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Published July 11, 2024 Updated July 11, 2024

Playing cards with prints by Sumio Kawakami

Woodblock print designs created by Sumio Kawakami in 1938-9, each card having a different illustration.

Japan Nintendo Sumio Kawakami Woodblock Add to Collection

Sumio Kawakami (1895-1972) was born in Yokohama. He never received any formal education to be an artist, only becoming recognised as a serious professional artist very late on in his life. Like many young Japanese artists at the time, he was influenced by Western art and culture. In his twenties, he even spent time in Canada and Alaska. When he returned to Japan, he became an English teacher. See the box

These woodblock designs for playing cards date from 1938-9. There is a different theme for each suit: Spades – Chinese; Hearts – European; Diamonds – Near East; Clubs – Japanese. Additionally, the pips are replaced by the appropriate number of fish, animals, birds, insects, flowers, etc. The Joker is a character called “Fukusuke” who is said to bring good luck. The overall result is extremely attractive, in fact highly original if one considers when the designs were created. One wonders whether Costante Costantini might have been familiar with Kawakami’s work when he came up with his woodcut designs in the 1970s and 1980s.

Playing cards with prints by Sumio Kawakami, modern edition published by Okuno Karuta-ten, Tokyo, Japan. Printed by Nintendo. Date unknown Playing cards with prints by Sumio Kawakami, modern edition published by Okuno Karuta-ten, Tokyo, Japan. Printed by Nintendo. Date unknown Playing cards with prints by Sumio Kawakami, modern edition published by Okuno Karuta-ten, Tokyo, Japan. Printed by Nintendo. Date unknown Playing cards with prints by Sumio Kawakami, modern edition published by Okuno Karuta-ten, Tokyo, Japan. Printed by Nintendo. Date unknown Playing cards with prints by Sumio Kawakami, modern edition published by Okuno Karuta-ten, Tokyo, Japan. Printed by Nintendo. Date unknown

Above: Playing cards with prints by Sumio Kawakami, modern edition published by Okuno Karuta-ten, Tokyo, Japan. Printed by Nintendo. 52 cards + 1 Joker + 1 extra card in white cardboard box. Size: 63 x 89 mm. Date unknown.

Playing cards with prints by Sumio Kawakami, modern edition published by Okuno Karuta-ten, Tokyo, Japan. Printed by Nintendo. Date unknown

Inside the box is a profile of the artist in Japanese (translation below):

Born on April 10, 1895, in Yokohama.
Graduated from Aoyama Gakuin High School in 1916.
In 1917, travelled to Canada, America, and Alaska.
In 1921, appointed as an English teacher at Tochigi Prefectural Utsunomiya Junior High School (currently Utsunomiya High School).
Moved to the Tsuruta area of Nasu Village and named his residence "Hakukatei."
Created "Torampu-e" in 1939.
Privately published "Torampu-e" in 1944, limited to 20 copies.
Became a lecturer at Tochigi Prefectural Utsunomiya Girls' High School in 1949.
Received the Tochigi Prefecture Cultural Merit Award in the same year.
Received the Order of the Sacred Treasure, 4th Class, in 1967.
Passed away from a heart attack at his home on September 1, 1972, at the age of 77. Buried at Kitayama Cemetery in Utsunomiya City.

His prints mainly depict themes from the early Meiji period, Southern culture, and Meiji culture. His style is influenced by Kawakami Sumio's "Hatsune no Cho." It is well-known that he abandoned Western painting to pursue printmaking. In September 1992, the Sumio Kawakami Art Museum was opened in Nasunogahara.


This pack is available here: EXOTIC PLAYING CARDS BY SUMIO KAWAKAMI - 2 DECKS

Kawakami designed a second set of playing cards on the theme of the four seasons, available here: 4 SEASONS, BY SUMIO KAWAKAMI

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By Roddy Somerville

Member since May 31, 2022

Roddy started collecting stamps on his 8th birthday. In 1977 he joined the newly formed playing-card department at Stanley Gibbons in London before setting up his own business in Edinburgh four years later. His collecting interests include playing cards, postcards, stamps (especially playing cards on stamps) and sugar wrappers. He is a Past President of the Scottish Philatelic Society, a former Chairman of the IPCS, a Past Master of the Worshipful Company of Makers of Playing Cards and Curator of the WCMPC’s collection of playing cards. He lives near Toulouse in France.


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