi as their illustrator. One is an 1847 edition of an earlier encyclopedia edited by Takai Ranzan and entitled E-iri nichiyô onna chôhô-ki ("Illustrated Handbook for Daily Life for Women"). The other, Sencha tebiki no tane ("A Concise Dictionary of Sencha"), published the following year.

Ôi had a series of Hyakunin Isshu prints published in 1829, entitled Senzai Hyakunin Isshu Yamato Kotobuki.[2] These may have been the only published single-sheet prints designed by Ôi.

A number of other works, signed or sealed as Fumoto no sato, or as Tatsu-jo (also read Toki-jo), are known to be by one of Hokusai's daughters, and closely resemble the style of Ôi's other works, though they may have been painted by another of his daughters, either Omiyo, Onao, or Otetsu.


  • Kobayashi Tadashi and Julie Nelson Davis. "The Floating World in Light and Shadow: Ukiyo-e Paintings by Hokusai's Daughter Oi." in Carpenter, John et al (eds). Hokusai and his Age. Hotei Publishing, 2005. pp93-103.
  1. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Accession Number 11.7689.
  2. Ewa Machotka. Visual Genesis of Japanese National Identity. Peter Lang, 2009. p18.
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