Japan Envisions the West

16th-19th Century Japanese Art from Kobe City Museum

Edited by Yukiko Shirahara

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  • Published: 2007
  • Subject Listing: Art History
  • Bibliographic information: 216 pp., 105 illus., 80 in color, 8.5 x 11 in.
  • Published with: Seattle Art Museum
  • Contents

This extraordinary book features significant works of art from the Kobe City Museum, whose collection focuses on Western-style Japanese art created between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries. Japan Envisions the West considers how Japan encountered the West and learned about and adopted their arts, culture, and science, and how the West discovered Japanese arts and culture.

Maps bear important witness in telling the story of how each region recognized and understood the lands of the other. Selected maps mark milestones in illustrating each state of understanding between Japan and the West.

Portuguese and Spanish missionaries and merchants from the late sixteenth to early seventeenth centuries conveyed Western culture, religion, art, food, and music to the Japanese, and they were the first Westerners to have a strong impact in Japan. Namban refers to Japanese art created under the influence of Portugal and Spain.

After Christianity was excluded from Japan in the 1630s, Nagasaki became the only port open for trading with Dutch merchants. Artists in this region, especially painters serving the government, had the opportunity to see foreign people, culture, and art firsthand. They made visual records, copied important objects, and studied these records for their work.

When the Tokugawa Shogunate Yoshimune relaxed restrictions on imported Western books in 1720, with the exception of Christian books, scholarly artists and scientists were free to study them, leading to Komo, Japanese art created under the influence of Holland, and to more popular paintings, prints, and decorative arts that demonstrate the fusion of Japanese and Western styles. At the same time, objects were made specifically for trade with Europe through the East India Companies established in European countries.

Finally, visual images produced in the nineteenth century show the effort, surprise, and curiosity of the Japanese as they tried to understand America and Americans.
Yukiko Shirahara is John A. McCone Foundation Curator of Asian Art at the Seattle Art Museum.
Foreword / Mimi Gardner Gates

Curator's Statement / Yukiko Shirahara

Introduction: The Painters of Japan and the West / Oka Yasumasa

The Reception of Maps between Japan and the West / Onoda Kazuyuki

Two Streams of Namban Painting / Narusawa Katsushi

The Art Scene in and around Nagasaki / Narusawa Katsushi

The Influence of Ransho on Western-style Painting / Katsumori Noriko

The Early Copperplate Prints of Shiba Kokan and Aodo Denzen / Tsukahara Akira

Hollandisme in Japanese Craftwork / Oka Yasumasa

Japan and the West: Export Porcelain and Lacquerware / Christiaane J. A. Jorg

The Opening of Japan and Its Visual Culture / Tsukahara Akira

Further Reading
Acknowledgments / Yukiko Shirahara
Notes to the Reader

"Featuring a splendid variety of exquisite Japanese works of art from the Kobe City Museum, Japan Envisions the West provides a rare and intriguing window into interactions between Japan and the West."
-Nichi Bei Times

"This is a brilliant study of Western influences on the arts and culture of Japan during the Edo period, going far beyond the standard analyses of formal elements such as perspective and three dimensions. . . . This is a crucial purchase for college and university libraries, since it will change considerably readers' understanding of this important period of East/West relations. Essential."

"Features a splendid variety of exquisite Japanese works of art from the Kobe City museum, proving a rare insight into interactions between Japan and the West for three centuries."