Posts tagged ‘ukiyo-e and japanese art’

June 3, 2012

Japanese art and culture: Yoshu Chikanobu provides a rich glimpse into Japan

Japanese art and culture: Yoshu Chikanobu provides a rich glimpse into Japan

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

Yoshu Chikanobu (Toyohara Chikanobu) lived between 1838 and 1912 and much of his art highlights the changing nature of Japan. The opening up of Japan after the Meiji Restoration provided many new dreams for Japanese citizens but it also was the start of the death knell for many artisans. This applies to the technological changes taking place and the changing values and thinking during this period of history.

Chikanobu, like other ukiyo-e artists in the Meiji era, understood the need to adapt because many new art forms were altering the artistic landscape in Japan. Western art especially impacted on the new generation of artists and political elites wanted to encourage modernism. Therefore, the new crème de la crème of young artists mainly adopted concepts outside of the powerful ukiyo-e art form which was so potent during the Edo period.

At the same time, technological advancements and photography were impacting greatly on ukiyo-e from a virtually negative point of view. The old ways which nurtured art in the Edo period, along with other forms of art, were being challenged by many new art movements. Also, photography would eat away at the need for ukiyo-e because it could not compete on a technological level playing field.

Chikanobu highlights an array of subjects in his art and this applies to the power of the past to the changing nature of Japanese society. He also depicted powerful historical figures in Japanese history to highlighting the nationalist side of the Meiji period which applies to war. Also, when you view Chikanobu’s art you can visually witness the imperial aspects of Western powers, which were being replicated in dress styles when it applied to elites.

Cultural wise, Chikanobu also painted many adorable themes. This applies to the Japanese tea ceremony, ikebana, kabuki, fashion in the changing Japan, and a plethora of other subjects. In this sense, Chikanobu opens up many aspects of Japan related to many themes. These themes also apply to the “old world” and “new world.”

The Toshidama Gallery (http://toshidama.wordpress.comcomments that “Chikanobu is one of the giants of the Meiji era of Japanese Woodblock prints. With Kunichika and Yoshitoshi, Chikanobu distinguished the turmoil of Japanese culture as it came to terms with the new age. Like them his life and career were inextricably linked to the upheavals in Japanese history and the near civil wars that characterized the time.”

Chikanobu and the series titled A Mirror of the Ages is also a classic because of the rich cultural themes related to women and fashion throughout the changing times. The Toshidama Gallery highlights this series strongly by stating that “This whole series is one of the outstanding achievements of late nineteenth century Japanese art. One of his best series, A Mirror of the Ages showed women by fashion and hair style throughout history. There is of course the longing for the past and yet these prints are unmistakably modern and of their time….The quality of printing is outstanding, especially in Chikanobu’s use of white for the rendering of the powdered faces. It is often forgotten by art historians that this was the period about all others when the technique of woodblock printing achieved its zenith whilst at the same time there were artists of stature to execute it.”

Other adorable print series include “Chiyoda no Ooku” (Court Ladies of the Chiyoda Palace) and “Shin Bijin” (True Beauties). Of course, Chikanobu produced many amazing pieces of art but both the above named series relate to genuine aspects of female beauty in Japan. This is highlighted by traditional clothes, for example the kimono, to the changing nature of the time which applies to Western dress styles.

In a past article about Chikanobu I comment that “Chikanobu not only witnessed the new revolutionary period and how elites looked to the West but by the late 1880s and early 1890s nostalgia also returned.  Obviously for the masses they were outside both themes and the only important thing was survival and adapting.”

The art of Chikanobu stands out dramatically and this not only applies to the exquisite skills that he was blessed with, but also to the themes that Chikanobu highlights. He certainly provides many glimpses into Japan which relate to the “old world,” cultural aspects of Japan, and the modernization of the Meiji period.

Overall, Chikanobu is one of the greats of the ukiyo-e art movement and given the plethora of fantastic ukiyo-e artists, this highlights his richness to the full. Therefore, if you adore Japanese art, culture, and history, then Chikanobu will appeal greatly because of the broad themes he depicted in his art.

 

http://www.toshidama-japanese-prints.com/item_216/Chikanobu-A-Mirror-of-the-Ages.htm

Please visit http://toshidama.wordpress.com for more articles and information.

Please visit http://toshidama-japanese-prints.com/ -   On our site you will see a wonderful selection of Japanese woodblock prints for sale. Ukiyo-e (the Japanese name for woodblock prints of the 18th and 19thcenturies) are beautiful, collectible and a sound financial investment

http://www.depauw.edu/news/index.asp?id=20942

http://moderntokyotimes.com

leejay@moderntokyotimes.com

January 22, 2012

Japanese art and Kawanabe Kyosai: the power of folklore and culture

Japanese art and Kawanabe Kyosai: the power of folklore and culture

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

The Japanese artist Kawanabe Kyosai is extremely fascinating because of his individualistic spirit and this is witnessed in his art. Kyosai, just like the mysterious Tengu, belonged to two worlds and this applies to the old Edo period and the modernization of Japan which began in 1868. The Meiji Restoration of 1868 was truly dynamic and revolutionary. Also, the center and periphery relations altered the status quo of the Edo period which relied heavily on stratification.

The Tengu also belongs to two very different traditions and highlights the power of Shintoism and the mysteriousness of this religion. Not only this, the Shinto impact on Buddhist thought patterns and traditions emanating in China were completely turned on its head. Therefore, the Tengu becomes part of the richness of nature within the Shinto faith rather than the dark demons of Buddhism and other faiths which highlight the power of evil. This fact also shows the power of Japanese culture and the indigenous faith of Shinto which could absorb different thinking and traditions.

Kyosai was born in 1831 and died in 1889 and the rapid changes in society clearly impacted on him. He was an individual who was independent in mind and thought and Kyosai expresses this through his art.

Kusumi Kawanabe, Director of the Kawanabe Kyosai Memorial Museum, comments that “This great artist has grown in stature as we have been able the better to get the Meiji period into perspective. He studied at an early age under Kuniyoshi and later under Kano masters, but eventually he went his own independent way. Essentially a nationalistic painter, he was nonetheless fully aware of Western art – indeed, he dealt with it quite broadmindedly in his book “Kyosai Gadan” published in 1887 – but he was robust enough not to succumb, as so many of his contemporaries did, to the blandishments of foreign styles, and was one of the last great painters in the truly Japanese tradition.”

The main focus in this article is to highlight aspects of Kyosai and link this with the Tengu and the underworld of Japan where mysterious creatures, spirits, and ghosts played a powerful role within the culture of this fascinating country. Also, it is clear that the outside influence of China and Korea impacted greatly on Japan. However, despite this the indigenous faith of Shintoism and other powerful aspects of culture would transform many of these new thought patterns and create a truly Japanese identity.

The yokai represent aspects of the mystery of folklore in Japan and the transformation of Tengu is also fascinating within the changing thought patterns of Japan. The yokai are creatures with supernatural powers and the Tengu are one of the most widely known monster-spirits in the land of the rising sun.

The Tengu have constantly gone through transformations in Japanese folklore and while early artists depicted the Tengu with beaks this changed in time and now the most distinctive feature is their long nose.

Within Buddhist thought patterns the Tengu were demons and it was believed that they were harbingers of bad times and this applies to war and other calamities.  However, within Shintoism the Tengu were sometimes worshipped as revered spirits (Shinto kami) which had magical powers.  Therefore, the Tengu also witnessed the fusion of aspects of Buddhism and Shintoism because in time their image changed into a more protective force.

However, despite this transformation the Tengu still had dark and dangerous powers and people in the mountains and forests had to tread carefully because of the several natures of the Tengu. This meant that local people couldn’t take the Tengu for granted and great respect was needed during visits to special shrines which highlight this mysterious folklore creature.

Kyosai certainly depicts the power of the Tengu and the mysterious features and nature of various types ofyokai.  Therefore, Kyosai is showing images of the old world despite the new reality of the Meiji period.

In Japanese history the Tengu went from demonic creatures into positive aspects providing care was taken and nature was at peace with the underworld.  For example if we apply this to children then in early Japanese history the Tengu were believed to abduct children. However, in later history this all changed because the Tengu became enlisted in searching for children who were scared and needed help quickly.

Another positive side of the Tengu is that their shape-shifting power applies to animal and human form and this meant that their attributes were powerful. Therefore, the Tengu used this in order to play tricks on arrogant Buddhist priests or people who abused their power.

In this sense, while the Tengu belong to Japanese folklore it could be said that Kyosai shared some characteristics and this applies to attacking political elites.  After all, Kyosai was known for being a political caricaturist and he often got in trouble with the law and the dominant political power of his day.

Kyosai was a free thinker who highlighted the richness of the spirit world in his art and Japanese folklore.

http://kyosai-museum.jp/ENG/about.htm

http://www.onmarkproductions.com/html/tengu.shtml

http://www.obakemono.com/obake/tengu/

http://www.robynbuntin.com/MoreByArtist.asp?ArtistID=388

leejay@moderntokyotimes.com

http://moderntokyotimes.com

November 19, 2011

Japanese art and culture: Japan Ukiyo-e Museum in Matsumoto

Japanese art and culture: Japan Ukiyo-e Museum in Matsumoto

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

 

Japan is a nation which is very rich in art and culture and the uniqueness of the Shinto faith sums up this country in a certain way. After all, nearly all developed nations had their indigenous faiths swept away by Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam, depending on geographic location and respective missionary work. However, Japan managed to preserve a faith which blended naturally with the landscape and wasn’t interested in strict social dogma.

Of course Buddhism impacted on Japan in the past but even today the indigenous faith continues to beat. Therefore, not surprisingly ukiyo-e shows many sides to Japan and this rich form of art also wasn’t abstract but belonged to the people because it represented many things.

Ukiyo-e in all its manifestations highlights the richness of culture in Japan because it shows images of history, nature, culture, theatre, mythology, the spirit world, stunning landscapes, the beauty of women, and other important areas like entertainment. Not only this, the sexual nature is extremely potent even by the standards of liberal nations in the modern world. Also, true to ukiyo-e, then shunga can be purely sexual and explicit or sexuality can be fused within mythology.

Therefore, ukiyo-e relates to the real world, magnificent landscapes, a world of powerful mythology and the spirit world. This is the beauty of ukiyo-e because at times it can be so chaotic but at other times the scene is extremely tranquil and placid.

Not only this, this art form also highlights the complexity of each ukiyo-e artist and shows the huge array of themes open to individuals like Hokusai, Hiroshige, and countless others.

The international appeal of ukiyo-e within the art world can be seen by the fact that Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, Manet, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Degas, Renoir, Monet, Félix Bracquemond, Mary Cassatt, and others, were admirers of ukiyo-e. Therefore, the impact of ukiyo-e within the international art world grew once Japan began to open up just before the Meiji period in 1868 and after this important year in Japanese history. However, just like the chaotic theme within ukiyo-e, this recognition was at a time when this art form was facing new challenges from modernity, which would ultimately eclipse this art form. 

In Matsumoto you have the Japan Ukiyo-e Museum and on their website it states that “The average citizen’s mood of Edo period (1603-1867) was an extremely buoyant and joyful one –not the transitory, heavy atmosphere characteristic of the troubled middle age. The word “ukiyo-e” means “the picture of buoyant world” and incorporates in its meaning the common man’s daily pleasures, such as Kabuki plays, Geisha houses, and so on. The forerunner of Edo period prints was simple drawings that gradually developed into a wood-block, thus satisfying the growth of the demand.”

This comment is part true but also just like all cultures and nations you have many hidden realities which were not so tranquil. In an earlier article I commented that “Obviously the Edo period had darkness within the myths and this applies to the killing of all Christians (because of Buddhist elites and rulers) and brutal methods were used against criminals.  Also, stratification and other factors meant that the Edo period also had major negatives and art can often be used to over-simplify reality. This applies to art all over the world which may neglect serious issues and the marginalized or which may be constrained by cultural and political factors of the day.”

Yet, in general, ukiyo-e does give a major glimpse into the fascinating Edo period and the same applies to the revolutionary Meiji period. This also applies to natural things like fashion and how the creeping Western world was impacting on modern Japan.

More important, ukiyo-e wasn’t exclusive unlike aspects of Western art in the same period which had negative connotations to class, power, and other negative aspects. Therefore, ukiyo-e connected with people from all social backgrounds and this is the beauty of this art form and possibly this fact paved the way in the future for the richness of manga and Japanese anime.

If you love Japanese art then a visit to the Japan Ukiyo-e Museum in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, is a must. On their website it is stated that “Japan Ukiyo-e (Ukiyoe) Museum is a print maker’s dream, holding the largest private collection of ukiyo-e (woodblock prints), paintings screens and old books in the world. The Sakai family has collected more than 100,000 pieces over several generations. English information is limited, but there is a pamphlet you can get at the front and the staff members are very friendly.”

Also, irrespective if you are an internal or external tourist, this museum is located in a beautiful part of Japan. Therefore, you can mix your visit with a lovely holiday and this applies to the stunning mountain scenery of Nagano Prefecture. Also, the museum is located in Matsumoto and this city is a fantastic base because you have a stunning castle and the environment and ambience of this city is very appealing. 

The Japan Ukiyo-e Museum is a real gem and for lovers of art then it is a paradise. Therefore, a visit to this museum will certainly heighten your knowledge of Japanese art, culture and the richness of ukiyo-e.

http://www.ukiyo-e.co.jp/jum-e/index.html  

The Japan Ukiyo-e Museum: 2206-1, Shimadachi, Matsumoto, 390-0852, JAPAN.

Open: 10:00 a.m.—5:00 p.m.

Closed on Monday

 

http://welcome.city.matsumoto.nagano.jp/contents03+index.id+7.htm  

http://welcome.city.matsumoto.nagano.jp/  

http://moderntokyotimes.com  please visit

October 12, 2011

Utagawa Kuniyoshi: stunning images of tranquility or myth?

Utagawa Kuniyoshi: stunning images of tranquility or myth?

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

Utagawa Kuniyoshi like many ukiyo-e artists tackled the usual themes of the “floating world” but more than most, he really came alive with powerful images when it applied to mystical tales and Japanese folklore.  However, this article is based on glimpses of tranquility and the other Kuniyoshi which is often an afterthought when compared with his rich art depicting monsters and other highly suggestive images.

Ando Hiroshige and Katsushika Hokusai spring to mind internationally in the world of ukiyo-e but Utagawa Kunisada outshone all ukiyo-e artists in Japan during his lifetime and he was commercially the most successful. However, ukiyo-e artists are very varied and individuals will have their own particular favorite and certainly many people revere the rich imagination of Kuniyoshi. 

Also, while great focus is put on pre-Meiji artists this hides the real beauty of ukiyo-e because Meiji artists brought a new dimension because of the changing world which influenced them.  They also had to compete in this changing world and styles changed because of this.

The window of a new Japan was emerging despite Kuniyoshi dying before the revolutionary period of Meiji. However, amidst the changing world and Kuniyoshi’s focus on strong images based on Japanese folklore, mystical tales and samurai warriors; you also have a tranquil world based on landscape.

Therefore, if individuals don’t know much about Kuniyoshi his tranquil art is a nice introduction and images of landscape are very soothing on the eye.  Indeed, in many ways it could be argued that while Kuniyoshi’s rich imagination focused on a world of mystical tales, Japanese folklore and powerful images of monsters – this may appear to be based on myth – however, it could be argued that the tranquil nature of his landscape was more of a myth because life was very hard in Japan for many people.

This is the beauty of art because one reflection to one individual may show a world that they want to see and envisage. However, to another individual it will be partly mythical or deemed beyond the realm of reality.  However, this is the mystery of art in all its manifestations.

Also, human nature is complex and the outside persona and internal reality is often very different.  Therefore, by providing a glimpse into the natural aspect of Kuniyoshi’s art I hope to highlight a rich aspect of this unique artist who had such a rich imagination.

Kuniyoshi was a truly amazing artist and he also responded to the political changes surrounding him in the 1840s.  However, in a world of chaos and rapid change then his tranquil art appeals to individuals who seek nostalgia and a world based on blissful tranquility.

The Islamic revolution in Iran was originally based on a mythical past and in time many revolutionaries would regret. Similarly, the Russian Revolution was based on a new society and communist art depicted many images of unity and modernity based on equality.

It could well be that Kuniyoshi’s landscape images were more mythical than his images of monsters. However, that depends on the history that the individual wants to believe. 

Irrespective of the real reality of Japan during the lifetime of Kuniyoshi it is clear that his tranquil art is very soothing and this angle shows the richness of his art.

http://www.kuniyoshiproject.com/   – Fantastic website and just click onto the section you are interested in.

leejay@moderntokyotimes.com

http://moderntokyotimes.com

October 4, 2011

Yōshū Chikanobu: ukiyo-e and changing Japan (Chikanobu Toyohara

Yōshū Chikanobu: ukiyo-e and changing Japan (Chikanobu Toyohara)

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

This is a brief glimpse into the art work of Yoshu Chikanobu (Chikanobu Toyohara) who witnessed major changes in Japan.  He lived between 1838 and 1912 and this period in Japanese history is very dynamic. This applies to the ending of Edo and the revolutionary Meiji period which began in 1868.

Chikanobu had one foot in the old world and in time another would belong to the modern period.  The Meiji Restoration in 1868 was revolutionary and like all nations which are engulfed by new forces you had both positives and negatives.

The positive side applies to greater openness and stratification being challenged and a host of other factors.  The downside, Japan followed the imperial European theme and became involved in wars.  However, for Chikanobu and other ukiyo-e artists it was a time to express all these changes and in time modernity would challenge ukiyo-e.

Chikanobu not only witnessed the new revolutionary period and how elites looked to the West but by the late 1880s and early 1890s nostalgia also returned.  Obviously for the masses they were outside both themes and the only important thing was survival and adapting.

Ukiyo-e artists of the Meiji era have often been overlooked but times are changing and Chikanobu and Ogata Gekko, and others, are now being valued in their own right. Therefore, prints by Meiji artists are being studied more and not only based on the artistic merits but also for studying Japanese culture. After all, Meiji artists witnessed a rapidly changing Japan and visual images provide a glimpse into this changing world.

Chikanobu’s famous print series called “Chiyoda no Ooku” (Court Ladies of the Chiyoda Palace) and “Shin Bijin” (True Beauties) highlight stunning colors and show the complexity of this period. This applies to images which show Japanese ladies dressed in exquisite traditional clothes like the kimono and Chikanobu also depicts women in Western clothes. 

This is fascinating from the angle of culture, modernity, fashion, and other important areas. Also, in some pictures you can really feel the imperial nature of the Meiji era and his work is very valuable culturally and because of the stunning art he produces

http://www.depauw.edu/news/index.asp?id=20942

http://moderntokyotimes.com

leejay@moderntokyotimes.com

August 23, 2011

Keisai Eisen and View of Shogetsu Pond: ukiyo-e and pure bliss

Keisai Eisen and View of Shogetsu Pond: ukiyo-e and pure bliss

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

Keisai Eisen was a complex individual because he could compose stunning images of tranquility but private matters were more complex and he apparently owned a brothel and was a heavy drinker.  However, the image of the View of Shogetsu Pond is based on bliss and the wonders of nature in all its simplicity and richness.

The artistic work of Keisai Eisen which went into creating the View of Shogetsu Pond is truly stunning.  This applies to nature and humanity being together in oneness and everything looks in perfect order.

It could be that Keisai Eisen was a real heavy drinker or that he used wit when describing himself so negatively.  After all, he was a writer and a sublime artist therefore we can only take at face value when he implied that he was …a hard-drinking, rather dissolute artist.”

However, the residence of the brothel did exist in Nezu, Tokyo, and it was called Wakatakeya.  This would indicate an element of truth about aspects of his negative statement about himself.

Therefore, were stunning images like the View of Shogetsu Pond a mirage to how he desired to see the world?  Alternatively, it could be that this piece of work had little value when it came to the real meaning and like all works of art, the individual can read different things into the real meaning and come up with countless theories.

The quaint bridge and houses in the background looks like a place of safety and peace. Mountains in the distance also seem like guardians and being ready to pounce on any future calamity.

This world was very different to the real world of Keisai Eisen and the brothel he owned called Wakatakeya.  It matters not that his brothel burnt down because of misfortune. The fact is that he was involved in ungentlemanly behavior but this man of letters was very complex.

However, even if he was involved in brothels does this add to the beauty of the View of Shogetsu Pond by Keisai Eisen or does it distract from the harmonic image he created?     

http://www.viewingjapaneseprints.net/texts/ukiyoetexts/ukiyoe_pages/eisen3.html

http://www.artelino.com/articles/keisai-eisen.asp 

leejay@moderntokyotimes.com

http://moderntokyotimes.com

August 15, 2011

Japan Ukiyo-e Museum in Matsumoto: richness of art and culture

Japan Ukiyo-e Museum in Matsumoto: richness of art and culture

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

Hokusai

Ukiyo-e expresses the richness of Japanese culture, nature, history, mythology, theatre, stunning landscapes, and highlights the importance of entertainment and other areas. Also, ukiyo-e shows vivid images of sexuality and some shunga is extremely explicit even by the standards of today in liberal nations.  This reality is what makes ukiyo-e so powerful because it relates to both reality and a world of mythology and ghosts.

Hiroshige

Ukiyo-e therefore covers a very broad spectrum and many famous international artists like Vincent van Gogh, Manet, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Degas, Renoir, Paul Gaugin, Monet, Félix Bracquemond, Mary Cassatt, and others, were admirers of ukiyo-e.  

Chikanobu

 The Japan Ukiyo-e Museum website comments that “The average citizen’s mood of Edo period (1603-1867) was an extremely buoyant and joyful one –not the transitory, heavy atmosphere characteristic of the troubled middle age. The word “ukiyo-e” means “the picture of buoyant world” and incorporates in its meaning the common man’s daily pleasures, such as Kabuki plays, Geisha houses, and so on. The forerunner of Edo period prints was simple drawings that gradually developed into a wood-block, thus satisfying the growth of the demand.”

Kunichika

Obviously the Edo period had darkness within the myths and this applies to the killing of all Christians and brutal methods were used against criminals.  Also, stratification and other factors meant that the Edo period also had major negatives and art can often be used to over-simplify reality. This applies to art all over the world which may neglect serious issues and the marginalized or which may be constrained by cultural and political factors of the day.

Ogata Gekko

However, ukiyo-e does provide major glimpses into the Edo period and the changing Japan which began after the Meiji Restoration of 1868.  More important, ukiyo-e connected with people from all social backgrounds and elitist aspects of Western art appears to be unimportant.

Yoshitoshi

The Japanese Ukiyo-e Museum in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, is located in a stunning part of Japan and the mountain scenery of Nagano Prefecture is a wonder to behold. Therefore, if you love art and Japanese culture this museum is a must place to visit because the ukiyo-e collection is enormous and you will be spoilt for choice. 

Hiroshige

Irrespective if you are a citizen who resides in Japan or an international tourist who is visiting Japan; the Japan Ukiyo-e Museum is a genuine treasure. Matsumoto itself is a very nice city and Matsumoto Castle is very beautiful. The surrounding area is also blessed with amazing nature and beautiful mountain ranges and this will further add to your visit to the Japan Ukiyo-e Museum in Matsumoto.  

http://www.ukiyo-e.co.jp/jum-e/index.html

The Japan Ukiyo-e Museum: 2206-1, Shimadachi, Matsumoto, 390-0852, JAPAN.

Open: 10:00 a.m.—5:00 p.m.
Closed on Monday

http://welcome.city.matsumoto.nagano.jp/contents03+index.id+7.htm

http://welcome.city.matsumoto.nagano.jp/

leejay@moderntokyotimes.com

http://moderntokyotimes.com

August 1, 2011

Ogata Gekko and ukiyo-e: Japanese ladies and historical issues in his lifetime

Ogata Gekko and ukiyo-e: Japanese ladies and historical issues in his lifetime

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

Ogata Gekko was a very individualistic artist and he had a rich style which was based on his upbringing.  This applies to mainly being self-taught but this can be over-played because his free spirit was from within and times were changing very quickly during his lifetime.

This article is based on images of Japanese women during a rapidly changing Japan and in the images that I focus on he clearly shows the refinement of ladies. This applies to showing nice details related to color schemes, background and the fashion and style of the day.

Ogata Gekko witnessed the changing nature of Japan because he was born in 1859 and died in 1920.  Therefore, Ogata Gekko was a small child of the Edo period and then witnessed modernization during the Meiji period from 1868 to 1912 and finally the Taisho period began in the same year of 1912.

This must have impacted greatly on Ogata Gekko and other artists because outside influence and inward Japanese identity was changing and alongside this was new technology which was changing the art world in Japan. 

Elements of rigidity during the Edo period would soon wane in his childhood and a new creative world and frightening world for many would lead to many internal convulsions. These internal issues also led to conflicts throughout Northeast Asia and it must be remembered that geography is complex when describing this region.

After all, while Japan is deemed to be firmly in Asia it must be remembered that Japan’s closest neighbor is the Russian Federation. In many ways, Japan’s political elite and dress sense in the Meiji period and Taisho period resembled a Western imperial power. Therefore, the “sleeping Japan” of the Edo period was now an expanding power and China, which had been the backbone of Japanese cultural influence, was now seen negatively and open to exploitation.

This meant that China now viewed Japan to be hostile and was one of many imperial powers which had designs on China’s wealth. The others being European powers and America may not belong to the traditional imperial club but this nation also desired a foothold in China.

Artists were also caught between tradition and modernization alongside rapidly changing cultural influences from Europe.  The interaction was not one way because Japanese artists also influenced European artists but for artists like Ogata Gekko they were bound to be influenced by all this confusion.

Natsume Kinnosuke, who lived between 1867 and 1916, sums up the cultural reality of Japan during this period of Japanese history. This applies to the fact that this important Japanese novelist was a composer of haiku, Chinese-style poetry and a deep scholar of British literature.

Kobayashi Kiyochika who was born in 1847 was firmly within the traditional ukiyo-e orbit but this individual who died in 1915 changed alongside the changing nature of Japan.  He, like Ogata Gekko, understood the need to adapt while still preserving the best of Japanese traditions. 

Richard Lane stated in Images from the Floating World, The Japanese Print, on page 193, that Kobayashi Kiyochika was “…the last important ukiyo-e master and the first noteworthy print artist of modern Japan… [or, perhaps] an anachronistic survival from an earlier age, a minor hero whose best efforts to adapt ukiyo-e to the new world of Meiji Japan were not quite enough.”

Ogata Gekko was part of this changing world and he would express this reality through his art.  Therefore, Ogata Gekko provides a glimpse into aspects of cultural change in Japan.

In his images of Japanese women related to this article it is clear that you get a sense of ambition, identity and continuity alongside cultural changes.  The images show Japanese women looking elegant, refined and clearly the embroidery and color schemes show a stunning richness.

Of course these images will mean different things to each individual and my own interpretation is that it shows a confident Japan and women coming out from the shadows. 

The onrushing of change is clearly happening but at the same time the exquisite nature of the past is being preserved.  Ogata Gekko is expressing the richness of design, fashion in this period, embroidery, and females in his images show confidence and a zest for life, amidst natural simplicity which is continuing despite all the social upheavals.

In many ways life is a mirage because what is important now does not last and all energy and power becomes lost in time.  However, irrespective if these images show a mirage of women in Japan it is not a complete mirage because high society and social status is being expressed.

The real power in these images, I believe, applies to simplicity and how space, time, cultural richness and modern Japanese women were being portrayed. Indeed, the ideal image in a sense can still be seen in modern Japan when ladies dress in traditional styles. This can be seen clearly because a lot of thought, high quality materials, color schemes and other important areas are connecting with the images which Ogata Gekko is showing. 

The cultural context is very different alongside the huge time difference but while these images may not focus on the political and working reality of Japan in the Meiji and Taisho period.  They do show a culture which is confident, stylish but within the traditions of Japan.

If you think about Coming of Age Day for Japanese ladies in modern Japan then all the symbolic images of tradition can be seen by stunning clothes which show the richness of Japanese tradition.

Therefore, just like the images by Ogata Gekko, you can see an ideal beauty within the Japanese psyche and while this form of dress is preserved for special occasions in modern Japan, you can still feel the connection of the past and how tradition is important.

Ogata Gekko expresses this elegantly and with a passion.

http://www.ogatagekko.net/

http://www.ogatagekko.net/BMA.html – Stunning images from this website

http://www.ogatagekko.net/FFZ.html – Fantastic set of images which show the grace of Ogata Gekko

http://shogungallery.com/index.php?cPath=21_24_153  

http://woodblockprint.com.au/44.html  

http://moderntokyotimes.com (Please visit)

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