Jan. 24 – May 14, 2023
Luminous lacquered cases, vibrantly colored prints, and intricately carved ivories reflect the inventive and yet subversive tastes of the rising urban class in early modern Japan. This exhibition, curated in partnership with students in Spring 2023 Bucknell courses, “Arts of East Asia” and “Hokusai & the Global Art of Edo,” explores the radically transformative power of popular culture both in the past and in our present worlds.
Picturing the Floating World student labels
|People of Edo Japan took much pride in their clothing. The traditional garments displayed emphasizes nature and power through the color and details. The red in the women's robe symbolizes protection, strength, peace, and power, giving purpose to what the woman is wearing. On the hanging robe, positioned behind the woman, you see mountains detailed into the garment. The mountains help present tranquility and stability through the ability to rule the earth and water. This is all presented on woodblock print, showcasing a Kabuki play. Japanese Kabuki is a traditional theater form, starting in the Edo period, which gained great interest from the townspeople. What made the Kabuki plays so unique was the emphasis on the art within the play, displayed through extravagant costumes, makeup, wings, and actions performed. These Kabuki plays kept up with the latest Japanese fashion trends along with providing entertainment to the public. This piece is a small glimpse into the Kabuki play demonstrated through the detailed artwork in the garments.
- Bella Schraa
|Visually the print has depth, in which there is a clear foreground, middle ground, and background. This print depicts the city of Nagoya, which is surrounded by nature, and uses similar and complimentary colors as well as oscillating between diagonal and horizontal lines to combine the natural world with the developed. The artist also integrates the use of horizontal and diagonal lines in the houses and trees, which both share a dark blue to green and brown palette. Whereas horizontal lines in the mountain range and clouds draw attention to and separates different regions of the print. The landmark of Nagoya, the Nagoya Castle, is depicted in the background and is emphasized by a set of clouds in front of and behind it. It mimics the large mountains in the background and emphasizes the riches of Nagoya and its importance as a transportation and commercial hub on the Tokaido road.
- Sonja Schmoyer
|In this woodblock print, Utagawa Kunisada I (Toyokuni III), who is regarded as one of the most well-known and prolific creators of ukiyo-e woodblock prints in Japanese history, creates an image of two Japanese actors in disguise. On the left is Ichikawa Danjûrô VIII as Jiraiya, and on the right of a now lost diptych is Iwai Kumesaburô III as Tagoto-hime. Kunisada uses a wide color palette, especially blue, which is commonly used in ukiyo-e prints. Indigo, which is extracted from the leaves, produces a gray-blue tint in ukiyo-e prints that also ages with light. Kunisada uses several designs on the clothing of the actors and in the background. During the Edo period, Japan's largest cities' theater and licensed brothel districts were referred to as the "floating world," where Kabuki actors and prostitutes lived. Actors and courtesans rose to prominence as the fashion symbols of their age, and via the use of low-cost woodblock prints, the ordinary populace adopted their looks.
- Gwen Kallmeyer
|This woodblock print, created by Toyokuni III, also known as Kunisada, depicts a scene from the play "Hanano no tsuki uto hitofushi," which was popular during the Edo period in Japan. The print was created in 1859. The scene is beautifully rendered with intricate details and such delicate colors. The flowing lines and soft curves of the figures create a sense of movement and grace. The print captures a moment of chaos as the samurai on the left stands on a verandah, appearing to be very angry, with two guards waving iron objects at him. On the right in the original diptych, the princess looks at the woodblock print in her hand, and appears to be uncertain of what is happening behind her. Beautiful flowers and grasses with such great detail appear in the background of the night sky.
- Patrick Reilly
|This piece depicts the actor Ichikawa Danjuro VIII as shogun Taro Yoshikado in the play “Azuma dairi hana mo Yoshikado,” performed at the Kawarazaki theater in 1848. This piece truly reiterates the importance of color and plays an emphasis on just how much the designation of space plays in constructing a story. The detail between the robe and Samurai Sword also truly lend itself to the composition of the piece, and shares a personable touch sharing just how important acting, and this scene of protection resembles in the nature of Japanese culture.
- Caleb Schmidt
|Through vibrant colors, curved lines, and the representation of liminal space, artist Utagawa Kuniyoshi captures a dynamic scene from a play, between Bando Shuka I and a child actor. The older actor was well-known in the Kabuki scene, especially for onnagata (actors specializing in female roles). Here, Shuka I plays the role of Fushi Hime, the lady of Satomi. Shuka I is commanding in the center of the print, adorned in a swirling kimono, perhaps representing their authority within the acting sphere.
The child actor, as Inuye Shimebi, is caught off-balance and in motion, together forming a scene from the play “Satomi Hakkenden,” (the Eight Dog Heroes of Satomi). The scene is part of the extensive story of Satomi Hakkenden, a 106-book compilation, about eight youngsters (later dog warriors) bound to another world between a princess and the dog god. The story aims to spread Confucian morals and ethics. Because the saga was widely read across Japan in the 1800s, citizens at that time would have recognized the print from both the text and the play.
- Maya Wadhwa
|This print offers a glimpse into the social dynamics of Edo-period Japan, particularly in relation to the Washaku and kabuki theater. Standing alongside a figure in red, the central figure adorned in black is a Wakashu and actor named Iwai Shijaku. The Wakashu was associated with male prostitution in kabuki theater, and their performances redefined social expectations, gender fluidity, and sexual desire. The print depicts Iwai Shijaku acting as Shirai Gonpachi from the play “Even the Flowers of the Azuma Palace Wither.” The play describes a forbidden love story, and the title refers to the impermanence of beauty, highlighting the transience of societal norms and gender roles. Bold, vibrantly decorated clothing and shading techniques create a dynamic composition that captures the characters’ essence and their roles in the play. The figures’ arrangement around a central axis suggests a mutual relationship between the Washaku and Japan’s Edo period society. Hieratic scale and negative space enlarge Iwai Shijaku’s figure, emphasizing the importance of the Washaku in shaping Japan’s cultural identity.
- Mia Hursh
|The woodblock print is one half of a diptych that resembles a scene from a Kabuki play titled Matsutake Temari Jitsuroku. Kabuki is a traditional Japanese form of theatre that was prevalent during the Edo period. It involves dramatic makeup, dance, and singing. The woodblock print displays a blind man, portrayed by Nakayama Ichizo I, whose knee has been possessed by a ghost. The blind man appears frightened by the ghost, extending his leg down the series of steps on which he is seated upon. He holds his cane in a defensive manner. An actor by the name of Aisho Hiromura is depicted on the righthand corner looking closely at the blind man’s knee with a sense of curiosity and amusement. The use of diagonal lines in the steps and picture frames creates an illusion of depth. The use of red creates a strong contrast with the greens, yellows, and blues of the painting. The use of vibrant reds complements the tone of fear associated with the blind man. Appearing atop the ghost instilled in the man's knee is an Onibi, a small flame that often appears in the presence of ghosts.
- Kolby DePron
|This woodblock print of a traditional kabuki drama actor depicts a playful moment with a plum tree in the darkness of night. Iwai Kumesaburo III, the subject of the print, twists into a precarious pose and wears a toothy grin creating a mischievous and whimsical mood. Despite the gray of the night sky, the image is full of life as the bright colors of both the plum blossoms and the actor’s clothing are illuminated by an unknown light source. In the context of Japanese symbolism, plum blossoms are especially bright, representing hope and good fortune as they are often the first sign of spring after a long and cold winter. The artist, Utagawa Kunisada, is considered the most popular and prolific woodblock print designer of the ukiyo-e genre which is displayed in this exhibit “Picturing the Floating World.” Kunisada’s influence was so far-reaching that his prints are said to be one of Van Gogh’s main inspirations.
- Maya Kidder
|A young boy garbed in a chrysanthemum-patterned dress plays while two women flatten cloth. Following their gaze back into the upper middle ground, a line of geese fly before a full moon. Accompanying this depiction on the upper left is a poem framed in a serene landscape that describes the full moon and its associated activities.
In the 1840s, full moons symbolized peace, prosperity, and family reunion. The chrysanthemums further this notion: they were often depicted during lunar celebrations to symbolize happiness and vitality. The extensive use of blue–associated with mythical creatures and divinity– further adds an air of spirituality and serenity to the piece. This image portrays a harmonious union of individuals who will stand by and grow old with each other– indeed, the geese's migration displays the change of seasons and the elapsing of time.
- Colin Michna
|This print depicts geishas entertaining a prince. The woodblock print on paper includes several shifting focal points, emphasizing a sense of liveliness. Three women play musical instruments while two others tend to the prince by pouring him sake. Each individual wears a unique garment with designs varying from stripes to checkered patterns. The array of activities and chaos of hues and designs may reveal aspects of the print's culture and origin. Some believe that the artwork is a scene from the “Tale of Genji,” one of Japan’s greatest literary works on the lives of women who sought to maintain the happiness of a male ruler. Toyokuni’s use of various colors and patterns communicates an overall sense of busyness, indicating the hardworking role of women and their efforts to entertain men during the Edo period.
- Grace Sharp
|This piece depicts two figures of the third gender known as Wakashu. A notable feature of Wakashu is the shaven triangle on their head. In this depiction the triangles are covered by a small cap towards the front of their heads. A theme of hierarchy is apparent within the piece. The two figures are actors in a play. Segawa Tomisaburo, seen on the right, is playing the role of Yadorigi, the wife of Ogishi Kurando. On the left, Nakamura Manyo is playing the role of the servant, Wakakusa. Although outside of acting these Wakashu’s are equals, in the scene being depicted, there is an apparent hierarchy. Segawa Tomisaburo is given greater importance in this scene. The overall size and space taken up by Segawa compared to the smaller size and space taken up by Nakamura Manyo expresses this sense of hierarchy. Through the placement of the characters, there is a diagonal that can either be viewed going up from the bottom left to top right or from the top right to the bottom left. The straight long clips seen in both of the actors' hair helps to guide the eye along this diagonal that also deepens the underlying theme of hierarchy.
- Martha Covo
|This print is from the Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji series and is nicknamed "Red Fuji.” This byname alludes to the red-orange hue of the mountain itself, which is beautifully displayed and appears to be radiating light as the sun shines upon it. The use of blue in the sky complements the red-orange hue of the mountain and makes it appear as if it is glowing, giving the viewer a serene feeling while imagining themselves standing in front of the monumental Mt. Fuji. The print has a very stable composition, as shown by the immovable Mt. Fuji, which gradually rises up from the ground as the viewer shifts their gaze from the left side of the print to the right. This print, along with The Great Wave off Kanagawa are two of the most widely recognized works of Japanese woodblock prints, along with being some of the most notable works from Katsushika Hokusai.
- Nick Florschutz
|This Japanese tanto blade from the Edo period is a stunning example of traditional Japanese sword-making. Made from high-quality steel, it features a curved shape and pointed tip, a braided tsuka-ito hilt (handle), and an intricately designed tsuba (guard) that features clouds and a dragon. The tanto was not only a weapon but also a symbol of status and honor, used by samurai for close combat and to perform acts of loyalty and bravery. This blade is a testament to the skilled craftsmanship of Japanese sword-makers and a reminder of Japan's rich cultural heritage, both as a work of art and a weapon of war.
- Michael Meyer
|This piece is an example of a Netsuke which was a common part of traditional Japanese dress. They would be attached to kimonos, allowing certain items, such as a pipe or medicine box, to be attached to the dress. Sukenaga, a carver from Takenaka in Hida Province quickly became a master disciple of the art form. He was credited with the creation of the Itobbori style of carving which is showcased in this piece. Sukenaga’s finesse is most notable when observing the angle and shape of the monkey’s face as it examines a turtle. Through the process of first carving a rough shape out of a block of wood and then adding details to the face and turtle, a modest and friendly tone can be seen as the monkey interacts with the turtle in his hands, much like how a sculpture stares at his small creations. Due to the compact nature of a netsuke, Sukenaga added many small details, such as the hair bun and turtle’s shell to add the needed depth to such a small trinket.
- Berty Levi
|This unattributed netsuke figurine encapsulates the journey of two travelers, most likely on route through one of the great sacred pilgrimages that took place during the Edo period. Within a single, circular carving sits the daibutsu, a great haloed buddha, raised atop a lotus to represent his higher enlightenment, purity, and the journey it takes to achieve it. The two weary travelers rest under the buddha, visiting one of the many temples on their sacred walk. They separately encircle the buddha, both evoking tranquility in their demeanor, but do so independently. The distance between them represents not only their diminutive size relative to the statue, but also the sage essence of the buddha that creates metaphysical space between them. The ornamental details etched upon the traveler’s clothes and belongings, also imply a personalized story behind its design. It also recounts one of the many historical pilgrimages across Japan, which references begin in the 12th Century.
- Alex Haylock
|This work by a now unknown artist depicts a miniature, ivory clam, with a rare intricate landscape carved on the inside of the clam. There is also a smaller closed clam attached on the bottom, and a half-open shell with a small red crab nestled on the top, exposed to the viewer. The clam may be a Hamaguri clam, which is one of Japan’s most popular seafood products, and a symbol of martial harmony, as Hamaguri soup, was often served at weddings.
This small figurine is a Netsuke or a miniature sculpture between two and six inches. These carvings most frequently depict animals, which can be both real and imaginary. Landscapes are rare because of the netsuke’s small size, requiring a large base that is not possible for many of netsuke’s motifs. That being said, this object is part of a larger trend called Clam Dreams which contains a shell carved inside with a village or other everyday scene. While the meaning of “dream” in this context is ambiguous, it may refer to the idealized landscapes within the clam.
- Maya Wadhwa
|This object is made from a smoothed chestnut. The artist has carved two old men, jolly and nestled against one another. The front is Daikoku, a composite deity of the fearsome Makhala and the indigenous Okinonushi, ex-ruler of Earth. Despite his unthreatening countenance, Daikoku hunts demons, retaining aspects of the death god he was conflated with. To his side is the deity Fukurokuju, the Southern Polestar. In lore, he holds a book containing the lifespans of all beings. Considering the gods are associated with longevity and fortune, this piece may have been thought to bring good luck. There is also the sentiment of blessings in simplicity and balance. Consider how the only colors used in the piece are from the chestnut itself, which is divided into light and dark, invoking Taoist balance symbolism. Note also how plainly the gods are dressed, and how they emerge from the simple walnut.
- Charles Schmitt
|This ivory object is a netsuke, and is meant to be worn on traditional Japanese clothing but were later seen as souvenirs by Europeans and Americans who were newly allowed to enter Japan in the late 19th century for trade and tourism. Okame is the goddess of mirth who is often depicted with an idealized face, once thought to be the ideal face of a woman, sporting a pleasant disposition through her merry eyes and full cheeks. Her name means “tortoise,” which is the recognized symbol of luck in having a long life. There is an oni mask, located underneath Okame. Oni are a kind of demon that attract bad fortune and Oni masks are meant to ward off bad luck and omensi by inciting fear into them, due to their grotesque faces. Okame being seated in one of these masks suggests that whoever buys or is given this object will have good luck in having a long life and a life with minimal major hardship.
- Jossette Sullivan
|Netsuke, small carvings made from wood or ivory, originated in 17th century Japan as a means to secure an inrō, a small holding case, to a wearer’s kimono. By the 19th century, netsuke production had reached its height, with artists depicting hundreds of subjects in these ornate carvings. This netsuke, carved from vegetable ivory and stained in a rich mahogany color, depicts a frog laying on top of a human skull. While these two elements appear seemingly disparate, they frequently appear in conjunction in netsuke and contain multiple meanings in Japanese culture. The skull, with its cavernous eye sockets and protruding teeth, serves as a memento mori, or a reminder of the inevitability of death. In addition to this grim reminder, the skull also symbolizes the afterlife in Japanese Buddhism. When paired with the frog, a symbol of luck, wealth, and prosperity, this netsuke serves as a reminder to appreciate both the bounty and brevity of life.
- Sophie McQuaide
|Originally introduced to Japan from China, inros are decorative cases designed to carry medicine or small items and are commonly hung from a sash around the waist. This specific inro is made up of three stacked cases, bound together by a gold cord with a bead (ojime) and toggle (netsuke). Crafted with great detail by skilled artisans, inros were commonly used as a status symbol. The inro itself is made of black and red lacquered wood with gold maki-e decoration. This is done by adding gold powder to the lacquer before it hardens. The case portrays a landscape; there is a plum blossom tree with a perching raven carved into the foreground, and mountains and clouds behind. Known as the first flowers to bloom in spring, the bright gold and pink plum blossom is a symbol of perseverance and purity. The raven is considered a sacred bird in Japanese culture and provides guidance making this a meaningful piece to its owner.
- Haley Speicher
|Designed in the likeness of a bronze Buddhist temple bell, this elaborate inrō reminds the viewer of the difficult path to reach enlightenment. The face of the bell is bisected by the Japanese kanji for “one heart,” in rejection of a harmful individualistic mentality. In the cradle of the kanji a flag is pulled to the right by a demonic spirit. The delicate kanji here reference “nothingness” and “peace,” speaking to the Buddhist divestment from attachment. A twin demon carrying the mallet used to sound the call to prayer is placed in an opposing diagonal, providing a tense symmetry to the composition. At the top of the inrō, two fierce dragon heads, symbols for luck and protection, form the loop through which the netsuke is attached. The netsuke is carved in the form of a cucumber-loving river dweller known as the kappa. Atop the head of kappa is a small well which would have held river water. Working together the pieces and composition are reminders of balance; the kappa would die without water, reminding the wearer that the Buddhist teaching of nothingness does not come from being empty, but full of only what the mind, body, and spirit require.|
|This intricately detailed inro highlights the social status and complex relationship between the samurai and the courtesans of the Edo period. The front side depicts a traditional Japanese house with a thatched roof and a Shoji paper “window.” A subtle orange glow outlines the window, its mystical and eye-catching nature guides the viewer's attention to an intimate scene unfolding in the house. The private interaction between the courtesan (left) and samurai (right) is depicted with very little detail. Both figures are represented by simple outlines. However, we can discern that the samurai is playing the shamisen, a three-stringed instrument that reflects and promotes a uniquely Japanese cultural identity. The courtesan dances freely to the samurai’s music. Her kimono creates an abstract, billowing form that contrasts with the sharp, stable lines of the roof, the window, and the rest of the house. The juxtaposition between the courtesan and the rest of her environment could represent the complex and ambiguous social status of courtesans during the 19th century in comparison to the stability of the samurai’s civil rank.
- Lucy Wadsworth
|Inrō or hanging cases were used to carry medicine, writing tools, money and other personal items when wearing a kimono. Covered in a glossy lacquer coating, this inrō was made in the late 18th to mid 19th century. On one side it depicts a scared woman opening a box full of Yōkai or ghost spirits, and on the other side, it shows a laughing man opening a box full of gold objects. A farmer, whose dress bears a strong resemblance to the laughing man, is carved on the netsuke or small piece at the end of the purple cord. Hitotsume-Kozō, a one-eyed, child-like goblin is shown among the spirits. He is known to surprise people and document misdeeds, which he then reports back to the god of misfortune. This image might be used to deter thieves from stealing the inrō’s contents.
- Sophia Spears
|Mythology is integral to Japan’s society, particularly in designating kami (deities or spirits) and attributing divine origins to the Imperial family. Featured on this inro (a small, compartmented container suspended from the waist) is Ryūgū-jō, the underwater palace of the dragon god of the sea, Ryūjin. Myth notes that Ryūjin was the great-grandfather of Japan’s first emperor, Emperor Jimmu. The palace featured is asymmetrical, lacks depth, and is decorated with multi-colored coral beads and mother of pearl. The composition contains conflicting lines: three strict, horizontal separations of the inro and the diagonal extension of the orange coral from the bottom right corner up to the palace’s baseline. The Japanese red coral (akasango) featured is thought to have powers for warding off dangers—symbolizing both purity and strength. Stemming from the coral’s branches is a series of short, curved gold lines highlighting the fluidity of the wave crests underneath the palace. Although pictorial depictions of Ryūgū-jo during the Edo period were above water, the elaborate media and color in this inro indicate the importance of representing kami in an esteemed manner.
- Ella Grenci
|This inro here is an oval-shaped wallet that many carried in the nineteenth century and was covered in gold. You can see that it also has golden leaves and trees surrounding it. Then there are cranes going over the inro which were fabled to live thousands of years. The cranes may have been placed to give people long life, eternal happiness, and youth. So, this inro is more than just a wallet that many use. It is something that has meaning behind it and many who owned it believed that the images placed within them would bring them what they were seeking. Then the turtle which was placed on a string to the side of the inro also had meaning. The tortoise also means longevity and long life because of its long age it lived and its shell that was meant to represent the heavens.
- Yosief Tewelde