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Japanese prints collection

Collection MS-2013-043: Japanese prints collection


  • Creation: circa 1765-1964 (bulk 1780-1860)
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1780 - 1860

Scope and Contents

This collection contains Japanese artwork dating from the mid-eighteenth to the mid-twentieth centuries. While the majority of this collection consists of ukiyo-e woodblock prints, there are also a number of examples of the mingei (folk art) movement and the sosaku hanga ("creative prints") movement of the early 20th century, including pieces by Sadao Watanabe, Kiyoshi Saito, and Unichi Hiratsuka.

The bulk of the ukiyo-e prints are by Ando Hiroshige; other notable artists include Katsushika Hokusai, Katsukawa Shunko, Kitagawa Utamaro, and Isoda Koryusai. The collection contains 46 prints from Hiroshige's famous series "The Fifty Three Stations of the Tokaido Road," as well as several images from other series including "The Sixty-nine Stations of the Kisokaido Road" and "Chushingura" (sometimes translated as "The Storehouse of Loyal Retainers," "The Revenge of the Loyal Retainers," or "The Tale of the 47 Ronin"). Overall the collection contains excellent examples of traditional ukiyo-e styles and themes, including bijin-ga ("beautiful women"), azuri-e ("blue print"), kabuki actors, folk tales, and landscape scenes.

Several of the items in this collection are not original woodblock prints, but reproductions from the series Nihon Mokuhangasui, published in the 1920s by Nihon Shosui-sha. The original sleeves are stored with these reproductions in Box 7. The collection also includes one painting.


Restrictions on access

Collection is open for research; portions are available digitally.

Restrictions on use

These materials are made available for use in research, teaching and private study, pursuant to U.S. Copyright Law. The user must assume full responsibility for any use of the materials, including but not limited to, infringement of copyright and publication rights of reproduced materials. Any materials used for academic research or otherwise should be fully credited with the source. The original artists may retain copyright to the materials.

Historical note - Ukiyo-e prints

The term ukiyo was originally used in Buddhist practices to refer to “the condition of impermanence created by daily life and its desires.” At the start of the Tokugawa era (1603-1868), the term began to shift in meaning and use to convey the idea of a “floating world” that was applied to the emerging culture of pleasure, parties, and a preoccupation with the present moment. Ukiyo-e (“pictures of the floating world”) rose to prominence in the seventeenth century as increases in agricultural production drove economic development, creating a literate, wealthy, urban merchant class interested in art that represented their own lifestyles. Ukiyo-e included paintings, screens, and illustrated books, but the focus of the movement was on woodblock prints. Popular ukiyo-e subjects were famous kabuki actors, courtesans, and sumo wrestlers. Other frequently used themes were famous teahouses, city quarters, historical heroes, ghosts, erotic books, and most aspects of ordinary life, with landscape prints beginning to appear in the 1830s.

The ukiyo-e woodblock prints were traditionally carved on cherry-wood blocks using a negative copy of an original sketch by an artist. Prints were usually created in orders of 400 to cover initial expenses and then reprinted if the image proved successful. A traditional ukiyo-e print would be the product of the work of four to five different people, with the artist having no hand in the physical production of the print. The design would be created by the artist with consultation from the publisher, and would then be given to skilled craftsmen who carved the design and sent the woodblock to another group of specialized workers who would print the actual image. Ukiyo-e prints were initially created entirely in black ink, while hand applied colors began to be used in 1688 with limited options of tan-e (“orange-red pigment pictures”) or beni-e (“rose colored pictures”) used until the development of full color woodblock printing in 1765.

While the strong push for modernization during the Meiji (1868-1912) and Taisho (1912-1926) eras left the traditional practice of ukiyo-e in decline, the prints continued to be produced with the traditional themes of kabuki actors and beautiful women, as well as more Western and modernized images. Scenes focusing on Western clothing and inventions and battle scenes depicting the Sino-Japanese and Russo-Japanese wars became popular in the middle of the Meiji period. In the 1910s, Watanabe Shozaburo sought to revitalize the traditional ukiyo-e focus on kabuki actors and native landscapes, forming the shin-hanga (“new print”) movement, which emphasized the original collaborative process of different craftsmen and artists creating each part of the print. This contrasted with the competing concurrent art movement of sosaku-hanga (“creative prints”), which focused on the creation of woodblock prints made entirely by one artist, for the sake of art.


Kobayashi, Tadashi. Ukiyo-e: An Introduction to Japanese Woodblock Prints. Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1992.

Calza, Gian Carlo. Ukiyo-e. London: Phaidon, 2005.

Berglund, Lars. “The Art of Ukiyo-e – A Short Historical Survey.” In Impressions: Japanese Prints and Paintings In the Utagawa Tradition, edited by The Utagawa Society of Japan. Nagano: Soei Publishing, 1994.

Jenkins, Donald. “A Mirror on the Floating World.” In Designed for Pleasure: The World of Edo Japan in Prints and Paintings, 1680 – 1860, edited by Julia Meech and Jane Oliver, 15-32. Singapore: Asia Society and Japanese Art Society of America, in association with the University of Washington Press, 2008.

Smith, Lawrence. “Japanese Prints 1868-2008.” In Since Meiji: Perspectives on the Japanese Visual Arts, 1868 – 2000, edited by J. Thomas Rimer, 361-407. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2012.

Biographical note - Morrissey family

James W. Morrissey (1897-1949) graduated from Boston College (1920), as did all four of his brothers: Francis Morrissey (1921); Dr. Leonard Morrissey (1923); William Morrissey (1925); and Dr. Arthur M. Morrissey (1929). He then worked for the McDonald Steel Company in South Boston before serving in in Venezuela during World War II, and postwar became the president of Morrissey Brothers Tractor Company in Watertown, Massachusetts. Long interested in Japanese culture, James W. Morrissey collected woodblock prints as well as books related to Japanese art. This collection passed to his brother Arthur at his death.

Dr. Arthur M. Morrissey (1906-2004) was an ophthalmologist and a veteran of World War II. Morrissey donated his brother’s collection of Japanese prints to Boston College in December 1949 as a memorial to his brother, and continued to add to the Library's collection for many years. Dr. Morrissey also later donated his own collection of Haitian paintings from his work as a volunteer with Catholic Charities in the late 1960s.


Connolly, Terence, S.J., letter to Arthur Morrissey, December 20, 1949, Archives and Library Records, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

“Dr. Arthur M. Morrissey,” The Boston Globe, October 2004.

“James W. Morrissey,” Medford Mercury, July 14, 1949.

Morrissey, Arthur M., letter to Terence Connolly, S.J., September 25, 1949, Archives and Library Records, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Morrissey, Arthur M., letter to Terence Connolly S.J., March 26, 1953, Archives and Library Records, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

U.S. Social Security Death Index, 1935-Current. Accessed January 31, 2014.

Biographical note - Laforet family

The Laforet collection was donated to the John J. Burns Library by Dr. Eugene Laforet and his wife, Dr. Mitsuko Tashiro Laforet, in honor of her father, Dr. Shiro Tashiro.

Dr. Shiro Tashiro (1883-1963) was born in Kagoshima prefecture and immigrated to the United States in 1901. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 1912 and then taught there in the department of physiological chemistry until 1918, when he accepted a position at the University of Cincinnati, College of Medicine as the associate professor of biochemistry. Tashiro was well known for his publication A Chemical Sign of Life, which studied the ability to measure carbon dioxide levels in organisms as a sign of life. Tashiro married Shizuka Kawasaki in 1915 and had two sons, Kazuo and Kiyoshi, and one daughter, Mitsuko.

Dr. Mitsuko Tashiro Laforet (1920-2006) received her bachelor’s degree from Goucher College (1942), her master’s in physiology from Vassar College, and her medical degree from the University of Cincinnati. After marrying Dr. Eugene Laforet, she moved to Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts where she worked as a hematologist at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital and Children’s Hospital in Boston.

Dr. Eugene Laforet (1924-2002) was a graduate of Boston College (1944) and Tufts Medical School (1947). Laforet was a retired captain in the United States Navy Medical Corps and a Korean War Veteran. He practiced medicine in Boston until his retirement in 1985 and taught a medical ethics course at Boston College with T. P. O’Malley, S.J.


Day, Stacey. “Tashiro, Shiro.” In

Eugene G. Laforet Biomedical Ethics Collection, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

“Eugene Laforet.” Boston Globe, June 2002.

Laforet, Eugene. “Commitment to Life.” The Heights, September 15, 1975.

“Mitsuko Laforet.” Boston Globe. December 2006.

“Mitsuko Tashiro Joins Physiologists.” Vassar Miscellany News, October 3, 1942.

O’Neill, Robert K., letter to Eugene G. Laforet, February 11, 1994, Archives and Library Records, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Tashiro, Shiro. A Chemical Sign of Life. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1917.

U.S. Social Security Death Index, 1935-Current. Accessed January 31, 2014.


22 Linear Feet (13 containers)

Language of Materials



This collection consists primarily of ukiyo-e woodblock prints. It also includes a few examples of the mingei (folk art) and sosaku hanga ("creative prints") movements of the early 20th century. The bulk of the ukiyo-e prints are by Ando Hiroshige; other notable artists include Katsushika Hokusai, Katsukawa Shunko, Kitagawa Utamaro, and Isoda Koryusai.


This collection is arranged in two series reflecting original provenance: I. Morrissey collection; II. Laforet collection. Within each series, materials are arranged alphabetically by artist's name.

In the Laforet collection, the 53 Stations of the Tokaido Road are arranged in the order originally issued.


Gifts (1949-1971) from Arthur M. Morrissey in honor of James W. Morrissey, and gifts (1994-1995) from Eugene and Mitsuko LaForet in honor of Dr. Shiro Tashahiro.

Existence of digital copies

Portions of this collection are available digitally. Links are included in the inventory.

Japanese Prints Collection
circa 1765-1964 (bulk 1780-1860)
Erin Furlong
April 2014
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
The creation of this finding aid was subsidized by a stipend from the Bookbuilders of Boston.

Repository Details

Part of the John J. Burns Library Repository

John J. Burns Library
Boston College
140 Commonwealth Avenue
Chestnut Hill MA 02467 United States