Tough Love: Expressions of Confucian Morality in Japanese Woodblock Prints

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    Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797–1861). 'The Exemplary Son Yang Xiang Protecting His Father from a Tiger.' From the series Twenty-four Paragons of Filial Piety: A Mirror for Children (Nijūshikō Dōshi Kagami). Japan, Edo period, c. 1843–1847. Woodblock print.

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    Utagawa Kunisada / Toyokuni III (1786–1865). 'The Actor Bandō Mitsugorō IV as Iwafuji and the Actor Nakamura Shikan II as Ohatsu in the Kabuki Drama Mirror Mountain (Kagamiyama).' Japan, Edo period, 1832. Woodblock print; ink and color on paper.

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    Utagawa Hiroshige (1797–1858), Ryūkatei Tanekazu (1807–1858). 'Vendetta in Patched Brocade (Katakiuchi Tsuzure no Nishiki).' From the series 'Illustrations of Vengeance Out of Loyalty and Filial Piety (Chūkō Adauchi Zue).' Japan, Edo period, 1844.

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December 03, 2015 - January 31, 2016
Honolulu Museum of Art

Exhibition Overview

The Twenty-four Paragons of Filial Piety (Chinese: Ershisi Xiao; Japanese: Nijūshikō), a classic text on Confucian morality written in China during the Yuan dynasty (1260–1368), describes extreme examples of filial piety: respectful behavior towards those in positions of authority, particularly one’s own parents. The book was popular throughout Eastern Asia, and in Japan during the Edo period (1615–1868), it was frequently published as a primer to instill in children an appreciation of social hierarchy.

Many works of early modern Japanese art, literature, and theater likewise express the importance of filial piety. However, because Kabuki theater audiences frequently demanded violent, bombastic stories, Kabuki scripts often focused on a young samurai seeking revenge for the murder of his parents. Japanese woodblock prints were often produced to illustrate these performances and glorified these tales of honorable vigilantes.

This rotation presents a series of prints by Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797–1861) that portray classic examples of filial piety alongside Kabuki prints illustrated by Utagawa Hiroshige (1797–1858) and inscribed by novelist Ryūkatei Tanekazu (1807–1858) that express those same values in more dramatic ways.