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Japanese culture & Chikanobu: ukiyo-e and East, West or a Japanese identity?

Japanese culture & Chikanobu: ukiyo-e and East, West or a Japanese identity?

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

Yoshu Chikanobu (Chikanobu Toyohara) was a Meiji artist who highlighted many aspects of this revolutionary period in Japan. Chikanobu, like other Meiji artists, was often overlooked in the past but today the art world is changing. Therefore, artists who belonged to this period are now being recognized for the talents they had in abundance.

Chikanobu provides images which show the many faces of Japan and just like the modern period in Japan in the twenty-first century, it is obvious that this nation is still caught between many worlds. The old world of Shintoism and Buddhism survives powerfully during major festivals and when important events occur in the lifetime of individuals. Of course, the degree of influence will depend on the importance of these faiths within the family but even if distant, they still exist and temples and shrines dot the landscape throughout Japan.

Therefore, irrespective if individuals have rejected religion or adopted a new faith, for example converted to Christianity, the power of the old world can be felt within the culture of Japan. Chikanobu, therefore, would probably feel the same forces pulling away at the soul of Japan in the modern period. This applies to Western influence and the role of Chinese culture and where Japan truly belongs – if, indeed, Japan belongs to any single camp. 

This is not unique to Japan because nations like the Russian Federation and Kazakhstan also have complex histories. Therefore, do these nations belong to Asia, Europe or Eurasia? Or, like Japan, does much depend on each individual because no clear answer can be given – it would appear so!

Chikanobu, therefore, lived in a period of real revolution in Japan because he was born in 1838 and died in 1912. Therefore, he witnessed the ending of Edo and the start of the Meiji period in 1868. This period in Japanese history laid the foundation stone for much of the upheavals of the 1930s and the remarkable recovery which was in full swing in the 1960s.

In an earlier article about Chikanobu it was stated that “Chikanobu not only witnessed the new revolutionary period and how elites looked to the West – but by the late 1880s and early 1890s nostalgia also returned.  Obviously for the masses they were outside both themes and the only important thing was survival and adapting.”

“Chikanobu’s famous print series called “Chiyoda no Ooku” (Court Ladies of the Chiyoda Palace) and “Shin Bijin” (True Beauties) highlight stunning colors and show the complexity of this period. This applies to images which show Japanese ladies dressed in exquisite traditional clothes like the kimono and Chikanobu also depicts women in Western clothes.” 

Therefore, by focusing on aspects of his artwork then you can feel the power of “ideas” colliding, sometimes working collectively or a fusion is starting to happen. This means that the Meiji period is also the start of a new complex cultural norm in the body politic of Japan. After all, in the past the role of China is clear for all too see when it applies to kanji, Buddhism, Confucianism, architecture, literature, and so forth. Also, Korea must not be overlooked because important interaction took place and it also must be stated that great thinkers from Japan also spread their ideas in China.

Given this, the rise of Western power would create a new dimension in the Meiji period and even today you can still feel the power of this collision. After all, in modern day Japan the influence of all these factors can be felt. Also, while the power of China appeared to be on the wane the same can’t be said in the modern period because China’s economy is now ticking loudly and Korean culture is spreading once more because of K-pop and the film industry.

Of course, these competing forces don’t have to be negative and often all these complex factors have helped to create new ideas and styles. Therefore, the world of Chikanobu was very complex and he highlights aspects of the changing nature of Japan which was based on modernization. However, true to the nature of Japan, the old world still remained potent and this applied to the role of the Tenno (heavenly
sovereign) in this period.

In a sense, Japanese modernization in the Meiji period was based on the foundation of strong cultural norms which would enable conservatism to remain powerful. This means that modernization was based on traditionalism in order to implement rapid changes.

Chikanobu provides a glimpse into this changing world and his art is highly valued because of many factors. Of course, the main single factor is his fabulous artwork but from an historical point of view and analyzing sociology, it is clear that Chikanobu helps in these important fields to a certain degree.

However, the answer of Japan being based firmly in the Western camp or Eastern camp, or being a bridge between both worlds or belonging to just Japanese culture, remains unanswered.  After all, much will depend on how people see the world and clearly you don’t have one answer or one vision which is binding. Therefore, if Chikanobu was alive in modern Japan he could also highlight the many dimensions of this unique nation.

http://www.depauw.edu/news/index.asp?id=20942

http://moderntokyotimes.com

leejay@moderntokyotimes.com

  
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Posted by on December 31, 2011 in Japan

 

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Ogawa Kazumasa: a photographer of style and panache

Ogawa Kazumasa: a photographer of style and panache

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

Ogawa Kazumasa 

Ogawa Kazumasa was born in 1860 and died in 1929 and he offers a glimpse into the changing nature of Japan but with the strong identity of the past. Therefore, his photography provides both sides of the same coin and this complexity would be played out in the political arena in the 1930s between nationalists and socialists.

His images remain vivid today and like Nobuyoshi Araki, but for very different reasons, both photographers provide images of a real Japan.  Ogawa Kazumasa provides images of a Japan which is caught between tradition and the onset of Western influence. 

However, Nobuyoshi Araki focuses on the sexual nature of Tokyo in modern times but he does this with a rare quality and unlike the blandness of Kishin Shinoyama who lacks individuality or genuine creativity; Nobuyoshi Araki provides images which enlighten people to the changing nature of aspects of Tokyo culture and he does this with a rare talent.

It is obvious that Ogawa Kazumasa and Nobuyoshi Araki are like chalk and cheese but in one way both are similar despite the huge differences of composition, style, time in history, techniques, different technology, art forms, and so forth; but both provide a style which opens up the subject matter that they enter and for Nobuyoshi Araki this applies to Tokyo and for Ogawa Kazumasa it applies to Japan.

Ogawa Kazumasa was a pioneer in photomechanical printing and photography. He was multi-talented in the field of photography, printing and publishing and clearly the Meiji era of his youth (Meiji Period began from 1868) was dynamic and a time of change.  Therefore, Ogawa Kazumasa had ample opportunities once his talent was recognized because a new spirit was entering Japan alongside the traditions of the past.

Ogawa Kazumasa was born in Saitama prefecture which is near Tokyo and he moved to Tokyo in 1880 in order to further his English skills. After this, he moved to Boston in America for two years and after his arrival back to Japan in 1884 he opened a photographic studio in the Iidabashi area.  This was followed by the creation of Tsukiji Kampan Seizo Kaisha four years later and the following year he began Japan’s first collotype business named the Ogawa Shashin Seihanjo and during the same year he became an editor for Shashin Shinpo.

Ogawa Kazumasa
Ogawa Kazumasa

 

Therefore, Ogawa Kazumasa was very energetic and he was in the forefront of change in photography and he was a founding member of the important organization called the Nihon Sashinkai (Japan Photographic Society).

If we read history books then we know that Commodore M.C. Perry influenced Japan to open up in 1854 by using gunboat diplomacy and this was not a promising way to start a relationship based on mutual understanding.  However, I want to avoid the political overtures of this event because while this event is written in words the beauty of Ogawa Kazumasa is that he opens up the Meiji era because of his stunning photography and he utilized his printing skills in order to show the world.

Ogawa Kazumasa throughout his life opened up the Meiji era and the Taisho period (1912-1226) in image form.  The style he composed is of major importance to photographers and historians alike.  Also, his broad knowledge in many fields was maximized to the full and because of him, and others like Enami Nobukuni and Tamamura Kosaburo, we are able to glimpse into a changing Japan.

Ogawa Kazumasa 

His legacy remains today and Ogawa Kazumasa will continue to impress and inspire future generations because he is a connection with the past and the images he produced were of a sublime nature.

http://oldphoto.lb.nagasaki-u.ac.jp/unive/  (Photo gallery and very high quality)

http://www.baxleystamps.com/litho/ogawa.shtml  

(Fantastic information about Ogawa Kazumasa)

leejay@moderntokyotimes.com

http://moderntokyotimes.com

Please note that Ogawa Kazumasa was born in Saitama prefecture which is near Tokyo but I have entered him under Tokyo because he was based on Tokyo and this is where his career began in the field of photography, printing, and publishing.

 
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Posted by on April 5, 2011 in Japan

 

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