Eisen Tomioka was well attuned to the fashions and subtleties of the world around him. This sensitivity is reflected in his kuchi-e and sashi-e (front pieces for books and magazines, respectively). Born Tomioka Hidetaro in Shinshu (modern Nagano prefecture), Eisen was the oldest son of a retainer to the daimyo Matsushiro. At age 15, Eisen’s father passed away and the young artist set off to Tokyo to become a draftsman. In 1878, he worked for the office of the army general staff, yet shifted his focus to the study of painting in 1882. He continued his drafting job, but began to design kuchi-e, under the tutelage of Kano painter Eitaku Kobayashi.
Following the death of his teacher in 1890, Eisen left the world of draftsmanship and became an independent artist. From 1892 forward, he was an overwhelmingly popular artist of sashi-e. From the Miyako shinbun, an eagerly read newspaper in Tokyo’s lowlands, to Shokokumin, another popular publication, the public hungered for Eisen’s delicate illustrations. He received commissions for books and single-sheet prints as well, and purportedly made a decent living from his artwork. Towards the end of his life, he received the silver award from the Japan Art Institute and Japan Painting Association joint exhibition. Though he shifted his focus to painting in his last years, he passed away before he could make his name as a painter.