Commander Perry arrived in Edo Bay to negotiate with the government of
Japan on behalf of the USA. After some fifty years of
unsuccessful effort by western powers, this effort appeared foolish at
the time. Ultimately, it however led to the end of the policy of
Sakoku - the "secluded or closed country" - which had continued since
arrival in Japan, western knowledge of Japan's rich and varied material
cultures was largely restricted to export porcelains and lacquers, made
in a style largely Japanese, partly Chinese and partly European.
These pieces were exported from Nagasaki, where the Dutch East Indis
Company maintained a small trading station.
arrived in Edo Bay, Japanese woodblock prints, an old and common
art form in Japan, such as those of Hiroshige's landscapes and
towscapes and the more varied forms of the Utagawa School were on sale
in the streets of Edo, which would later be called Tokyo. These
Japanese contemporary prints of this time were carried back to the
western world by westerners.
Perry's expedition and the opening of Japan, educated Europeans began
to visit in large numbers. Books about Japan, such as Sir
Rutherford Alcock's The Capital of the Tycoon (1863) appeared.
This was the first western book to discuss Japanese art. Sir
Rutherford's collection of prints formed part of the Japanese section
of the International Exhibition in London in 1862. Similar books
and articles in France contemporaneous with Sir Rutherford's work
started the west's love affair with Japanese prints that carried on to
Japanese woodblock prints were made at temples and given free to
believers. These prints were generally images of dieties or
sections of sacred sutras. In the home or shop, these prints took
the place of paintings and calligraphy which were too expensive for the
common people. These early prints have been largely ignored by
collectors and are historians who have instead focus on the secular
prints of the Edo period (1600-1870). The primery subject matter
of these Edo prints were either lovers or famous courtesans or kabuki
The school of
art best known in the west is the Ukiyo-e paintings and woodblock
prints. The Japanese concept of Ukiyo (or the "floating world" came
from Buddhism. Buddhism thaught that world joys are transient and
that detachment from desire and craving would lead to understanding and
enlightenment). In Edo Japan, this concept was twisted to be that
if material joys were fleeting why not enjoy them to the fullest.
The pictures(e) of these joys became Ukiyo-e, scenes of the floating
world. These were first created in paintings but soon were also
printed as single-sheet woodblock prints. Masters of this period
starting with early artists are Hishikawa Moronoby (1615-1694), Suzuki
Harunobu(1725-1770) who was the first to use full color printing,
Kitagawa Utamaro(1753-1806), Toshusai Sharaku, Katsushika Hokusai
(1760-1849) and Ando Hiroshige(1797-1858).
of these prints virtually ended by the year 1912. Two different
schools of print makers emerged to dominate the first half of the 20th
century. They are Sosaku Hanga and Shin Hanga. The sosaku
hanga movemnt was influenced by European ideas that the artist was
central to all aspects of the printing process. The shin hanga
movement was more traditional following the Ukiyo-e tradition. In
the Shin Hanga movement, the publisher was most central which means the
design, block making and printing were given to different artists.
War II many young Japanese artists were strongly influenced by Europe
and the United States in style and technique. These contemporary
prints are unique and separate from the earlier print making
styles. Masters of this later period include Munakata Shiko
(1903-1995) and Toda Shinoda who was born in 1913.