Japanese ukiyo-e art and modern ladies in traditional dress
Lee Jay Walker
Modern Tokyo Times
Ukiyo-e art in Japan focused on many themes during its “golden period” in the Edo period and carried on into the Meiji era. The world of Japan comes alive visually within many areas of ukiyo-e art because of the subjects covered. It matters not if this art applied to the rich cultural aspects of Japan or the floating world which was truly dramatic.
Sometimes in modern Tokyo and throughout Japan you will see ladies in traditional Japanese clothes during special occasions. When this happens it is often like “looking into a mirror of ukiyo-e” and seeing “a ghost from the past” but which is truly part of the modern world.
This in itself highlights the richness of ukiyo-e in the field of showing traditional ladies in their splendid best. It is also evidence that while Japan is ultra modern, the old world remains powerful even if within “mirages” of the original meaning. Either way, if based on tradition or “mirages,” it is still a noteworthy connection with the past.
Ogata Gekko produced many stunning images of elegant ladies posing in tradition dress. Of course, countless other amazing ukiyo-e artists also focused on the same theme. Therefore, the richness of ukiyo-e art depicts many images of art related to women and this applies to high culture, erotic art (shunga), beautiful ladies (bijinga), ghosts and other themes.
In an earlier article by myself which was published in Modern Tokyo Times I state that “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 world of Ogata Gekko witnessed many changes because of the onset of modernity but if he was to come back today, then he would witness glimpses of the old world. Likewise, Torii Kiyonaga (1752-1815) excelled in the area of bijinga because of his amazing details and intricacies.
Torii Kiyonaga is one of the many amazing artists who belonged to the Torii school of art. He emphasized many aspects of women and traditional dress. This applies to high culture, stratification, sexuality, morality, natural elegance, shunga, bijinga and other areas. The art of Torii Kiyonaga is widely appreciated and when viewing his art related to bijinga and seeing a modern lady in traditional dress in Japan, it is easy to connect both together.
Torii Kiyonaga also highlighted exquisite color schemes and amazing embroidery. This aspect of his art would fit in naturally within elegant boutiques in modern day Japan. The special detail and attention given by this amazing artist meant that he depicted elegant and refined ladies, who look extremely beautiful. Therefore, during special occasions in modern day Japan you can see aspects of the world of ukiyo-e artists in relation to traditional Japanese dress.
In places like the Meiji shrine in Harajuku and sophisticated parts of Japan which focus on tradition like Kyoto, Nara, Nikko and many other parts of this fascinating nation. You can peer into the world of ukiyo-e artists, areas of bijinga and ladies in traditional dress. The ghosts of the past therefore remain within “a living tradition” which comes alive during special occasions, or in specific parts of Japan where high culture and tradition remains strong.