AAS Annual Meeting

Japan Session 453

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Session 453: The Location of the Motif or How to Popularize Ideas: Late Edo Period Visual Language Shared In Ukiyo-e, Decorative Arts and the Theatre

Organizer: Monika Bincsik, Ritsumeikan University, Japan

Discussant: Satoko Tamamushi, Independent Scholar, Japan

These four papers propose new theoretical frameworks to study Edo period imagery, focusing on motifs shared in various art forms. Based on new methodology the panel will attempt to uncover border-crossing visual conversations specific to the Edo culture. Monika Bincsik will demonstrate how motifs were transmitted or assimilated between prints and lacquers. Ryoko Matsuba and Mizuho Kamo will present case studies of iconography that originated from classical literature, evolved into large-scale painting for high-ranking connoisseurs, then in the second half of the Edo period gained popularity among the townspeople. Akihiro Tsukamoto will examine the geographical settings of the relevant workshops in Kyoto, introducing an as-yet-unexplored network. To identify and locate border-crossing motifs, the researchers of prints, kimono and decorative arts will explore the visual ways of story-telling by focusing on images with a narrative side that is not necessarily literary in background. We will discuss how motifs were integrated into an extended imagery and the changes in the semiotics of their visual representations in the second half of the Edo period. To follow the ways of the actual visual transmissions, the panellists will analyze the artworks as media that modified the subject matters and defined their re-presentations in various art forms. To contextualize the border-crossings we will analyze the social dynamism, the network of townsmen artists, clients and audience. We will also reveal the historical consciousness reflected in design through the examination of visual references to previous artworks, as well as compare contemporary cross-media representations of artworks actually in fashion.

Lacquer Depicted on Ukiyo-e – Ukiyo-e Reflected in Lacquer
Monika Bincsik, Ritsumeikan University, Japan

Lacquer objects made as a commodity for everyday use in the second half of the Edo period for the general population are far less well-known today than the higher quality maki-e (sprinkled picture) artworks produced for the aristocracy, feudal lords and wealthy merchants. Since those lacquers were actually heavily used, not many of them survived to reach museum collections. To reconstruct their history, which is actually a gap in the Japanese lacquer history, we have to rely on woodblock prints and woodblock printed books, that provide images of the lacquers and, at the same time, illustrate their contemporary function and appreciation. In most cases those images are dated, so we can rely on them when it comes to studying the history of the objects. Woodblock printed books and ukiyo-e contributed to the popularity of the lacquers through the numerous fans of the kabuki theatre and the pleasure quarters, in this way introducing new “fashionable” shapes and patterns to a wider circle. On the other hand, often “antique” lacquers were depicted to refer to a historical context. Conversely, by the second half of the Edo period popular imagery from woodblock prints and books was depicted on lacquer produced for townspeople, mostly on vessels related to consuming sake, picnic boxes or household items, on inro (medicine case), and even occasionally on writing utensils. I will examine the motifs transferred from the prints and analyze the changes of their style, as they were adapted to the techniques of the maki-e decoration.

The Eight Views in Edo Period Japan: Transmissions of the Pictorial Subjects
Ryoko Matsuba, Ritsumeikan University, Japan

While many studies focus on how extensively a specific medium uses and re-uses traditional pictorial subjects, hardly researched is how these subjects cross the border of the medium, or how the various art forms were related to each other through the shared subjects, and further, how these border-crossing transmissions affected the subjects themselves. This paper explores these questions through the example of the Eight Views or Hakkei. Originated in China, the Eight Views of Xiaoxiang (Sho-sho Hakkei in Japanese), appeared and were in circulation in Japan by the thirteenth century. Japanization of the Chinese subjects occurred to the extent that in the Edo period even common people could enjoy them, and the themes were often represented in various media such as paintings, ukiyo-e, illustrated books, poetry, decorative arts and stage performance. In the next step of its popularization, Edo culture started to liken different aspects of the everyday life to the themes of Hakkei, based on the imagery well established through the widely available illustrated books that featured the subject. Ukiyo-e and stage performance especially took advantage of the popularized imagery. For example, devised to show off the performer’s quick-change technique and versatility, kabuki’s transformation dance or henge buyo used the Hakkei scenes to change eight times, and the dancer-actors embraced key visual elements of the traditional ideas of Hakkei. Comparative study of various media that deal with both traditional and popularized concepts of Hakkei leads us to deeper understanding of the transmissions of pictorial subjects in the Edo culture.

Tracing the “Whose sleeves?” Motif Through Various Fashionable Art Forms
Mizuho Kamo, Ritsumeikan University, Japan

Despite the sumptuary regulations of the Tokugawa government, which strictly controlled the usage of decorative and expensive materials such as gold brocade and luxurious dying materials, there were innovative new motifs and colors created from the mid-seventeenth century. By the mid-Edo period among fashion leaders were famous kabuki actors and courtesans. Visual representations of the kimonos tell us about the contemporary life style, the actual usage of the kimono or the context of the patterns in fashion. I will focus on the “Whose sleeves?” motif, that allows us to study not only the contemporary kimono called kosode those days, but also the previous kimono designs. The motif is inspired by a classical poem and was developed into a pictorial subject during the early Edo period, mainly depicted on luxurious screens. Most of the compositions show lacquer kimono-racks with kosode hanging from them. I will demonstrate that the subject enjoyed great popularity through the Edo period among the commoners, to the extent that it was represented in contemporary “Kosode pattern books” as well as in ukiyo-e and even on lacquer objects. I will show that the pattern books introduced the motif to ukiyo-e, which used the same motif as a pictorial background, sometimes alluding to the aristocratic culture. I will elucidate how the motif’s popularization was related to the changes in the media and what this popularization means in terms of the Edo culture and society, as well as discussing the cultural connections between Kyoto and Edo.

Locations of the Edo Period Kyoto Lacquer Workshops: GIS Analysis Based on Historical Sources
Akihiro Tsukamoto, Ritsumeikan University, Japan

The use of the Geographic Information Systems has recently attracted considerable interest in analyzing historical spaces. This approach is known as Historical GIS. This paper will reveal the network of the late Edo period lacquer workshops in Kyoto. Since Kyoto was one of the centres of lacquer production, many lacquer workshops and maki-e masters were active in the city. There were various lacquer related workshops as well, such as the distributors of mother-of-pearl, brushes or metal powder. Based on historical sources, we have created a GIS database including the names, addresses and periods of activity of the workshops, from 1705 through 1864. Application of the GIS technology allows us to visualize and understand their marketing network in geographic terms. We can also study the changes of the locations of the workshops over the years. As an overall trend, in the eighteenth century lacquer workshops were located in the area north of Shijo Street, however by the nineteenth century they had shifted to the area south of Shijo Street. Maki-e masters were to be found north of Sanjo Street, close to the dwellings of the aristocrats. This analysis shows the spreading of the high quality lacquer objects towards the traditional trade centres, showing the popularization of the media. We will also compare the lacquer data with the locations of the contemporary publishers and distributors of woodblock prints and books, so as to shed light on direct information exchange networks that lie behind the transmissions of popular designs.