Jōmon period, ca. 10,000–300 B.C.
The archipelago known today as Japan was originally attached to the continent of Asia, allowing for the free passage of migrants into the region through Hokkaido in the north and Kyushu in the south. Between 10,000 B.C. and 4000 B.C., the Earth’s temperature gradually rose. As a result, what had formerly been land routes to Japan disappeared beneath oceans, and the southern islands of Kyushu and Shikoku became separated from the central island of Honshu. With the submergence of the land passages came the rise of a semi-nomadic hunter-gatherer culture distinguished by its production of pottery. Ceramics from the period often feature patterns created by rolling a cord over the surface of a vessel prior to firing. Such patterns are termed jōmon in Japanese, and Japan’s Neolithic culture is thus referred to as the Jōmon. The Jōmon culture flourished over the long span of time from 10,000–300 B.C. During the early phases of the period, people lived in small communities located primarily in coastal regions. Potters produced deep cooking vessels with rounded bases and wide, undulating rims. In addition to cords, split bamboo and shells were employed in the patterning of the ceramics. Later, similar vessels with flat bases became typical. By the Middle Jōmon period (ca. 3500–ca. 2400 B.C.), people had become less nomadic. Large, stable villages were established in cooler highland areas, and the production of elaborately decorated vessels designed for specialized household and ritual uses became common. Potters increasingly turned to elaborate designs featuring raised clay coils and forms fashioned to resemble animals of symbolic importance. The environment began to cool again from around 1500 B.C., causing people to move back out of the highlands into coastal areas. The Late Jōmon period (ca. 2500–1000 B.C.) witnessed the standardization of vessel types produced across Japan as groups came into greater contact with one another through coastal fishing. The creation of figurines in the shape of humans and animals, which had begun to be produced by the Early Jōmon period (ca. 5000–3500 B.C.), rapidly accelerated as the end of the Jōmon period approached. By the Final Jōmon period (ca. 1000–300 B.C.), continued declines in temperature had resulted in a scarcity of food, and ultimately in a marked contraction of the population. The dramatically smaller population worked against the previous trend towards stylistic unity across works produced by individual communities. Although famous for its ceramics, Jōmon culture was also characterized by the use of stone for the creation of ritual objects. Some figurines were fashioned from stone, and ritual circles consisting of large quantities of arranged stones appeared in the Late Jōmon period. The Jōmon period is considered anomalous amongst Neolithic cultures by traditional Western archaeological methods, which assess pottery production to be a direct response to needs arising from the development of agriculture. Agriculture is in turn considered a Mesolithic phenomenon. However, while there is no direct evidence of agriculture in Japan until the Final Jōmon period, pottery shards have been excavated that yield dates as early as the Incipient Jōmon (ca. 10,000–7500 B.C.) and Initial Jōmon periods (7500–5000 B.C.) by Carbon dating.
- Incipient Jōmon, ca. 10,000–ca. 7500 B.C.
- Initial Jōmon, ca. 7500–ca. 5000 B.C.
- Early Jōmon, ca. 5000–ca. 3500 B.C.
- Middle Jōmon, ca. 3500–ca. 2400 B.C.
- Late Jōmon, ca. 2500–ca. 1000 B.C.
- Final Jōmon, ca. 1000–300 B.C.
Yayoi period, ca. 300 B.C.–ca. A.D. 300
The following Yayoi period is named for the region in Tokyo where finds from the time were first excavated. The era is marked by the development of an agrarian culture based on rice cultivation, a technology considered to have been introduced from the continent possibly as early as 1000 B.C. A social class structure also emerged, and Chinese histories dating from the middle of the period record that there was widespread warfare among competing groups. Bronze and iron objects were imported to Japan from China and Korea, along with technical knowledge of metallurgy. The imports were frequently melted down to fashion new wares. In addition to producing armor and tools from bronze and iron, craftspeople also employed continental casting methods to create bronze mirrors and ceremonial bells called dōtaku. Such bells are thought to have been based on functional Korean prototypes, and occasionally include basic line designs depicting scenes from daily life. Ceramic vessel designs became more streamlined and geometrical over the course of the period. By the late Yayoi, the most common form of decoration was a simple coat of red pigment, although earlier in the era designs were made with traditional tools, as well as with combs and paddles. One variety of storage vessels depicts human faces, and is hypothesized to have had a protective function. Archaeological finds indicate that cultural features of the Jōmon survived into the Yayoi, with a given site often yielding objects peculiar to both cultures. Survivals of Jōmon culture were most pervasive in the northeastern Tohoku region of Japan, while Yayoi culture became more firmly rooted in western and central Japan. The earliest evidence of the practice of the Shinto religious tradition dates to the Yayoi period.
- Early Yayoi, ca. 300–ca. 100 B.C.
- Middle Yayoi, ca. 100 B.C.–ca. A.D. 100
- Late Yayoi, ca. 100–ca. 300
Kofun period (Tumulus), 300–710
Kofun are large earthen burial mounds that provide the name for the era spanning the fourth through early eighth centuries. The burial mounds were constructed for members of the ruling class, and were first built in the area corresponding to modern Nara and Osaka in central Japan. An increase in their numbers and geographical distribution over time indicates a trend towards the solidification of a central government. Kofun were surrounded by moats. The mounds within the moats generally took the form of a large triangular shape penetrating a circle. Clay cylinders called haniwa adorned the slopes and perimeters of the mounds, as well as the entrance to the tomb. Some of the cylinders, particularly those associated with kofun in eastern Japan, featured figurines set on top of them. In the early part of the era, pits dug vertically into the mounds produced the tomb chamber, but in time, horizontal tomb chambers with corridors leading out of the mounds took their place. Along with this change came the decoration of the walls of the tomb with paintings that showed an awareness of continental symbolism. Furthermore, goods excavated from tombs dating to the latter part of the period demonstrate a similarity to contemporaneous burial practices in Korea. Tomb goods uncovered include metal mirrors, weapons, and elaborate headdresses, as well as a new type of gray stoneware called Sue ware. In addition to advances in metallurgy, new continental technologies such as the potter’s wheel and the kiln came to be used for ceramic production from the middle of the Kofun era.
Asuka period, 593–710
The Kofun period overlaps with two other time periods known as the Asuka (593–710) and the Hakuhō (672–686), during which new cultural features developed, but mound burials persisted. The Asuka period is named for a powerful group that occupied an area south of modern day Nara. It begins with the date of the issuing of the Seventeen Article Constitution by the prince Shōtoku and ends with the transference of the capital to what is now Kyoto. During the Asuka era, Buddhism was introduced to Japan along with numerous Chinese and Korean cultural features. These imports included including a bureaucratic governmental system as well as Chinese ideographs, which were adapted for written Japanese. A civil war was fought over the legitimacy of Buddhism versus that of the indigenous Shinto religious tradition. Ultimately, the traditions were found to be compatible, and state sponsorship of Buddhist art and architecture saw rapid expansion. Early Buddhist temples were built based upon various models from Korea and China, and Buddhist sculptures in wood, stone, bronze, clay, and lacquer were produced. Many sculptures were based upon prototypes in the style of the Chinese Northern Wei (386–535) dynasty.
Hakuhō period, 672–686
The Hakuhō period corresponds to the reign dates of the Emperor Tenmu. During this period, the influence of Chinese Sui (589–618) and early Tang dynasty (618–907) Buddhist painting, sculpture, and architectural styles became pronounced. Two major temples, Hōryūji and Yakushiji, survive from the Hakuhō period. At the same time, the Yayoi–inspired architecture of the major Shinto site of worship, the Ise Shrine, was standardized. Its structures, along with those at the Izumo Shrine complex, served as prototypes for subsequent shrines.
Nara period, 710–794
The Nara period is named for the location of a new capital built in 710 that was formally known as Heijōkyō. As with the establishment of other capitals before it, one reason for the move was the custom of abandoning capitals upon the death of an emperor. The layout of the capital closely reflected Chinese concepts of statecraft, constructed as it was in a grid system following the precedent of the Chinese national capital Chang’an. During this era, Chinese literary culture inspired the first national histories, the Kojiki, written in 712, and the Nihon shoki, written in 720, as well as the compilation of a major anthology of poems, the Manyōshū. Buddhism became the official religion of the state, thus ensuring an emphasis on the production of Buddhist arts. Emperor Shōmu, who ruled Heijōkyō from 724 to 756, devised a state sponsored system of monasteries and convents, the function of which was to protect the state through Buddhist practice in each region of Japan. The central effort in this scheme was the construction of a temple known as Tōdaiji that housed a gilt bronze image of the Buddha Vairocana standing over fifty feet tall. So elaborate were the requirements for the architecture, sculpture, and adornments of the temple complex that a special governmental bureau to oversee the project was established in 748. Many among the community of artists working in the capital came from families who had immigrated from China or Korea. Artists were organized into a series of government run workshops, which included offices of painting, metalwork, lacquer, carpentry, and sutra transcription, as well as into a number of workshops associated with the main temples in the capital. Shōmu also sent emissaries to China and Korea, who returned with objects and designs that originated from many points along the Silk Road. These objects, along with works produced in Japan, were transferred to the Shōsōin storehouse several years after Shōmu’s death in 756. They provide a wealth of information on eighth century innovations in painting, lacquer, and other media. By the end of the Nara period, the power balance between the imperial family and the monastic communities that grew up around the six schools of Buddhism active in the capital became unstable, giving rise to an initiative to remove the secular power base to a new location where it could wield stronger authority over religious institutions.
- Tempyō period, 729–749
Heian period, 794–1185
"In what is considered to have been a decisive move to escape the powerful monastic communities of the capital Nara–period Heijōkyō, the imperial court established a new capital north of Nara called Heiankyō. The location of the city corresponds roughly to modern day Kyoto, and it remained the official capital of Japan from 794 until 1868. Like Heijōkyō, Heiankyō was built following the model of the Chinese capital Chang'an, but out of imperial uneasiness about potential power struggles with the Buddhist leadership, only two temples were built within the city precincts. However, Emperor Kanmu, who ruled from 781 to 806, did sanction the practice of two newer forms of Buddhism imported from China. He allowed the two schools, Shingon and Tendai, to operate in the hills surrounding the capital.Shingon initially became the more popular of the two schools, and its leader, Kūkai (774–835), received imperial permission in 823 to occupy and renovate one of the two temples built within the capital. Shingon brought with it the powerful painted and sculptural forms of mandalas, or representations of the Buddhist universal order, as well as the earliest surviving examples in Japan of painted portraiture of religious leaders. Painted representations of Shingon deities appear to have influenced the visual conceptualization of sculpted Shinto deities. Heian period Buddhist and Shinto sculpture was most frequently executed in wood, a preference that extended to temple architecture as well. Two joinery techniques, single-block and multiple-block, were used in producing wooden statues.By the beginning of the eleventh century, Tendai–based forms of worship had gained popularity with the court nobility, and inspired new themes in art that illustrated aspects of belief in the Buddha Amida. Increased belief in the salvific power of Amida was linked to the idea that a period known as mappō was imminent. Mappō, which officially began in 1052, was explained in Buddhist scriptures as a stage at which the world was to enter into irreversible moral decline and lawlessness. Another response to the dawn of mappō was the production of elaborately decorated copies of the Lotus Sutra, a practice which was considered efficacious in protecting devotees from this frightening new reality.
On a level of equal importance with developments in the sphere of Buddhism were events of a more secular nature. From the year 858, a powerful family called the Fujiwara began to control governmental affairs by appointing members of their clan as regents to successive emperors. The Fujiwara ensured their appointments to the top positions in government by an extended series of arranged marriages of their daughters to heirs to the imperial seat. The capital enjoyed relative peace under the Fujiwara, which afforded courtiers with ample time for cultural pursuits. Some thirty-five years after the Fujiwara took control of the government, imperially sponsored emissaries to China officially ceased, and a period of cultural introspection began. A rich array of literary, visual, and musical practices flourished during this time as Japan digested the intense cultural exchange it had experienced with the continent, and refined its own sense of aesthetics. The Tale of Genji was written, and the imperially sponsored Kokin wakashū (Collection of Poems Old and New) was compiled. Both works were in kana, a phonetic script devised for writing in Japanese, as opposed to Chinese. A new form of narrative painting, emakimono, or illustrated handscrolls, grew out of Chinese models, but had a distinctively Japanese range of styles. Such handscrolls combined the beauty of kana calligraphy with illustrations emphasizing either rich layered pigments or fluid ink lines accented with a more restrained use of color.
The Heian imperial palace complex boasted a large hall for ceremonies, along with a smaller residential compound. Walls, sliding doors, and free-standing screens within both structures were painted with carefully selected scenes. Documentation suggests that the architecture of the former was distinctly Chinese in style, with paintings depicting Chinese themes, while the latter was Japanese in style, and contained paintings primarily Japanese in theme. That a distinction was made between kara-e, Chinese paintings, and yamato-e, Japanese paintings, is clear from Heian texts, but modern understanding of the nature of the distinction is inhibited by the paucity of extant paintings. The interior of the palace and other imperially sponsored painting programs were carried out by the imperial painting bureau. The lavish decorative and architectural traditions of the Heian court are commonly thought to have been largely absent from the life of the provinces, with the exception of Hiraizumi, a Fujiwara stronghold in northern Japan.
Although the Fujiwara continued to be a powerful force in government until the middle of the twelfth century, from the late eleventh century power was restored to the imperial family through a new system by which retired emperors ruled in place of current emperors. The imperial family and the Heian nobility continued to dedicate much of their efforts to cultural and spiritual enrichment. However, succession disputes within the imperial family and civil unrest originating in the provinces gradually led to the demise of the peace the capital had enjoyed. Between 1180 and 1185, a war was waged between rival factions in the capital, and military leaders overtook the central government.
- Fujiwara period (Late Heian), 894–1185"
Kamakura Period, 1185–1333
"The Kamakura period began in 1185 with the close of a five-year war for widespread political power fought between the Taira and Minamoto families. Minamoto Yoritomo (1147–1199) was the head of the victorious family. Subsequent to his victory in the capital, Yoritomo destroyed the northern city of Hiraizumi, where the Fujiwara clan had held sway, and was designated as Japan’s first shogun by the emperor. Yoritomo established his headquarters as Japan’s premiere military entity in an area of eastern Japan called Kamakura. Powers traditionally enjoyed by the court gradually shifted to his Kamakura–based military organization. Under the Kamakura shoguns, trade with the continent was restored, although the Mongol invasions of 1271 and 1281 caused a temporary disruption in regional exchange.
Among the main artistic projects of the Kamakura period was reconstruction of the Tōdaiji and Kōfukuji temple complexes, parts of which had been burned to the ground by Taira forces during the war. New sculptural installations at these temples were designed and executed by members of the Kei School, a Nara-based group of sculptors whose innovative style combined features of Nara-period sculpture with a new sense of dynamism and realism. Studios active in the capital since the Heian period continued to produce as well, but it is the mode of the Kei School that defines Kamakura-era sculpture. In painting, members of the imperial painting bureau and painters affiliated with temples participated in making the late twelfth through early fourteenth centuries an important time for illustrated handscroll production. Along with numerous aristocratic protagonists of various ranks, a new cohort of figures, religious leaders, became a prominent subject of narrative art. Of particular mention is the widespread production of pictorial biographies of founders and leaders of religious movements new to the Kamakura period. Illustrated temple histories, which had begun to be produced during the Heian period, greatly increased in number. Heian concerns that the world had entered a degenerate stage called mappō persisted, and inspired ever more art forms associated with belief in the salvific power of the Buddha Amida. Two of the most common of these are rokudō-e, or paintings of the Buddhist six realms of existence, and raigō-zu painting, depictions of the Buddha Amida coming to lead devotees to his Western Paradise.
In addition to artistic changes attending restoration projects and outgrowths of Heian–period Buddhist beliefs, Chinese Song dynasty (960–1279) painting and architecture profoundly influenced Kamakura period aesthetics. The primary conduits of this influence were Buddhist monks affiliated with the Chan school of Buddhism who immigrated to Japan in the wake of the Mongol occupation of China. Know as Zen Buddhism in Japan, the material features of Chan Buddhism continued to be a major force in shaping Japanese art through the sixteenth century. The term karayō, literally \"Chinese mode,\" is used to describe the complex architectural structures of Zen temples; the meditation gardens within them are known as kare sansui, or dry landscapes. Chan monks also brought ink paintings reflecting the styles of famous Southern Song (1127–1279) painters and a form of portraiture depicting Chan masters called chinso."
Muromachi (Ashikaga) period, 1333/36–1568
"The Kamakura world turned upside down during the Kenmu Restoration (1333–1336), when the Emperor Go-Daigo (1288–1339) sought to wrestle power from the Kamakura military regime and restore direct rule to the imperial line. Although he was briefly successful, Go-Daigo was ultimately driven south to Yoshino from the capital in 1336 by his former ally Ashikaga Takauji (1305–1358), who established a new military regime in Kyoto. The next 92 years are known as the Nanbokuchō period, or the era of the Northern and Southern courts, as those backing Go-Daigo continued to hold court in Yoshino, while the Ashikaga-appointed emperors were installed in Kyoto. The conflict was resolved in 1392 by Takauji’s grandson Yoshimitsu (1358–1408), who launched a number of governmental reforms. The Muromachi period (1333/36–1568), which includes the Kenmu Restoration and Nanbokuchō era, is named after the physical location within Kyoto of the Ashikaga regime. Unlike the Kamakura shoguns, the Ashikaga did not wield political control over the provinces for much of the era. In 1467 the Ōnin War erupted in the capital, and by the following year much of Kyoto had been destroyed. The Ashikaga retained only nominal control. The following century, although officially part of the Muromachi era, is also known as the Sengoku period, or the Age of the Warring States. As its name implies, this era was marked by power struggles between military warlords of the provinces.
The Muromachi period was a tumultuous time for politics, and a rich era for the visual and performing arts. The Ashikaga were attracted to the cultural trappings of power as reflected in the visual and ceremonial aspects of life in the court. A number of shoguns were thus inspired to become sponsors of artistic endeavors in the capital. It was in such an atmosphere that Nō theater and the tea ceremony developed, and the painters Nōami (1397–1471) and Sōami (1455–1525) curated and catalogued the shogunal collection of Chinese paintings. Beginning with Kano Masanobu (1434–1530) in 1481, the Ashikaga appointed painters from the Kano School as official painters for their regime. The retirement compounds of Yoshimitsu and Yoshimasa (1436–1490), popularly known today as the Gold and Silver Pavilions, functioned as sites for appreciation of visual and literary culture, as well as indicators of the latest architectural trends.
Zen Buddhism enjoyed enthusiastic support from the Ashikaga, and the flourishing Zen community spawned a number of the most important painters in the history of painting in Japan. Along with landscape paintings executed in ink, masters such as Tenshō Shūbun (d. ca. 1460) painted legendary Buddhist and Daoist figures as well as shigajiku, poem-painting scrolls. The Ōnin War caused a mass exodus of painters from the capital that permanently changed the development and make-up of ateliers operating within and outside of Kyoto. Within the capital, the Kano and Tosa school painters prevailed, while outside the capital, enterprising painters such as Sesshū Tōyō (1420–1506) enhanced the stylistic spectrum with innovative works incorporating Chinese Ming dynasty (1368–1644) painting techniques. The Muromachi period also saw the arrival of the first Europeans to Japan, whose arts and culture were referred to by the term nanban, or “Southern Barbarian.”
- Kemmu restoration, 1333–1336
Nanbokuchō period, 1337–1392
Sengoku period, 1467–1568
Momoyama period 1568–1600
"The Momoyama period is named for the peach–tree covered hill south of Kyoto upon which the shogun Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s (1536–1598) Fushimi Castle once stood. It is also referred to as the “Azuchi-Momoyama” era, a term that incorporates the site of a famous castle built to the northeast of Kyoto by the warlord Oda Nobunaga (1534–1582). The Momoyama period stands as a distinct and important era for the development of the arts and architecture. Although the dates for this short era are still debated by scholars, some use the year 1573, when Oda Nobunaga deposed the last Ashikaga shogun, Yoshiaki, as a beginning date, while others cite 1615, when Tokugawa Ieyasu (1542–1616) wrestled control from the Toyotomi family at Osaka Castle, to define its end. Many also use the years 1568, when Oda Nobunaga first entered Kyoto, and 1600, the year of Nobunaga's defeat of the Toyotomi forces at Sekigahara, as the beginning and end dates of the era. The period marks the transition to a more unified, centralized government. The aesthetics of tea culture and the performing art of Nō played a central role in the sometimes sensitive, sometimes dramatically violent negotiations carried out by the leaders of the day, as did the construction and interior décor of castles, tea rooms (chashitsu) and shōin style residential architecture. Momoyama culture was also marked by an unusually intense level of contact with other countries. Encounters with Europeans brought a host of new religious, scientific, and artistic elements into play, while Hideyoshi’s aggressive tactics on the Korean peninsula resulted in the forced immigration of skilled Korean potters and artisans, whose work as ceramicists had a prominent influence on tea wares.
The four most famous castles of the time were Oda Nobunaga’s at Azuchi and Hideyoshi’s at Fushimi, Osaka, and the Uchino neighborhood of Kyoto. This last castle of Hideyoshi’s was known as the Jurakutei, or “Mansion of the Assembled Pleasures.” The elaborate polychromatic and golden interior designs of the great structures were executed by efficient workshops organized by the Kano family of painters, and most notably by the artist Kano Eitoku (1543–1590). Unfortunately, none of these structures survive today, although extant sliding door panels and screen paintings by Kano School artists of the era provide some sense of the grandeur of the projects. Relative to previous eras, shrine and temple architecture arguably played a secondary role during the Momoyama era. However, religious monuments constructed or restored by military leaders of the day, such as Chikubushima Shrine and the temples Hōkōji and Kōdaiji in Kyoto, showcased the formidable talents of the era’s lacquer artists and wood carvers, as well as the those of the main atelier for Buddhist sculpture, the Seventh Avenue Studio in Kyoto. The temple Hōkōji, which had a huge statue of the Buddha Vairocana as its central focus of worship, was meant by Hideyoshi to rival the temple Tōdaiji in Nara. However, the Hōkōji construction campaign was plagued by natural disasters and fires. Its original structure, as well as those of the Hōkoku Shrine compound (built to honor Hideyoshi) on its grounds, survive today only in representations appearing in screen paintings such as those of the “Scenes in and around the Capital of Kyoto” variety, a theme conceived of in the Muromachi period that enjoyed continued popularity in the Momoyama era as genre painting flourished. The ostentatious qualities of Momoyama–period military and religious structures contrasted sharply yet harmoniously with the austere tea houses constructed under the influence of men like Sen no Rikyu (1522–1591) and Kobori Enshū (1579–1647), whose aesthetics emphasized restraint and simplicity.
Performances of the tea ceremony (chanoyu) held within the walls of rustic tea houses provided a forum for the display of calligraphy old and new. Along with the writings of famous Zen masters of the past (bokuseki), hanging scrolls fashioned from cut fragments from ancient poem scrolls (uta gire) were featured as conversation pieces displayed in the alcoves (tokonoma) of tea houses. Viewing such works in a new context gave rise to the production of new works of calligraphy inspired by the old models. Most notable among the calligraphers of the day was Hon’ami Kōetsu (1588–1637), whose works were inspired by Heian-period calligraphers. A parallel trend in painting and the decorative arts eventually came to be known as the Rinpa School. Painters and artisans associated with this trend, such as Tawaraya Sōtatsu (d. 1643), are considered to have championed a revitalization of a distinctly Japanese aesthetic embodied in the yamato-e paintings of the Heian period. This style appealed both to the more cultured among the military lords, and court circles. In addition, a number of painters who developed their own styles, such as Hasegawa Tōhaku (1539–1610) and Kaihō Yūshō (1533–1615), enjoyed the patronage of both temples and military lords."
Edo period (Tokugawa), 1600–1868
"Following the battle of Sekigahara in 1600 and the final fall of the Toyotomi at Osaka Castle in 1615, a long period of relative political peace was ushered in under the rule of Tokugawa Ieyasu and successive generations of Tokugawa leaders. This span of some 250 years is known either as the Tokugawa era, or as the Edo period, for the location of the Tokugawa shogunate’s base of power in what is today the metropolis of Tokyo. Although Edo was initially only a small castle town, it grew into a city of approximately one million people by the beginning of the eighteenth century, thus becoming the largest city in the world. However, Kyoto remained the capital of Japan until the end of the Edo period.
The Tokugawa ensured peace through strict control over the population of Japan. A system called “alternate attendance” (sankin kōtai) forced the some 270 feudal lords administering the provinces to travel to and reside in Edo for set periods of time to prevent them from growing too wealthy or powerful in their home territories. Society was also rigidly divided into classes based upon Confucian values. The former military figures placed in charge of administering the country held the highest social positions, followed by farmers and artisans. Merchants, although occupying the lowest of the social classes, accumulated great wealth in cities like Edo, Osaka, and Kyoto, and provided a new base of patronage for the arts. The power of this mercantile economy eventually undercut the power of the shogunate. In 1868, with the ascension of the Meiji emperor, feudalism was abolished, and the Edo period drew to an end.
Beginning in 1639, the government initiated a policy of isolationism termed sakoku, whereby trade and contact with Asian and European merchants was strictly controlled and limited to the Nagasaki area. Despite such restrictions, foreign cultural imports such as Ming dynasty (1368–1644) literati culture from China continued to have a marked influence on Edo period thought and aesthetics.
As part of its scheme for societal control, the Tokugawa government saw to the creation of licensed “pleasure districts” in each of the country’s major cities. It was in these areas that the theater arts of Nō, Kabuki, and Bunraku (puppet plays) thrived, tea houses enjoyed popularity, and female courtesans provided musical and sexual entertainment to the influx of men from the provinces. The most famous of these districts was the Yoshiwara quarter of Edo. The flashy culture spawned by these urban entertainment areas was known as the “floating world” (ukiyo). Paintings and woodblock prints that recorded the images and activities of its denizens and visitors were called “floating world pictures” (ukiyo-e). Although printmaking had existed in Japan since the Nara period (710–794), the introduction of multi-block colored prints known as “brocade pictures” (nishiki-e) in the latter half of the eighteenth century revolutionized the medium. The first artist to gain his reputation through the production of nishiki-e was Suzuki Harunobu (1725–1770), whose images of famous courtesans often played upon classic themes of Confucian and Buddhist painting. While early Edo woodblock prints most often featured courtesans and Kabuki actors, with time, artists such as Andō Hiroshige (1797–1858) and Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849) came to produce print series focusing on views of famous locations around Japan and bird-and-flower subjects. Significant to the development of Edo period printmaking were the changing tastes and fashions of the urban population, whose sensibilities dictated the commercial success or failure of print artists.
The studios of the Kano and Tosa Schools which had respectively enjoyed the support of the military regime and imperial court during the Muromachi and Momoyama eras continued to feature largely in officially sponsored projects of these traditional elites, and set the conservative standards for Japanese painting throughout the Edo period. Kano artists were stipended by the shogunate in Edo, and continued to maintain a workshop in Kyoto. They also developed numerous ateliers throughout the provinces. It was common for most artists to receive initial training in the style of the Kano or Tosa School before opening their own studios. By the late seventeenth century, the Tokugawa government extended its official patronage to the Sumiyoshi branch of the Tosa School, which set up a studio in Edo. Although technically accomplished, most of the works by painters of these official schools were not innovative or inspired, but rather served the purpose of preserving traditional styles. Knowledge of traditional styles and works also placed these official painters in the position of being able to provide connoisseurial consultations. Kano Tan’yū (1602–1674) is well known for his meticulous copies of Chinese and Japanese paintings he was requested to evaluate and appraise. Kano Osanobu (1796–1864), considered the last of the Kano masters, drew his style and subject matter from Kamakura-period handscrolls.
The circle of artists known today as the Rinpa School, after the artist Ogata Kōrin (1658–1716), continued to operate in Kyoto, and enjoyed a patron base of aristocrats, wealthy merchants, monks and samurai whose loyalties were more closely bound to traditional court society than to the new Tokugawa regime. Following Sōtatsu’s death, Tawaraya Sōsetsu (active mid-17th century) moved the atelier to Kanazawa, but after his own death, the lineage was revived in Kyoto by Ogata Kōrin and his brother Ogata Kenzan (1663–1743). Towards the end of the Edo period, Sakai Hōitsu (1761–1828) and his followers once again revitalized the tradition, which had flagged in the hands of the Ogata brothers’ less competent successors. Early Edo period Rinpa painters retained their basic interest in the classical motifs and themes of Heian period art, which they rendered with bold color, gold, and complex graphic designs. Kōrin and Kenzan are especially well known for their collaborative work on painted ceramic designs. Later Rinpa artists operated out of Edo, and focused primarily on seasonal motifs in their works.
No less important to the cultural makeup of the Edo period were four other types of artists, the eccentrics (kijin), the scholar-amateurs (bunjin), painters in the Western style (yoga), and painters associated with Buddhist temples.
The eccentrics filled the desires of patrons who grew weary of the repetition inherent in the tradional styles of the Kano and Tosa Schools. The Kyoto artist Maruyama Ōkyō (1733–1795) and his atelier, the Maruyama Shijō studio, combined realism (shasei) with the bizarre, and were prominent among the eccentrics. Another Kyoto professional artist who developed a highly individualistic style was Itō Jakuchū (1716–1800), who looked to Chinese models for his paintings.
Scholar-amateur painters were by definition non-professionals who painted as a scholarly pastime, but a fair number of such self-identified individuals did participate in the art market, especially towards the end of the Edo period. Also known as literati painters, these cultured artists followed the scholarly ideals set forth in Chinese Ming dynasty tracts, most notably those authored by Dong Qichang (1555–1636). Their works were also directly influenced by the painting and calligraphy brought to Japan by Ōbaku Zen monks from China beginning in the second quarter of the 17th century. Among the most famous of the scholar-amateur painters were the artists Ike no Taiga (1723–1776) and Yosa Buson (1716–1783).
Many artists experimented with Western themes or styles in their works during the Edo period, but the works of those who most completely devoted themselves to the pursuit of Western techniques were referred to as yoga, or Western-style paintings. The work of the yoga artist Shiba Kōkan (1738–1818) was held in particularly high esteem.
Abstracted, expressive paintings that found their roots in medieval artistic practices associated with Zen monasteries were generally referred to as “Zen painting” (zenga). However, the religious artists painting in the style were not necessarily Zen monks, but belonged to other schools of Buddhism as well. This group had a measure of thematic and philosophical overlap with literati painters. Calligraphy and painting by the Zen monk-painter Hakuin Ekaku (1685–1768) remains widely admired and imitated even today. The principles of zenga can also be considered to have carried over into the sculptures of the monk-sculptor Enkū (1628?–1695).
As with many of the arts of the period, Edo architecture had strong precedents in the forms developed during the Momoyama period. The most famous architectural projects of the era date to its early years. The Katsura detached palace, created for the prince Toshihito (1579–1629) between 1620 and 1624, exemplifies shōin style architecture, and incorporates tea houses into its gardens, which were designed based upon descriptions in the court classic Tale of Genji. In contrast to the simple, clean lines of the buildings at Katsura, the Tōshōgu shrine complex at Nikkō, built as a mausoleum and shrine for Tokugawa Ieyasu in the mid seventeenth century, is a dizzying puzzle of dense roof bracketing, wooden relief carvings, and bright colors. Its interiors, fashioned in the shōin style, do not follow the subdued, natural scheme found at Katsura, but rather mirror the flamboyant decorative paintings of Momoyama castles.
- Kanei era, 1624–1644"
Meiji period, 1868–1912
"In the last century of the Edo period, Japan’s economic and political systems began to fail. Reliance upon rice production and distribution as government stipends made rice the major economic bond between the samurai and agricultural classes who ostensibly formed the upper strata of society. The unpredictability of annual yields, paired with the alternate economies developing amongst members of the merchant and artisan classes placed the government in an inherently weak position. The Tokugawa government’s isolationist policies were also preventing Japan’s populace from gaining access to the latest technological and scientific advances taking place in other countries, and from participating in an emerging global economy. Resultant social unrest placed internal pressures upon the government to reform. External pressure came from foreign nations desirous of finding a new market for trade. In 1853, Commodore Perry arrived with his “black ships” from America with a strong request from the United States government for free trade, and in 1856, the Japanese government signed a trade treaty with America. The unequal terms of the agreement fomented even greater social disenchantment with the shogunal government, and in 1867 Shogun Yoshinobu (1837–1913) was deposed by a group of regional leaders. In his stead, “direct power” was given to Emperor Mutsuhito (1852–1912), and the capital of Japan officially moved to Edo, renamed Tokyo (Eastern Capital) in 1869. Territories formerly controlled by daimyo were reorganized into prefectures, and the samurai class system abolished. The reign name “Meiji” was selected for the new emperor, and his government commenced with a rigorous policy of modernization based on Western models, as well as a campaign to place Japan on equal diplomatic footing with Western nations. Inspired by Western nations, Japan also began to exhibit imperialist tendencies, and waged military campaigns against its neighbors with consequences lasting until the present day. Most notably, as a result of the Russo-Japanese War, Japan gained control of Korea in 1910, which it was to maintain as a colony until the end of World War II.
The new government’s policies had a profound effect on the institutional layout of Japan’s art world. Just prior to the Meiji period, the Tokugawa government had established the Institute for Western Studies (Yogakusho), which was renamed the Institute for the Study of Western Documents (Bansho Shirabesho) in 1856. In 1861, a Painting Division was established there, with the Maruyama-Shijo school trained artist Kawakami Togai (1827–1881) as its chair. In the 1860’s it became the School for Intellectual and Industrial Development (Kaisei Gakko). It was there, at the institution that was to become Tokyo Imperial University in 1877, that the initial Meiji government sponsored study of Western art took place. Kawakami’s student Takahashi Yuichi (1828–1894), who later trained with the English amateur painter and correspondent for the London Illustrated News Charles Wirgman (1835–1891), is known as being among the first fully fledged yōga, or western-style, artists. Another Wirgman pupil, Kobayashi Kiyochika (1847–1915), introduced Western techniques for creating light and dark to traditional Japanese prints, and is especially famous for the realism of his prints detailing Japanese war efforts.
In 1876, the government opened the Technical Fine Arts School (Kobu Bijutsu Gakko) and invited the architect Giovanni Cappelletti (d. ca. 1885), the sculptor Vincenzo Ragusa (1841–1928), and the painter Antonio Fontanesi (1818–1882), who was deeply influenced by the Barbizon school, to teach its students in Western techniques and media. The school’s first class of 60 pupils included six women, a rather large number given the social realities of the time. Fontanesi’s students Yamamoto Hosui (1850–1906), Kuroda Seiki (1866–1924), and Asai Chu (1856–1907) all later traveled to Europe to study academic painting, and are looked upon today as the Meiji period’s greatest producers of Western style paintings (yōga). However, the government continued to look upon the acquisition of Western art techniques as a means of fostering industrial development, as opposed to promoting an appreciation of Western aesthetics or art theory. In 1871, a fact-finding and trade negotiation group known as the Iwakura Mission traveled to Europe and the United States. One of the main fruits of the mission was a gained appreciation for the potentially important role of the museum in society, and the establishment of Japan’s first public museum at Yushima Seido Confucian shrine. In 1881, the English architect Josiah Conder’s (1852–1920) design for the Tokyo Imperial Museum was constructed in Ueno Park, the former site of Kaneiji, the funerary temple of the Tokugawa family. Conder taught at the University of Technology (Kobu Daigakko), of which the Technical Fine Arts School was a branch. His students Tatsuno Kingo (1854–1911), Katayama Tokuma (1853–1917), and Sone Tatsuzo (1853–1937) were responsible for many of the major architectural monuments of the Meiji period.
Even in its initial burst of interest in Western arts and technology, the Meiji government grappled with how foreign forms could be smoothly incorporated into art and architecture that would mirror updated notions of Japanese national identity. Furthermore, as traditional institutions such as temples and daimyo families found their wealth depleted under the new economic policies and nationalist policies favoring Shinto, they began selling artworks from their collections to sustain themselves. The government became concerned for the nation’s cultural heritage and in 1879, a private group of government officials instituted the Dragon Pond Society (Ryuchikai) to protect and promote the country’s traditional arts. The society also introduced a system for designating national treasures that is still in effect today under the auspices of the Agency for Cultural Affairs. In 1884, the American scholar Ernest Fenellosa (1853–1908) joined with his former student Okakura Kakuzo (Tenshin) (1862–1913) and formed another preservationist organization, the Painting Appreciation Society (Kangakai). Resurgent interest in the traditional arts of Japan paired with a wane in the vogue for Western style painting during the late 1870’s and 1880’s, resulting in the closing of the Technical Fine Arts School in 1883, and the opening of the Tokyo School of Fine Arts (Tokyo Bijutsu Gakko). The new school, founded in 1889, focused on educating young artists in the traditional arts of Japan as well as Japan’s history of art, and was the forerunner of today’s Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music (Tokyo Geijutsu Daigaku). In the same year, Okakura founded the art historical journal Kokka (National Flower), which continues to be published today as Japan’s most respected source for scholarly articles on the visual arts. Among the most prominent of the artists of Japanese style paintings (Nihonga) associated with the early years of the Tokyo School of Fine Arts, were Kano Hogai (1828–1888) and Hashimoto Gaho (1835–1908). However, also in 1889, a number of yōga painters, some of whom had been associated with the Technical Fine Arts School formed the Meiji Art Society to continue the promotion of Western-style painting in Japan.
Okakura Kakuzo was initially one of the driving forces behind the new school, but after severe differences with the government and the school’s administration, he was forced to resign in 1898, whereupon he formed his own school, the Japan Art Academy (Nihon Bijutsuin). One factor in his departure was the Tokyo School of Fine Arts’ decision in 1894 to include Western style painting in its curriculum. This decision came in response to the return to Japan of the painter Kuroda Seiki, whose powerful position as a member of the social elite and introduction of the concept of “fine arts” to Japanese society drove a revival of Western style painting in Japan from the 1890’s. Kuroda was invited to teach at the Tokyo School of Fine Arts, and formed the Hakubakai (White Horse Society) for the promotion and exhibition of works influenced by the French academic and Impressionist plein-air painting styles he had encountered while abroad. He also became president of the Imperial Art Academy, and was a member of the Imperial Art Commission. One of Kuroda’s most prominent students was the painter Aoki Shigeru (1882–1911), who incorporated Japanese legends and histories into his work. In the meantime, the more conservative Meiji Art Society disbanded with the departure of Asai Chu to France.Asai returned to Japan in 1902, and thereafter taught at the Kyoto Industrial Arts College. His pupil Umehara Ryuzaburo (1888–1986), who also studied with Auguste Renoir (1841–1919), is widely considered one of the most outstanding Japanese artists of the twentieth century. Also in Kyoto, Nihonga artists working in the style of the Maruyama-Shijo school continued to experiment with incorporating elements of Western realism into their paintings, and painters like Tomioka Tessai (1837–1924) produced works in the nanga (Southern painting) style, which found its roots in traditional Chinese literati painting. In 1911, the collector Hara Tomitaro funded artists to live in his home in Odawara for a time to study his art collection and establish a new Nihonga style based on yamato-e aesthetics instead of the Kano school techniques that dominated the work of artists affiliated with the Tokyo School of Fine Arts.Tension between what continue to be termed Western- and Japanese-style painting was evident not only among artists, the societies they formed, and the operation of the schools they attended, but also in the pattern of the government’s approach to exhibitions. The first national art exhibition, sponsored by the government in 1882, included only Japanese-style paintings, and from that year until 1900, Western style painting was not sent to international expositions. That the situation continued to evolve is evident from the fact that, in 1907, the government founded the Ministry of Education Fine Arts Exhibition (Monbusho Bijutsu Tenrankai, also known as the Bunten), a juried art exhibition consisting of three sections: Japanese-style painting, Western-style painting, and sculpture.In addition to painters and architects, sculptors also played an important role in the arts of the Meiji period. Naganuma Moriyoshi (1857–1942), a sculptor who traveled to train in Italy was one of the founding members of the Meiji Art Society. When the Tokyo School of Fine Arts opened in 1889, Takamura Koun (1852–1934), who worked in the traditional materials of wood and ivory, was appointed professor of sculpture. Higuchi Denchu (1872–1979), who also worked in traditional media such as wood, founded the Japan Sculpture Society in 1907 with three others sculptors."
Taishō period, 1912–1926
"The Taishō period began with the death of the Meiji emperor in 1912, and the ascension of the emperor Yoshihito (1879–1926). Seeking control over regional nations and greater involvement in world affairs, Japan entered World War I in 1914, siding with France, Russia, and Great Britain. At the conclusion of the war, Japan was made a member of the League of Nations, but its efforts to be recognized as an influential modern nation remained hindered by the discriminatory policies of Western countries. Japan did not escape the worldwide economic downturn following World War I, and although those in control of the country’s transformation into an industrialized nation saw their lifestyles greatly improved, factory and agricultural workers staged numerous strikes and riots to demonstrate their dissatisfaction with economic conditions. Various organizations devoted to civil liberties emerged, prompting the government to attempt to pass laws to control social movements. In 1923, the Kantō region was rocked by a major earthquake, which also caused extensive fires throughout the capital, thus necessitating a large–scale reconstruction campaign. Following an assassination attempt upon Crown Prince Hirohito (1901–1989) in December of 1923 by anarchist Namba Daisuke (1899–1924), the government stepped up its efforts to suppress those it viewed as subversive. Hirohito served as regent for the sickly Yoshihito for five years before the latter’s death in 1926. Under his regency, the Peace Preservation Law was enacted to protect the imperial state against anyone attempting its overthrow. Yet, at the same time, the Universal Manhood Suffrage Law guaranteed all men over the age of 25 the right to vote. Thus, the Taishō period can be characterized as an era of tension between an increasingly rightward leaning government and a progressively more liberal population whose aspirations the government sought to curb.One of the major changes of the artistic world of the Taishō period is captured in the pages of the publication Shirakaba (White Birch), an elite literary magazine that ran from 1910 to 1923. The magazine was responsible for introducing many aspiring artists to the works of European painters such as Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890) and Cezanne (1839–1906), and enabled many prominent young painters such as Kishida Ryusei (1891–1929) to study European painting without traveling to the West. As the result of exposure to new ideas about individualism and non-academic artistic styles such as post-impressionism from the West, artists began to react to the government’s conservative grip on the evaluation of works being produced in Japan. In 1912, a group of painters and sculptors formed the Fusankai (Sketch Society) to rebel against the Ministry of Education’s Fine Arts Exhibition and promote Fauvism. Among its members was the painter Yorozu Tetsugorō (1885–1927), who painted both Fauvist and Cubist works. In 1914, a group of young artists took similar action by forming the Nikakai (Second Division Society) and holding their own juried exhibit. In the same year, Kishida Ryusei formed a group for the sponsorship of non-Ministry of Education art exhibitions known as the Sodosha, and Okakura Kakuzo’s Japan Fine Arts Academy was reorganized in the wake of Okakura’s death. The school has continued to hold its exhibitions, known as the Inten, into the present day. However, by the end of the Taisho period, even these reformist organizations were viewed by some as outmoded solutions to the conservatism of the arts establishment. In 1923, a group of avant-garde artists known as Mavo and led by the artist Murayama Tomoyoshi (1901–1977) conducted a public protest before the jury members of the Nikakai. Mavo was guided by Murayama’s theory of “conscious constructivism,” a theory of social and artistic liberation that was in step with the civil rights movements of the Taishō era. Efforts from within the establishment to structurally reform itself led to the reorganization of the Ministry of Education’s Fine Arts Exhibition into the Exhibition of the Imperial Art Academy (Teitoku Bijutsuin Tenrankai, or Teiten) in 1918, but despite the resulting expansion of styles recognized by the exhibition, it continued to be an exclusive organization. Interestingly, two of the most socially active Western-style painters of the Taishō era, Kishida and Yorozu, along with a number of their colleagues, turned away from yōga to styles inspired by traditional Japanese and Chinese painting in their later years.The Taishō period was a difficult time for traditional print artists, who found their work increasingly marginalized, and who sought ways to survive in a changing society. In 1918, Onchi Koshiro (1891–1955) led the formation of the Sosaku Hanga Kyokai (Japan Creative Print Society) that aimed to infuse new life into the practice by encouraging print artists to personally handle each stage of the production process, as printmakers did in Europe. Between 1915 and 1940, Watanabe Shosaburō (1885–1962), who had decided foreigners in Japan and abroad might be a new market for beautiful women prints (bijinga), established and led the new print (shin hanga) movement. He recruited the printmakers Hashiguchi Goyo (1880–1921), Yoshida Hiroshi (1876–1950), Itō Shinsui (1898–1972) and Kawase Hasui (1883–1957). A number of artists, painters and print makers alike, made new names for themselves in newspaper illustration in both the Meiji and Taishō periods."
Shōwa period, 1926–1989
"The Shōwa period began in 1926, with the death of Yoshihito. Crown Prince Hirohito, who had in fact been ruling the country on his father’s behalf for the latter part of the Taishō era, officially became the emperor. He reigned until his death in 1989, making him the longest reigning emperor in the history of Japan. He would lead Japan into war with China and World War II, with disastrous effects, and see the country through the aftermath of the nuclear aggression of the United States.The beginning of the Shōwa period marked the emergence of a new art movement centered around the production of traditional folk crafts and arts. The art historian Yanagi Muneyoshi (1889–1961) called the movement mingei, which may be translated literally as arts of the common people. In the 1930’s, the Japan Folk Crafts Museum (Nihon Mingeikan) opened in Tokyo. Among the most famous artists associated with the mingei movement are the potters Kitaōji Rosanjin (1883–1959), who designed and created works for well-known restaurants, and Hamada Shoji (1894–1978), who was well-known as a friend and associate of Yanagi and the English potter Bernard Leach (1887–1979). In 1955, Hamada was named a Living National Treasure, an honor awarded to Japanese citizens who work in traditional Japanese art forms, and contribute to their preservation.In the years leading up to World War II, the government became increasingly concerned with any elements of society that might threaten its power. This included arts organizations, especially those with potential links to Communism. Japan’s Proletarian Art Movement, for example, managed to survive only from 1926 to 1934. Individual artists who engaged with social issues in their work were routinely arrested. Nonetheless, there was a proliferation of avant-garde art societies focused around the styles and ideologies associated with Cubism, Futurism, Dadaism, and Surrealism in the early Shōwa period. Abstraction took a foothold as well, but was not to become a major movement until after the war. In 1935, the Teiten, which had replaced the Bunten, went through yet another metamorphous when it was abruptly reorganized by the Minister of Education into the relatively unsuccessful Reformed Imperial Arts Fine Arts Academy Exhibition (Taizo teiten), and then in 1937 into the New Ministry of Education Fine Arts Academy (Shin bunten). The more successful Shin bunten had the goal of reasserting governmental control over the art establishment. It was from around the start of this latter exhibition format that avant-garde artists’ societies were forced to become far more circumspect about voicing their opinions or presenting them in an easily identifiable manner in their works. Again, some of the more senior artists simply withdrew from the art scene, and produced works in seclusion from the political turmoil of the era. Some among this latter group, such as the Nihonga painters Kawabata Ryushi (1885–1966) and Maeda Seison (1885–1977), reemerged in the post-war period to produce some of their most important works. During the war itself, artists were recruited by the government to depict battle sites. Among such artists were a fair number of figurative artists from the New Production School Association (Shin seisakuha kyokai).One artist who thrived in the ultra-nationalist pre-war environment was Yokoyama Taikan (1868–1959). Born at the beginning of the Meiji period, Yokoyama trained with Okakura early in his career. In 1931, he was appointed as artist to the imperial household, and produced numerous works that drew upon Japanese historical and literary themes. These he presented in a traditional style that drew upon the decorative styles of the Rinpa school and Momoyama–era screen painting. In 1943, Taikan became the chair of the Japan Art Patriotic Society (Nihon Bijutsu Hokokukai), which was set up by the Ministry of Education in an attempt to control the creative output of the country’s artists and put it in the service of its war-time ideology. Taikan in fact joined a number of other prominent artists in choosing to demonstrate his patriotism by contributing the profits from the sale of his works to the military effort.As one result of the post-war United States occupation, which lasted from 1945 to 1952, a new national constitution reduced the political authority of the emperor to that of a figurehead. At the same time, people were exposed to foreign influences on an enormous scale. Art thrived in this new environment, and many exhibitions of modern art made their way to Tokyo from abroad. The Shin Bunten, which could not even hold exhibits by the end of the war, was renamed the Nitten (Japan Art Exhibition), and in 1958, sponsorship of the organization transferred from the government to a private group called Nitten, Inc. The Nitten continues to operate in this form today. Following the United States occupation, Japan made a tremendous economic recovery, and was fast becoming one of the world’s leading economies. In the 1950’s and 60’s, Japanese artists flourished, and while they worked in a variety of styles and media, among the most prominent movements were –Art Informel and Abstract Expressionism. Two of the best-known Japanese artists who began working in abstract styles in the post-war era are Okada Kenzo (1902–1982), who settled in New York in 1950, and Sugai Kumi (1919–1996), who moved to Paris in 1952. The avant-garde group of artists known as Gutai (concrete form) that formed under the artist Yoshiwara Jiro (1905–1972) in the 1950’s also had a large impact on the post-war art scene in Japan. Printmaking experienced a renaissance in the post-war period, with artists working in both abstract and more conventional styles. Perhaps the most famous modern Japanese printmaker is Munakata Shiko (1903–1975), who became the first print artist to become designated as a Living National Treasure. Japanese filmmakers also began to break into the international scene in the 1950’s, led by Kurosawa Akira (1910–1998), who continued to make world famous movies into the 1990’s. Likewise, Japanese photographers such as Domon Ken (1909–1990) have made their mark."
Heisei period, 1989–
The emperor Hirohito’s death in 1989 seems to have marked the beginning of an era of decreased certainty in Japan’s post-war identity as a model of economic success, and the Heisei period, which began with the ascension of Hirohito’s son Akihito (b.1933) has witnessed a Japan pondering all manner of social and political issues, from the role of the country’s self-defense forces to the problems of an aging society, privatization of governmental organizations, immigration, and the gender of the future head of Japan’s imperial family. At the same time, Japanese popular culture, especially in the form of manga and anime, has captured the imaginations of people all over the world, and Japanese artists in all manner of media, old and new, continue to be very visible on the world stage. In light of the devotion of Japan to nurturing the creativity of its artists and a respect for the arts within society, it seems fitting that the newly renovated Museum of Modern Art in New York is based on the design of Japanese architect Taniguchi Yoshio (b.1937).