Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Edo Period Part III - Japan - 1800s Rise of the Bourgeoisie

Edo Period Japan - 1800s Rise of the Bourgeoisie

Part III (Part III of III) Art/Entertainment

  • The risen middle class becomes the new patrons of the arts
The arts and entertainment of this period continued to flourish despite the perpetual 'lock-down' of the local citizen. Even though it was still very difficult to move about the country and impossible to enter the country the arts expanded on it’s predecessors work and blossomed in the local scene. The Kano school, the Emperors official courtesan painters,

Ukiyo-e Bird flowers

continues to be the choice of the royal court and the upper class.  Most paintings focused on images of traditional Japanese folklore, such as The Tales of Genji. Many art forms that we (Kakemono Arts) have been introduced to from this period (1800-1865) are Buddhism or Shintoism influenced. Especially the iconic emblems of the Boddhi Dharma or Daruma, the typical Asian icons of turtles, cranes, pine trees and countless birds and natural imagery which could arguably be known as the primary source of the ‘ukiyo-e’ which depicts that natural world. Especially interesting is the concepts of combined plants and birds or animals which hold a specific meaning. The author Merrily Baird (Symbols of Japan) explains many as well as the Three Friends of Winter, (shochikubai) which is an ensemble of plum, bamboo, and pine.  She goes on to explain that the three are
'shochukubai' Three Friends of Winter
all symbols of winter, long life, and the cultured gentleman. This convention of linking the three plants, which are consistently ranked in the same order, remains so popular among the Japanese that they use the Three Friends as both a design motif and an elegant system of designating such things such as banquet rooms or menu options in traditional restaurants.’
There are many different types of combinations which can be traced back to Chinese and Japanese origin and which have Buddhism or Shintoism concepts. As well the previously mentioned form, which is known as ukiyo-e, or ‘images of a floating world’ continued to grow in complexity and imagination. There was also writing and imagery depicting the underworld, ironically also called the ‘ukiyo-e’ which depicted the urban pleasures of the theater and brothel districts of Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto, this became popular art for the average urban citizen which was not unique to Japan, but the world of visual and literary arts during the high times of the bourgeoisie of the main cities was very uniquely Japanese; as Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto also grew to represent the modern urban native Japanese, the arts scene could be categorized as an artistic explosion.

Geisha Woodblock Print from Edo Period
Wherein many average urban dwellers craved the imagery of this underworld and as such many different types of painting and texts were created. These were down in the mass production techniques of the woodblock print to keep the price reasonable and attainable for the average city dweller. It could be argued that this similar mass production of ‘underworld/floating world art’ could be paralleled with the animation and comic book fantasy world that saturates urban and rural Japan today, not to mention fascinates so many visual art fans from around the globe. While different methods as just mentioned continued to feed the new urban art lover, woodblock prints became obsolete to the printing press at the close of the Edo period and a new found interest in western art also became more influential at the beginning of the Meiji period. But as we shall see as we dig into the next periods Japan, the struggle between outside influences and was thought of as ‘Japanese authentic’ continued to rage on.

Edo Period Tiger

Kenneth Henshall; A History of Japan
Merrily Baird; Symbols of Japan
Tsuneko Sadao/Stephanie Wada; Discovering the Arts of Japan


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