The Spirit of Kamigata Prints: Ukiyo-e of the Kyoto and Osaka Areas

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    Shunkösai Hokushü (active 1809-1832), Actor Ichikawa Ebijürö I as Töken Jübei, Japan, Edo period, 1816, Color woodblcok print, Purchase, 1962 (14728)

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    Nishikawa Sukenobu (1671-1750), Young Woman Dressing Hair of Man Playing Samisen, Japan, Edo period, c. 1730s, Woodblock, Gift of James A. Michener, 1991 (21631)

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April 23, 2008 - June 01, 2008
James A. and Mari Michener Gallery (21)

Exhibition Overview

Ukiyo-e is typically known as a product of Edo (present-day Tokyo), the administrative center of the Tokugawa Shogunate. However, the origin of ukiyo-e may be traced back to Kamigata, the region of Kyoto and Osaka. Until the mid-17th century, Kyoto, the capital city of the imperial court, was also the center of the publishing industry. The Honolulu Academy of Arts is fortunate to own approximately 30 Kamigata prints that illuminate Japan’s multiple regional cultures within Japan, and they are now on view in the Michener Gallery

Included in the exhibition is the work of Nishikawa Sukenobu (1671-1751). One of Kyoto’s leading artists and book illustrators, his influence was felt not only in Kamigata, but in Edo as well. A recent study shows that Suzuki Harunobu (1725-1770), the founder of the Japanese color-woodblock printmaking process, may have studied with Sukenobu and later moved to Edo. Best known for his rare book illustrations, Sukenobu, as with other Kyoto and Osaka woodblock print designers, has never been fully researched, and his place in Japanese-art history may be bigger than is currently recognized.

As mid-17th-century Edo flourished economically and culturally, the mainstream publishing world gravitated to the city. However, Kyoto and Osaka artists continued to produce their own woodblock-printed books and pictures, focusing on their own interests, such as famous places, courtesans, actors, and events of the Kamigata region.

A provincial identity often arises when the people of a certain region feel overwhelmed by other influences or powers. As Edo became socioeconomically and culturally the most powerful city in Japan, a sense of identity and pride thrived among residents of Kyoto and Osaka. Even now, people in the Kyoto and Osaka areas feel a sense of rivalry with Tokyo, similar to the East Coast-West Coast rivalry in the United States.

Today, while Kyoto is known as Japan’s ancient cultural capital, Osaka holds the title of “kitchen of Japan” since (thanks to its advanced waterway system) it was once where most of the country’s provisions were collected and distributed to other cities, including Edo. People of these cities are proud of their long history and traditions, including that of woodblock print production. -By Sawako Chang, Asian Art Department