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This article is a short wrap-up of the Japanese art history starting with the Momoyama period in 1573.
First Publication: May 2001
Latest Update: April 2013
During the end of the 15th century, the Ashikaga shogunate had lost control over the country. Powerful feudal lords had ravaged Japan in a series of civil wars lasting for nearly 100 years. It came to an end, when Oda Nobunaga, broke the power of the feudal lords and of the monasteries. His successor, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who came to power in 1582 united Japan by 1590. The third unifier, Ieayasu Tokugawa, finally brought long-lasting peace to Japan since the early 17th century.
Trade relations with Europe expanded rapidly and a new wealthy class of merchants emerged. Like in the European Renaissance period, this new class contributed and influenced the development of arts. Screen painting and the art of ceramic objects flourished.
Numerous castles were built by local lords. The Himeji Castle, also called "The White Heron Castle" in today's extension was constructed from 1601-1609. According to historians, as many as 50,000 people worked on its completion. In 1993 it was put on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
This documentary of Japanese history starts with the arrival of Portuguese missionaries in 1543 in Japan. Credit and thanks to guyburgundy for sharing this with us.
The Edo period is also called the Tokugawa period after the name of the shogunate that ruled over Japan for 256 years. The Tokugawa brought peace and stability to the country, but at the costs of a repressive political style. During the Tokugawa reign, contacts with the outside world were completely stopped in 1624. Nagasaki was the only port open for commercial contacts with the outside world.
Edo (today Tokyo) and Osaka were the economic and cultural centers of the Edo period. A wealthy new urban class gained influence.
The arts moved away from the aristocratic background and showed scenes from the life of common people. People amused themselves in theaters and in the amusement quarters. From a cultural point of view, the Edo period maybe was something like the pop culture of "swinging London" in the sixties and early seventies of the 20th century.
Best known for the artistic achievements of the Edo period, are ukiyo-e, Japanese woodblock prints. The first ukiyo-e in black and white were produced in the late 17th century. Around 1764 Harunobu was the first, or at least the first popular artist, who introduced polychrome printing. The dominant master in the late 18th century was undoubtedly Utamaro, famous for his sensitive depictions of courtesans from the amusement quarters. The best known name in the first half of the 19th century is Hiroshige with his landscape prints.
In 1854 a US naval fleet under the command of Commodore Perry forced Japan to open its harbors to the outside world. In the aftermath of this show of force, it came to anti-foreign unrests. The opponents of the Tokugawa shogunate rallied around the emperor and in 1867 the last Shogun, Tokugawa Yoshinobu was forced to resign.
This period is also called the Meiji restoration, because the emperor regained the power as actual head of state after hundreds of years of the shogunate. Emperor Mutsushito took the name Meiji, meaning enlightened government. In the following years, Japan started an enormous and systematic campaign to acquire Western skills in all fields of technology, legislation and science.
By the end of the century and the Sino-Japanese war of 1894-1895 and the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-1905 Japan had risen to the most powerful nation in the Asian hemisphere.
Just like all other fields of society, the arts were hit by the full impact of the opening to the Western culture. Western-style methods in painting, print-making, carving and architecture made their way. New art schools were founded and art teachers from countries like Italy were invited into the country. But it was more than just an adoption of Western art. New art movements, such as shin-hanga or the sosaku hanga created a unique form of its own, combining old traditional skills with modern styles.
In the 20th century Japanese painters and print-makers were very successful. During the American occupation after World War II many US citizens discovered the charms of the Japanese culture. Today the United States has the largest collector community for Japanese objects of art outside Japan.
Author: Dieter Wanczura
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