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Yōshū Chikanobu: ukiyo-e and changing Japan (Chikanobu Toyohara)

Yōshū Chikanobu: ukiyo-e and changing Japan (Chikanobu Toyohara)

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

This is a brief glimpse into the art work of Yoshu Chikanobu (Chikanobu Toyohara) who witnessed major changes in Japan.  He lived between 1838 and 1912 and this period in Japanese history is very dynamic. This applies to the ending of Edo and the revolutionary Meiji period which began in 1868.

Chikanobu had one foot in the old world and in time another would belong to the modern period.  The Meiji Restoration in 1868 was revolutionary and like all nations which are engulfed by new forces you had both positives and negatives.

The positive side applies to greater openness and stratification being challenged and a host of other factors.  The downside, Japan followed the imperial European theme and became involved in wars.  However, for Chikanobu and other ukiyo-e artists it was a time to express all these changes and in time modernity would challenge ukiyo-e.

Chikanobu not only witnessed the new revolutionary period and how elites looked to the West but by the late 1880s and early 1890s nostalgia also returned.  Obviously for the masses they were outside both themes and the only important thing was survival and adapting.

Ukiyo-e artists of the Meiji era have often been overlooked but times are changing and Chikanobu and Ogata Gekko, and others, are now being valued in their own right. Therefore, prints by Meiji artists are being studied more and not only based on the artistic merits but also for studying Japanese culture. After all, Meiji artists witnessed a rapidly changing Japan and visual images provide a glimpse into this changing world.

Chikanobu’s famous print series called “Chiyoda no Ooku” (Court Ladies of the Chiyoda Palace) and “Shin Bijin” (True Beauties) highlight stunning colors and show the complexity of this period. This applies to images which show Japanese ladies dressed in exquisite traditional clothes like the kimono and Chikanobu also depicts women in Western clothes. 

This is fascinating from the angle of culture, modernity, fashion, and other important areas. Also, in some pictures you can really feel the imperial nature of the Meiji era and his work is very valuable culturally and because of the stunning art he produces



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