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Japanese art and culture: Yoshu Chikanobu provides a rich glimpse into Japan

Japanese art and culture: Yoshu Chikanobu provides a rich glimpse into Japan

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

Yoshu Chikanobu (Toyohara Chikanobu) lived between 1838 and 1912 and much of his art highlights the changing nature of Japan. The opening up of Japan after the Meiji Restoration provided many new dreams for Japanese citizens but it also was the start of the death knell for many artisans. This applies to the technological changes taking place and the changing values and thinking during this period of history.

Chikanobu, like other ukiyo-e artists in the Meiji era, understood the need to adapt because many new art forms were altering the artistic landscape in Japan. Western art especially impacted on the new generation of artists and political elites wanted to encourage modernism. Therefore, the new crème de la crème of young artists mainly adopted concepts outside of the powerful ukiyo-e art form which was so potent during the Edo period.

At the same time, technological advancements and photography were impacting greatly on ukiyo-e from a virtually negative point of view. The old ways which nurtured art in the Edo period, along with other forms of art, were being challenged by many new art movements. Also, photography would eat away at the need for ukiyo-e because it could not compete on a technological level playing field.

Chikanobu highlights an array of subjects in his art and this applies to the power of the past to the changing nature of Japanese society. He also depicted powerful historical figures in Japanese history to highlighting the nationalist side of the Meiji period which applies to war. Also, when you view Chikanobu’s art you can visually witness the imperial aspects of Western powers, which were being replicated in dress styles when it applied to elites.

Cultural wise, Chikanobu also painted many adorable themes. This applies to the Japanese tea ceremony, ikebana, kabuki, fashion in the changing Japan, and a plethora of other subjects. In this sense, Chikanobu opens up many aspects of Japan related to many themes. These themes also apply to the “old world” and “new world.”

The Toshidama Gallery (http://toshidama.wordpress.comcomments that “Chikanobu is one of the giants of the Meiji era of Japanese Woodblock prints. With Kunichika and Yoshitoshi, Chikanobu distinguished the turmoil of Japanese culture as it came to terms with the new age. Like them his life and career were inextricably linked to the upheavals in Japanese history and the near civil wars that characterized the time.”

Chikanobu and the series titled A Mirror of the Ages is also a classic because of the rich cultural themes related to women and fashion throughout the changing times. The Toshidama Gallery highlights this series strongly by stating that “This whole series is one of the outstanding achievements of late nineteenth century Japanese art. One of his best series, A Mirror of the Ages showed women by fashion and hair style throughout history. There is of course the longing for the past and yet these prints are unmistakably modern and of their time….The quality of printing is outstanding, especially in Chikanobu’s use of white for the rendering of the powdered faces. It is often forgotten by art historians that this was the period about all others when the technique of woodblock printing achieved its zenith whilst at the same time there were artists of stature to execute it.”

Other adorable print series include “Chiyoda no Ooku” (Court Ladies of the Chiyoda Palace) and “Shin Bijin” (True Beauties). Of course, Chikanobu produced many amazing pieces of art but both the above named series relate to genuine aspects of female beauty in Japan. This is highlighted by traditional clothes, for example the kimono, to the changing nature of the time which applies to Western dress styles.

In a past article about Chikanobu I comment 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.”

The art of Chikanobu stands out dramatically and this not only applies to the exquisite skills that he was blessed with, but also to the themes that Chikanobu highlights. He certainly provides many glimpses into Japan which relate to the “old world,” cultural aspects of Japan, and the modernization of the Meiji period.

Overall, Chikanobu is one of the greats of the ukiyo-e art movement and given the plethora of fantastic ukiyo-e artists, this highlights his richness to the full. Therefore, if you adore Japanese art, culture, and history, then Chikanobu will appeal greatly because of the broad themes he depicted in his art.

Please visit for more articles and information.

Please visit –   On our site you will see a wonderful selection of Japanese woodblock prints for sale. Ukiyo-e (the Japanese name for woodblock prints of the 18th and 19thcenturies) are beautiful, collectible and a sound financial investment

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Posted by on June 2, 2012 in Japan


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Japanese art and Torii Kiyonaga: Ukiyo-e and bijinga

Japanese art and Torii Kiyonaga: Ukiyo-e and bijinga

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

Torii Kiyonaga (1752-1815) was an extremely stylish ukiyo-e artist who belonged to the Torii school. His rise to the top of this school highlights many aspects of Japanese culture within the art world because he wasn’t related to the Torii family but despite this he rose to the top after the death of Torii Kiyomitsu who was his teacher and adoptive father. Therefore, biological factors which remain powerful in modern Japan appears not to have been a hindrance in old Japan within the art world because the Torii family focused on reputation and not bloodline.

The rich tradition of the Torii family was maintained by Kiyonaga and he would supervise Torii Kiyomine who was the grandson of Kiyomitsu. In time Kiyomine would succeed Kiyonaga and clearly his teaching would prepare him fully.

Kiyonaga is famous for nishiki-e (“”brocade picture” – multi-colored woodblock printing), bijinga (beautiful women), paintings of Kabuki actors, depicting courtesans and he also produced shunga (erotic art). However, Kansei Reforms in the 1790s which were based on other edicts did try to clampdown on shunga. Yet in time shunga would naturally fall by the wayside with the emergence of erotic photography in the Meiji period (1868-1912).

Turning back to nishiki-e then this technique innovation is credited to Kinroku and this form became an important development within the ukiyo-e art world in the 1760s. Suzuki Harunobu popularized nishiki-e in the middle of the 1760s and clearly Kiyonaga understood the importance of this new technique.

Bijinga was an area where Kiyonaga would excel and clearly the utilization of nishiki-e and elegant portrayals enabled him to produce many stunning pieces of art. Other notable bijinga artists apply to Utamaro, Suzuki Harunobu, Toyohara Chikanobu, and the last greatest producer of this art form being Ito Shinsui. Ogata Gekko also produced many stunning works of beautiful women and bijinga is extremely pleasing on the eye.

The Art Institute of Chicago comments on their website that “The artist Torii Kiyonaga has been described as the preeminent leader in…the golden age of ukiyo-e prints.” This comment is followed by a quote from Chie Hirano who stated that “He understood the human body much more thoroughly than other ukiyo-e artists, and by beautifying it he created a healthy and noble type of his own.”

On the Van Gogh Gallery it is stated that His work is less stilted and formal than that found in prints from earlier periods, and he presents female figures and their male admirers and suitors in outdoor and indoor scenes. These scenes offer distant landscapes, views of houses and roofs in diagonal patterns, and river and boating scenes. Kiyonaga was a great master of color, and he liked to paint diptychs and triptychs, which were printed on separate sheets of paper. Whether he used deep, sensuous tones or more delicate pastels and shades of gray and black, he applied the color freshly and with great taste. His delicate line delineated graceful and appealing women.”

“Kiyonaga’s work makes use of genre objects and architectural detail, and depicts what must have been for the people of Tokyo, a series of familiar places and activities. Unlike other Ukiyo-e artists, he also offered the general public a series of prints, depicting court ladies of the tenth and eleventh centuries, dressed in their stiff brocaded kimonos, with elaborate coiffures.”

Kiyonaga left behind a rich legacy in several areas of ukiyo-e because he clearly responded to changing techniques by utilizing nishiki-e. Also, the elegance of many art pieces by Kiyonaga means that aspects of high culture and changing styles can easily be imagined.–a8195/torii-kiyonaga-posters.htm

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Posted by on February 9, 2012 in Japan


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Japanese art and culture: Japan Ukiyo-e Museum in Matsumoto

Japanese art and culture: Japan Ukiyo-e Museum in Matsumoto

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times


Japan is a nation which is very rich in art and culture and the uniqueness of the Shinto faith sums up this country in a certain way. After all, nearly all developed nations had their indigenous faiths swept away by Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam, depending on geographic location and respective missionary work. However, Japan managed to preserve a faith which blended naturally with the landscape and wasn’t interested in strict social dogma.

Of course Buddhism impacted on Japan in the past but even today the indigenous faith continues to beat. Therefore, not surprisingly ukiyo-e shows many sides to Japan and this rich form of art also wasn’t abstract but belonged to the people because it represented many things.

Ukiyo-e in all its manifestations highlights the richness of culture in Japan because it shows images of history, nature, culture, theatre, mythology, the spirit world, stunning landscapes, the beauty of women, and other important areas like entertainment. Not only this, the sexual nature is extremely potent even by the standards of liberal nations in the modern world. Also, true to ukiyo-e, then shunga can be purely sexual and explicit or sexuality can be fused within mythology.

Therefore, ukiyo-e relates to the real world, magnificent landscapes, a world of powerful mythology and the spirit world. This is the beauty of ukiyo-e because at times it can be so chaotic but at other times the scene is extremely tranquil and placid.

Not only this, this art form also highlights the complexity of each ukiyo-e artist and shows the huge array of themes open to individuals like Hokusai, Hiroshige, and countless others.

The international appeal of ukiyo-e within the art world can be seen by the fact that Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, Manet, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Degas, Renoir, Monet, Félix Bracquemond, Mary Cassatt, and others, were admirers of ukiyo-e. Therefore, the impact of ukiyo-e within the international art world grew once Japan began to open up just before the Meiji period in 1868 and after this important year in Japanese history. However, just like the chaotic theme within ukiyo-e, this recognition was at a time when this art form was facing new challenges from modernity, which would ultimately eclipse this art form. 

In Matsumoto you have the Japan Ukiyo-e Museum and on their website it states that “The average citizen’s mood of Edo period (1603-1867) was an extremely buoyant and joyful one –not the transitory, heavy atmosphere characteristic of the troubled middle age. The word “ukiyo-e” means “the picture of buoyant world” and incorporates in its meaning the common man’s daily pleasures, such as Kabuki plays, Geisha houses, and so on. The forerunner of Edo period prints was simple drawings that gradually developed into a wood-block, thus satisfying the growth of the demand.”

This comment is part true but also just like all cultures and nations you have many hidden realities which were not so tranquil. In an earlier article I commented that “Obviously the Edo period had darkness within the myths and this applies to the killing of all Christians (because of Buddhist elites and rulers) and brutal methods were used against criminals.  Also, stratification and other factors meant that the Edo period also had major negatives and art can often be used to over-simplify reality. This applies to art all over the world which may neglect serious issues and the marginalized or which may be constrained by cultural and political factors of the day.”

Yet, in general, ukiyo-e does give a major glimpse into the fascinating Edo period and the same applies to the revolutionary Meiji period. This also applies to natural things like fashion and how the creeping Western world was impacting on modern Japan.

More important, ukiyo-e wasn’t exclusive unlike aspects of Western art in the same period which had negative connotations to class, power, and other negative aspects. Therefore, ukiyo-e connected with people from all social backgrounds and this is the beauty of this art form and possibly this fact paved the way in the future for the richness of manga and Japanese anime.

If you love Japanese art then a visit to the Japan Ukiyo-e Museum in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, is a must. On their website it is stated that “Japan Ukiyo-e (Ukiyoe) Museum is a print maker’s dream, holding the largest private collection of ukiyo-e (woodblock prints), paintings screens and old books in the world. The Sakai family has collected more than 100,000 pieces over several generations. English information is limited, but there is a pamphlet you can get at the front and the staff members are very friendly.”

Also, irrespective if you are an internal or external tourist, this museum is located in a beautiful part of Japan. Therefore, you can mix your visit with a lovely holiday and this applies to the stunning mountain scenery of Nagano Prefecture. Also, the museum is located in Matsumoto and this city is a fantastic base because you have a stunning castle and the environment and ambience of this city is very appealing. 

The Japan Ukiyo-e Museum is a real gem and for lovers of art then it is a paradise. Therefore, a visit to this museum will certainly heighten your knowledge of Japanese art, culture and the richness of ukiyo-e.  

The Japan Ukiyo-e Museum: 2206-1, Shimadachi, Matsumoto, 390-0852, JAPAN.

Open: 10:00 a.m.—5:00 p.m.

Closed on Monday  please visit

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Posted by on November 18, 2011 in Japan


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