Sacred Places and Mystic Spaces in Japanese Landscape Prints

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    Yoshida Hiroshi (1876-1950). 'Camping at Washibadake,' from the series 'Twelve Scenes in the Japan Alps,' Taishô period, 1926. Color woodblock print. Anonymous gift, 2006 (29103).

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    "Sômen-no-taki Waterfall," from the series “Famous Places of Nikkô.” Keisai Eisen (1791-1848). Edo period, 1843-1846. Color woodblock print. Gift of Mrs. C.M. Cooke, Sr., 1933 (09795).

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January 19, 2012 - March 18, 2012
Honolulu Museum of Art / Gallery 21

Exhibition Overview

This exhibition focuses on landscape in Japanese prints, beginning in the Edo period and extending into the modern era. Landscape as an independent subject became popular in ukiyo-e only in the 1830s, having served a long apprenticeship as the background for depictions of courtesans and other figures of the floating world. This reflected a growing awareness of place, both as a source for novel experiences and as a connection to Japanese history and local tradition. Of particular significance was the increase in travel during the Edo period. As stations along the major routes became well known, demand for images of these places grew. Prints became valuable as mementos, as well as a means to experience the natural beauty of a place one could not visit.

In the modern era, landscape prints were aimed at an international audience and became a vehicle for both a nostalgic recreation of traditional Japan and personal artistic expression. While the aims and techniques of representation changed from ukiyo-e to the shin hanga (new prints) and sösaku hanga (creative prints) of the 20th century, several themes are common. One is the focus on named places and the importance of season and atmosphere in their rendition. Another is the integration of Western and Chinese techniques and conceptions of landscape. Emphasized in the exhibition is a third: the sense that the natural world is not only an unending source of wonder and delight, but in its towering mountains and grand waterfalls, evocative of a sense of mystery and of sacred power.