He was born in Tokyo, originally named Kawase Bunjiro, to a family which owned a small braid business. His artistic abilty was encouraged by his mother, who came from an artistic family. The Kabuki theatre, which the family frequented, was an early and significant influence on him.
As a young man, he studied under a number of painters, and later copied the woodblock prints of the masters. He was required to go into the family business, but did poorly at it, and it was turned over to his sister's husband, and at the age of 26, he was free to turn to art. He then studied under a Western-style artist, which is where he picked up his interest in landscapes; it was at this school that he received his go Hasui.
He was inspired by seeing Ito Shinsui's series 'Eight Views of Lake Biwa', and worked to gain a connection with Watanabe Shozaburo, the founder of the shin hanga print movement. He started to produce landscape prints in the shin hanga style for Watanabe in a collaboration that lasted for the rest of his life, and also occasionally worked for the shin hanga publishers Doi and Kawaguchi.
In 1953, the Committee for Preservation of Intangible Cultural Treasures induced Hasui and a group of artisans to produce a new print, "Snow at Zojoji Temple", the whole process being documented by the noted woodblock historian Narazaki Munishige. Hasui was named a National Living Treasure in 1956, shortly before his death.
Hasui regarded his work as the end of a long tradition in Japanese landscape
art, and indeed, in the decades since his death, no successor has appeared.
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