Imaging Meiji

Japanese Woodblock Prints On Exhibit

By Rosanne Lafiosca Pellegrini
Contributing Staff

Sixty-one woodblock prints portraying Japan's modernization and Westernization under the late-19th and early-20th century reign of Emperor Meiji will be featured in the McMullen Museum of Art's fall exhibition, "Imaging Meiji: Emperor and Era, 1868-1912, Japanese Woodblock Prints from the Collection of Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf " from Oct. 4 through Dec. 6.

In addition to material from the Sharf collection - one of the largest of its kind in the world - the exhibition will include period photographs, an Emperor Meiji scroll and about 14 woodblock prints from the Edo period, from the University's own collection. The exhibition is curated by Assoc. Prof. Kenji Hayao (Political Science) and University of Massachusetts-Boston Assistant Professor of Art Victoria Weston.

"Illustration of an Enjoyable Outing at Asakusa Park" is among the prints featured in the exhibition.
"The McMullen Museum is pleased to present this first comprehensive exhibition of Meiji prints and to place them in a broader cultural and political context as a result of the expertise of professors Kenji Hayao and Victoria Weston," said McMullen Museum Director Nancy Netzer.

The Consul General of Japan, Shinichi Kitajima, will open the exhibition at a reception on Sunday, Oct. 4 from 3-6 p.m. at the museum. Hayao also will speak at the public event, Weston will offer a lecture, and Frederic Sharf will lead a tour of the exhibition.

During the Emperor Meiji's reign, Japan saw tremendous changes in all spheres of life, according to Hayao and Weston. Until the mid-1850s, Japan was still essentially a pre-industrial, feudal society closed to contacts with the outside world. By the end of the Meiji period, Japan had become the first non-Western major imperial power, they note.

"The prints celebrate the assimilation of Western technologies, the institution of a Western-style military and the accommodation of Western-style social amenities from entertainment to charity enterprises," Hayao added.

According to exhibition organizers, the mixture of the traditional and the modern emerges clearly from the vivid, journalistically narrative scenes that presented positive images of the Meiji government for mass consumption. Complex, multi-figure pictures, they say, also represent the extraordinary technical achievement by the late 19th-century Japanese printmasters Chikanobu, Gekko, Hiroshige III and Nobukazu.

The Meiji prints testify to the Westernization of Japan, particularly during the second half of the 19th century, organizers note. The prints illustrate contemporary social and political events in Japan, and portray various aspects of the integration of American dress, business, industry and culture into Japanese society.

An Oct. 31 symposium, "Reinventing Japan: Manipulating the Modern in Meiji (1868-1912)," will accompany the exhibition. The symposium will draw upon the images in the exhibition to highlight several of the major issues involved in the transformation of Japan during the Meiji Emperor's reign. Speakers at the symposium, which will begin at 1 p.m. in Devlin 008, include Weston, Harvard University art historian Cherie Wendelken, Dartmouth College historian Steven Ericson, Tufts University historian Gary Leupp, and Henry Smith II of Columbia University's East Asian Languages and Culture department. The event is free and open to the public.

A film series, "Japanese Cinema: From Classic to Current," also will accompany the exhibition. The series, free and open to the public, includes four Japanese films and represents the evolution of cinema genres from the 1950s to the 1990s. Each film will be followed by a short discussion.

The following films will be shown at 7 p.m. on Thursdays in October, in Cushing Hall room 001: Oct. 8, Akira Kurosawa's "Rashomon" (1950); Oct. 15, Inoshiro Honda's "Godzilla" (1955); Oct. 22, Juzo Itami's "Tampopo" (1987); Oct. 29, Masayuki Suo's "Shall We Dance" (1997).

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