Shini-e, the Japanese Way of Commemorating Great Artists

  • Katarzyna Paczuska (Author)

Identifiers (Article)


The Regional Museum of Toruń has in its Far East Collection a woodblock print – a portrait of kabuki actor Matsumoto Kōshirō V by Utagawa Kunisada. This print falls into the shini-e (“death print”) category, commemorating the death of an actor, artist, or musician. The vast majority of shini-e depicted actors. Typical shini-e portrayed memorialized persons in blue court robes called shini sōzoku (“death dresses”) or ceremonial attire called mizu kamishimo. Many of these prints included the dates of death, age, posthumous Buddhist name (kaimyō), and temple burial site, while some had death poems (jisei) by the deceased or memorial poems written by family, friends, colleagues, or fans. A term used at least by the 1850s. The first datable single-sheet shini-e were probably issued in the 1790s, although ehon (“picture books”) commemorating the deaths of celebrated actors appeared as early as 1709, and more regularly by the 1770s. The shini-e genre appears to have nearly disappeared by the beginning of the 20th century and with the rise of other media such as photography and lithography, shini-e were no longer viable options for memorializing actors and artists. Only a small handful of examples are known from the 1910s–1920s. Matsumoto Kōshirō V was the one of many kabuki actors, who were display on shini-e. Besides actors, the ukiyo-e artist where also portrayed on commemorate prints.