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Chapter 62; Modern Graphic Design in Japan

Ando Hiroshige, Fukagawa, the Ten Thousand Acres Plain at Susaki, 1857

Modern graphic design in Japan may be studied as a synthesis of both Japanese and western movements and styles from Japanese Kano school of painting, to Rimpa, and ukiyo-e woodblock prints; together with western styles of Art Nouveau, Constructivism, Bauhaus, futurism, Dada and othres. The Japanese history of graphic design as an artistic discipline must also examine publications such as Gendai shogyo bijutsu zenshu (現代商業美術全集) (The Complete Commercial Artist) (1928-1930), which deals with effective design techniques, and played a significant role in the evolution the Japanese visual communication design by introducing the western world's grammar of design to the Japanese media.

Under the rubric of "dezain" (a transliteration of the English word design); graphic design was recognized as a distinct discipline, different from other disciplines such as zuan (design), and shogyo bijutsu (commercial art) in the visual art domain, in the late nineteenth century. In Japan, as in many western countries, the subject of what separates art and design became an issue after the introduction of the new printing technology in the early twentieth century. The new mass-produced design could reach a vast number of people, but could these be regarded as art? The artistic-designers, taking pride in the aesthetic virtuosity of their junsei or junsui geijutsu or “pure art”, were exhibiting contempt for the commercial nature of the advertising art. This distinction however was not a salient feature of Japanese art in the pre-modern era, when many artists unabashedly were practicing commercial art with a careful eye for preserving the artistic merits of their works.

During the Edo period (1615-1868), ukiyo-e prints were considered as a commercial art, designed for commoners and not for non-vulgar Japanese artistic collections. ukiyo-e means 'Pictures of the Floating World'. Images of everyday Japan, mass-produced for popular consumption they represent one of the high points of Japanese cultural achievement. Popular themes include famous beauties and well-known actors, renowned landscapes, heroic tales and folk stories. Nevertheless, many artists such as those of Kano school were commissioned commercially to decorate daimyos’ (feudal lords) castles. As well, the high quality limited edition surimono prints, typically featuring still life and poetry of the Edo period; is another instance of high quality artists being engaged in the commercial activity designed exclusively for the privileged class of collectors. Among these artists were the painter Maruyama Okyo (1733-1795) who designed textiles for the Echigoya kimono shop and the Ogata brothers Korin (1658-1716) and Kenzan (1663-1743) of the Rimpa school, who designed ceramic, textile, and prints. The Rimpa school was influenced by the earlier yamato-e pictures in the collection of imperial court during the Heian period (794-1185), which illustrated traditional literature such as Tales of Ise or Tale of Genji and characterized by delicately curved outline in contrast to a more angular Chinese style of kara-e. The decorative designs of artists of Rimpa, with their opaque color and fluid forms, introduced an aesthetic elegance into fans, pottery, and kimonos, rendering them as objects of art.

The Kano school (狩野派)

The Kano school were professional artists patronized by the shogunate from the late Muromachi period (1333-1568), who greatly influenced graphic design of modern Japan. The school was founded by Kanō Masanobu (1434-1530) who trained in ink painting of the Chinese Southern Song and Yuan dynasties at Shōkokuji Temple in Kyoto. Originally this ink painting style had been practiced mainly by Zen painter-monks as a way to enlightenment, but the Kanō artists became dominant, through the patronage of the Ashikaga shoguns (1338-1573). They were strictly secular professionals who worked mainly for the shogunate as official painters of Kanga over the next 400 years. In addition, most other major artists of this period studied with Kano masters before developing their own styles.

Chinese Immortals. This screen depicting the youthful Lan Caihe carrying a bamboo flower basket, holding a red peony, and dressed as a hermit in mugwort leaf skirt, under a cypress at right, with two older sages at left, possibly Lu Dongbin, in scholar’s robes and holding open a scroll, as Zhongli Quan in a hermit’s leaf skirt and with a leaf fan at his waist, gestures toward the text written there. It belongs to a tradition of large-scale figurative painting in ink and color on gold leaf, popularized at the end of the sixteenth century by Kano Eitoku (1543-1590) and his successors within the Kano school. An early example associated with Eitoku is the pair of tsuitate screens of Immortals and Birds and Flowers from Daitokuji. The Ryoanji screens are attributed to Kano Takanobu (1571-1618) and date to circa 1506. They share several general features with the screen offered here, including a similar scale and division of space, related shape and distribution of gold clouds, and a common palette of green and velvety reddish-brown, used to color the immortals' robes. Further analysis of this screen's style, however, points to another, presumably later hand: drapery folds rendered with a stiff and somewhat mannered 'fluttering' outline, accented with gold; subtle differences in the hands, feet, and faces; and the presence of leaf skirts, but no capes, on two of the figures, indicating the use of a different artistic model.

Set of sliding doors of Plum tree by Kanō Sanraku, early 17th century

There is a distinct symbolic content in the landscapes of the Kano school; many of the plants and animals have a auspicious allegorical meanings. They used a 'Chinese' firm ink line and broad, bright colours, but introduced a Japanese sensibility and choice of subjects, including figure and landscape, and extensive glowing gold leaf.The Kano school had an equally profound effect on popular art forms, particularly the woodblock print. This impact came from their rigorous training method for artists, a system in which students would meticulously copy pictures from official Kano style books. After attaining a mastery of copying the official style, students would be granted the right to use the name Kano and allowed their own style books. Many of these students became town painters, machi-eshi, who painted genre scenes for wealthy commoners, as well as for the samurai class. Many other artists who studied in Kano schools became designers of woodblock prints. Their exported prints influenced modern western art, which came back to the graphic arts of Japan, primarily through Art Nouveau.

Framed imaginary portrait of the 8th century poet Ōtomo no Yakamochi from a series of the Thirty-six Poetry Immortals, Kanō Tan'yū, 1648

In 1867 the 15 year old 'Emperor' (Tennou) was taken to Edo and reinstated as political leader. The coup d'état (Meiji Ishin) was lead by the Southern Daimyos of Satsuma (now Kagoshima) and Choushuu (now Yamaguchi prefecture). Meiji was the name chosen to declare that the young Emperor Mutsuhito would give 'enlightened rule'. In the charter oath of 1868 he promised democratic style freedom; participation through administrative channels, reform, fairness and a search for wisdom throughout the world. In 1869 domain administration was made uniform and samurai ranks were reduced and simplified.

The Rimpa (琳派, Rinpa) school

The highly decorative style of 'Rimpa' painting , which flourished during the Edo period (1600-1868). was named in the nineteenth century after one of its leading artists, Ogata Kôrin (尾形光琳, 1658 – June 2, 1716). It embraces bold, graphic renderings of natural motifs and formalized depictions of fictional characters, poets, and sages with literary connotations—as well as eye-catching compositions that cleverly integrate calligraphy and image.

Cranes, Gunkaku zu, 群鶴図, Edo Era, late 17th-early 18th century, Collection of The Freer Gallery of Art

Bamboo and Plum Tree, Chikubai zu, 竹梅図, Edo Period, 18th century, Collection of Tokyo National Museum

Irises, Kakitsubata zu, 燕子花図, Edo Period, Early 18th century, Collection of Nezu Museum

"Maples and Cherry Trees" by Sakai Hoitsu (1761-1828) 酒井抱.
Quite possibly Hoitsu’s best teacher was a man he never met. Ogata Korin, Japan’s master painter and the force behind the Rimpa movement, died 45 years before Hoitsu was born. Hoitsu began painting in the Rimpa style during his 30s, making direct copies of and compiling books on the works of Korin and his brother, Ogata Kenzan.

Historically Rimpa originated in 1615, when Hon'ami Koetsu in collaboration with Tawaraya Sotatsu, founded a community of artists and craftsmen in Kyoto, under the patronage of a wealthy merchant of the Nichiren Buddhist sect persuasion. Their aims was to revive the classical courtly tradition and the Yamato-e painting style. Both artists came from families of sword-smiths, who had served the imperial court and the great warlords. Sotatsu, produced commercial paintings, decorative fans, folding screens, and decorated paper with gold or silver backgrounds. Koetsu who did painting in the flamboyant aristocratic style of the Heian period (794 to 1185) as well as calligraphy, lacquerwork, and the Japanese tea ceremony then inscribed poems on Sōtatsu's decorated papers.

Wind God and Thunder God, Tawaraya Sotatsu, 俵屋宗達, Kyoto National Museum

In the early Edo period, western style became popular and consequently Rimpa were shunned by artists and academic art institutions. However, it was incarnated in the Genroku era (1688-1704) by brothers Ogata;Korin and Kenzan, sons of a prosperous Kyoto textile merchant. Korin's using a rich color pallet and hue gradations, rendered nature as an abstract phenomenon eccentrically decorated with gold and pearl. Rimpa style was reincarnated once more in the nineteenth century by Sakai Hōitsu (1761-1828) and his students such as Suzuki Kiitsu (1796-1858), staged a Rimpa revival which grew out of copying Kōrin's works. The later Rimpa artists concentrated on flower, or kachōga (bird-and-flower) subjects, often influenced by the new naturalistic wash style of the Maruyama and Shijō schools. .

Impacts of Western Style.

It wasn't long before the Meiji government recognized the power of painting and the arts for it's society, and for Japan in it's new role as an international unified power. Just as the Tokugawa had set up the Institute for the Study of Barbarian documents (Banshoshirabesho) to understand the colonial enemy which threatened them, the Meiji government had a political and practical rather than aesthetic motive in promoting the arts; this was to gain foreign currency through exports to pay for the huge cost of modernization and to present herself to the world as a cultured and 'civilized' nation.

Sakai Hōitsu (1761 – 1828), The Poet Hitomaro (detail), first decade of the 19th century.
Hanging scroll; ink and colors on silk. Berkeley Art Museum.

The Iwakura Tomomi Mission of 1871 had a huge impact on the arts in Japan. A group of government officials traveled all over the US and Europe with the aim of changing the unfair treaties and studying western administration systems. They brought back over 500 foreigners to assist in the modernization which had come to mean westernisation, many of whom taught at Tokyo University. They had studied western tastes and brought back specialists to assist in the arts and crafts. This catering to westerners tastes for the International exhibitions was to shape the face of Japanese crafts, but this adaptation to foreign market demands was not new to the Meiji period.

Sakai Hōitsu (1761-1828). Azuma Kudari from Ise monogatari (The Tales of Ise), detail, late 1810s.
Ink and color on silk.Feinberg Collection.

The 1873 Vienna Exposition introduced categories of 'Fine' and 'Industrial' or technical arts, thus differentiating between arts and crafts, which in the Japanese language were considered the same up to this time. Consequently the words 'bijutsu' and 'geijustsu' were created to convey these respective meanings. The use of such terms may have influenced the craftsmen who, feeling the elevated status of 'bijutsu', attempted to distinguish their work from the caegory of industrial arts by rendering them elaborately more decorative in accordance with the European tastes prevailing in that time. However, the simpler more understated 'wabi' style remained faithful to an authentic Japanese austere aesthetic. To sum up, Meiji crafts morphed into an opulent decorative style rooted in Chinese designs and motifs.

In the 1893 exhibition of Columbia Japan for the first time participated in both'Fine' and 'Industrial' art categories. The introduction of Western cultural values led to a dichotomy in Japanese art, as well as in nearly every other aspect of culture, between traditional values and attempts to duplicate and assimilate a variety of clashing new ideas. This split remained evident in the late 20th century, although much synthesis had by then already occurred, and created an international cultural atmosphere and stimulated contemporary Japanese arts toward ever more innovative forms.

Two Bostonians, Ernest Francisco Fenollosa (1853–1908) and William Sturgis Bigelow (1850–1926), who came to Japan in quick succession in the late 1870s and 1880s were instrumental in introduction of Japanese art into the west. They also impacted the Japanese style in a significant way. During their time in Japan, they conducted surveys of Japanese antiquities and acquired art with intense energy. Their Boston Museum of Art collection, encompassed a broad range of periods and genres, from eighth-century Buddhist images to paintings by medieval, early modern, and even Meiji-era artists, as well as ukiyo-e prints, Buddhist sculptures, swords, textiles, and more. At the time when many Buddhist treasures were being discarded or sold in a misinterpretation of the Separation Edict of 1868, where Shinto became the state religion, Fenollosa made a great effort to preserve national treasures during the period of Haibutsu kishaku (廃仏毀釈) (extermination of Buddhism) which peaked in 1871. Fenollosa who served on Japan's Imperial Art Commission from 1886–89, became a strong advocate and patron of Kano Hogai after meeting him in 1883. With the endorsement of Fenollosa in 1888 Kano Hogai painted Hibo Kannon (The Compassionate Kannon), which unlike traditional Buddhist paintings was intended from the outset for public display in art exhibitions rather than as an object of veneration for a Buddhist temple.

Kano Hogai , Hibo Kannon (The Compassionate Kannon), 1888

The painting, which depicts the bodhisattva Kannon with an infant inside a spherical form, was exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1883. It is today one of the most familiar paintings in modern Japanese art history, known both for its status as an early example of nihonga, or modern Japanese-style painting, and for the debates surrounding its production and iconography. The word nihonga developed in the middle of die Meiji era as a means of self-consciously denoting "the painting particular to Japan" (uiagakuni koyit no ga) as opposed to Western models of painting. Nihonga of the Meiji era stemmed from the concern with the definition of national schools of painting and the impulse to preserve traditional cultural forms. As the inheritor of this legacy, nihonga in the twentieth century and beyond came to occupy a theoretically and historically ambiguous position as a category of artistic production located between the modernist act of creation and the impulse toward preservation or reenactment of the techniques, formats, and social functions of past Japanese painting. The painting now represents the Meiji art; an art that encompasses a new national identity and a cohesive culture suited to an international power. It's conventional Buddhist theme combined with western elements of perspective are typical of what was to become the ideal of the Tokyo School of Fine Arts.

Mid-Meiji Expressionism

By the mid-Meiji era the government's enthusiasm for its wholehearted adoption of western cultural values was subsiding and in the context of promoting a policy of conservative nationalism, a shift of attitudes towards Japan's own cultural heritage was encouraged. In 1898 two professors at Tokyo School of Fine Arts (東京美術学校 Tōkyō Bijutsu Gakkō); Yokoyama Taikan (横山 大観, 1868 – 1958)and Okakura Kakuzō (岡倉 覚三,1862 –1913 - also known as 岡倉 天心 Okakura Tenshin)because of their disagreements with the school resigned. Okakura who studied under Ernest Fenollosa was one of the principal founders of the Tokyo School of Fine Arts, the first Japanese fine-arts academy, and a year later became its head. Yokoyama and Okakura founded the Nihon Bijutsuin (日本美術院,Japan Art Institute. Born in Tokyo's port city of Yokohama in 1862, Okakura was first educated by American missionaries and began reading English before Japanese. But, by age 8, his father moved him to a Buddhist temple where he learned traditional Japanese culture amid the monks' daily regimen of robes, rituals, and green tea. The Japanese boy raised on The New Testament and Methodist hymns found himself immersed in the sayings of Confucius and playing the 13-string Koto. His great passion was for the art of Japan that was being tossed aside for the Western art and culture. While he wanted to preserve the Japanese traditions and develop a notional Technique, he wanted the Japanese style to be come more Expressionist. He wrote:
Moreover, as our new position, the following three objectives must be the aims for young painters: we must develop our Technique more and more following traditional rules, we must place importance on order and not make outrageous paintings, and we must represnt "Expression".
Taikan agreed with Okakura, and wrote an article to explain his painting Chouhou he wrote:
" When people gather in a temple to listen to the same Buddhist sermon, the meaning is different from person to person. Depicting this was one of my principle objectives when I painted Chouhou, I wanted to shw the difference. Even if various People, for example, a woman, a farmer or a samurai, listen to the same preaching, one person will listen with faith, another incredulously and another without understanding. I planned to depict these various states in the guise of contemporary people"
Yokoyama Taikan, Hanshan and Shihde by a Bonfire, 1915, Kumamoto Perfectural Museum of Art

The Japanese media in particular were anxious about the attitude of Europeans towards their art. For instance, a critic wrote that in order for Japanese paintings to be accepted by the European attendees in the Paris Expo of 1900 painters should take care when depicting the expression of a characters face. He wrote:
In Particular, our Japanese portraits are regarded as lacking facial expression and only showing a stereotypical beauty to foreigners, who hold this in low regard, so our Japanese painters should try to elaborate and use their skill to contrive to depict characters with expressive faces and expressive actions.
Thus, artists blended elements from western art, the near and far east as they had done in the past for many centuries but with a new critical scrutiny. Over the 1886-89 period, as part of an Imperial commission Fenollosa and Okakura Tenshin travelled to Western Europe and the States to investigate art administration, methods and programs.

Japanese War Prints

Japan's conflict with China broke out over the control of Korea. After some skirmishes and uprisings of pro-Chinese against pro-Japanese groups in Seoul, Chinese and Japanese forces were embarked in Korea. On July 14, 1894 fighting had started at Phungtao between Chinese ships and the Japanese fleet. Within less than one year, Japan defeated the Chinese armed forces without great efforts. The Sino-Japanese War ended with the Treaty of Shimonoseki. China had to make territorial concessions (Taiwan and some islands) and had to pay large indemnities to Japan. Korea's independence was formally confirmed. But de facto Korea became a part of the Japanese hemisphere.The swift victory of the Japanese troops was achieved because of the massive and systematic modernization of Japan after the Meiji Restoration. Chinese troops were no match for the Japanese who fought with latest Western weapon technology. Furthermore, the Japanese troops were supported by a wave of nationalistic enthusiasm. The communication design of this period, represented by woodcut prints, glorified the military might of Japan and its dominant aggressive expansionism. The Chinese enemies are depicted as some kind of primitive barbarians and backward people armed with spears, while the fierce-looking Japanese soldiers attack with modern rifles.

“Picture of Captain Asakawa on Horseback at Battle” by Kobayashi Kiyochika, January 1895 [2000.181] Sharf Collection, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Advancing at Pyongyang by Toshikata Mizuno 1866-1908

"Soldier's Dream at Camp during a Truce in the Sino-Japanese War” by Kobayashi Kiyochika, April 1895 [2000.279] Sharf Collection, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

By the end of the Meiji Period (1868~1912), Japan was a considerable power in Asia. In 1898 Russia leased Port Arthur from China. Two years later in 1900, Russia took the Boxer Rebellion in China as an excuse to occupy Manchuria. An expansion into Korea seemed to be imminent. After negotiations between the two countries had failed, the Japanese navy launched an attack on Port Arthur in 1904. The Russo-Japanese War was fought on land and on sea. The Japanese remained victorious in several land battles with high casualties on both sides. The final outcome of the war was decided in a naval battle. Japan had established a sea blockade against the Russian ships at Port Arthur. The war ended with the peace treaty of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, mediated by President Theodor Roosevelt. Russia recognized the Japanese dominance over Korea and agreed to the long-term lease of the Liaodong Peninsula. Ten years later, Korea was formally integrated into Japan as a province.
Some of the Illustrators who had distinguished themselves during the Sino-Japanese War turned to war prints again. In these works Russian corpses litter the battlefield. Japanese fighting men stomp on the enemy, run them through with swords, stab them with bayonets, club them with rifle butts. They also pick off smartly uniformed Russian cavalry with their rifles—something not seen in the Sino-Japanese War prints.At the same time, however, it is fair to say that the Russian enemy was treated with a greater level of overall respect—a greater sense of equality and shared modernity—than had been accorded the Chinese.

“Japanese Suicide Squads Fight Bravely in a Naval Battle at Port Arthur during the Russo-Japanese War,” artist unidentified, 1904.
[2000_085] Sharf Collection, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

“The Battle of Liaoyang: The Enemy General Prince Kuropatkin, Having Tactical Difficulties and the Whole Army Being Defeated, Bravely Came Forward into the Field to Do Bloody Battle” by Getsuzō, 1904
[2000_450] Sharf Collection, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Picture of Our Valorous Military Repulsing the Russian Cossack Cavalry on the Bank of the Yalu River”
By Watanabe Nobukazu, March 1904 , Sharf Collection, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

“Illustration of Russian and Japanese Army and Navy Officers” by Watanabe Nobukazu, February 1904 [2000.087] Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Taisho Era 大正時代

The Taisho era in Japan was one of the shortest in its history. It is the reign name of Emperor Yoshihito, who was the surviving son of Emperor Meiji. Yoshihito ascended the throne in 1912 and died in 1926. Shortly after assuming the throne, the world, including Japan, was plunged into World War I. A major theme through this period was the Japanese struggle for modern cultural identity. Japanese women adopted the culture of cafe society, where they could dance, smooch, and smoke cigarettes, imitating the western fashion and stylish hair.They took up outdoor activities and were seen on the summer beaches in form-fitting swimsuits with arms and legs exposed.

KIKUCHI, Keigetsu, 菊池契月(きくち けいげつ), Taking a Stroll, 1934, Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art
Keigetsu Kikuchi was born in Nagano prefecture with the given name Kikuchi Kanji. He travelled in Europe during the twenties with two of his art colleagues. Back in Japan he became a teacher of art at the Kyoto City School of Fine Arts and Crafts and at the Kyoto City School of Painting. His favorite subjects were Bijin-ga - images of beautiful women. In 1934 he was honored by being appointed a member of the Imperial Art Board and in 1937 as a member of the Imperial Art Academy.

KIKUCHI, Keigetsu, 菊池契月(きくち けいげつ), Girl, 1932 ,

This was a period of economic prosperity and cultural expansion. Although western-style clothes were gaining popularity among women, the kimono continued to be worn. In kimono it is the pattern on the surface, rather than the cut of the garment, that is significant. Indications of social status, personal identity and cultural sensitivity are expressed through colour and decoration. During the early twentieth century, the traditional cut of kimono remained the same, but the motifs were dramatically enlarged and new designs appeared, inspired by western styles such as Art Nouveau and Art Deco. Their striking patterns reflected the confident spirit of the age and provided an exuberant visual statement for the modern, independent, urban woman. Shuho Yamakawa’s monumental in scale  painting Three Sisters (1936), which belongs to grater Taisho era, depicts, with soft pastel  the three daughters of the wealthy right-wing industrialist; Fusanosuke Kuhara (founder of Hitachi and a number other companies, who later was labelled a Class A war criminal by the post-war tribunal and forced to sell off much of his assets) wearing modern kimonos, two sit in a limousine and one stands confidently casually dangling a new leather-cased camera. Shuho’s depiction of the three elegant women radiates an intriguing expression of the silent drama.

Shuho Yamakawa , 'Three Sisters' (1936),
Honolulu Academy of Arts

The term bijin and its artistic rendering offers a glimpse into the formation of modern Japanese aesthetics as a politically-charged dynamic and tracks how aesthetic appreciation was conceived and developed in Japan at the turn of the twentieth century. Although the term bijin existed well before the Meiji period (1868-1912) and would have been understood to refer to both women and men during the Edo period (1600-1868), in the modern era it came to refer exclusively to women. It emerged as the subject of the Nihonga genre bijinga (paintings of beauties in the Japanese-style) around the time of the first Ministry of Education Art Exhibition (Bunten) in 1907. Following the introduction of Western aesthetics as bigaku, words such as “bijutsu” (fine art)was created during the Vienna World Exposition of 1873. The word bijutsu was created with the intent to exclude martial arts and divination and limit itself only to those arts relating to beauty [bi]. According to Okakura Yoshisaburo (brother of the prominent art critic and historian Okakura Tenshin, who later served as the curator of Asian art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston):
[A]s a whole, there is only one ideal throughout the Empire. So let me try to enumerate all the qualities usually considered necessary to make a beautiful woman. She is to possess a body not much exceeding five feet in height, with comparatively fair skin and proportionally well-developed limbs; a head covered with long, thick, and jet-black hair; an oval face with a straight nose, high and narrow; rather large eyes, with large deepbrown pupils and thick eyelashes, a small mouth, hiding behind its red, but not thin, lips, even rows of small white teeth; ears not altogether small; and long and thick eyebrows forming two horizontal but slightly curved lines, with a space left between them and the eyes. Of the four ways in which hair can grow around the upper edge of the forehead, viz. horned, square, round, and Fuji-shaped, one of the last two is preferred, a very high as well as a very low forehead being considered not attractive.
TERAZAKI Ko-gyo- (1866–1919) Beauty in bathing suit c1915 woodblock print; ink and colour on paper,
Honolulu Academy of Arts Gift of Patricia Salmon, in memory of Arthur and Tena Salmon, 2000 HAA 26782

Yokoo Hogetsu (1897-1990) Yujo Tagasode , The Courtesan 
Uemura Shoen (上村松園 ), Seasonal elegance: "Springtime of Life (Bride)" (1899) Meito Art Museum

Uemura Tsune ( her real name, 1875 - 1949), entered Kyoto Prefectural Art School in 1887 at the age of twelve. Her parents ran a small tea shop and soon after her birth, her father died. Her mother Naka(ko) raised her and her sister as a single mother.

Even before she began formal art training at age 12, her pictures had earned her a reputation among the shop's customers. By age 15, she was exhibiting her work and went on to win not only awards in official art contests but also commissions from private patrons. Her first teacher was Suzuki Shonen, a professor at Kyoto Prefectural Art School and later she was taught by Kono Bairei and Takeuchi Seifu. The three were the masters of Nihonga, Japanese-style paintings.

Uemura Shoen (上村松園 ), Flames, 1918,  Tokyo National Museum
"Flames” is said to be reflective of Tsune's broken heart and the jealousy she felt through her love for him.  The fearful-looking Princess Rokujyo of the Tale of Genji. with  her sad eyes  is so jealous of Hikaru, Genji’s wife, that she becomes possessed by an evil spirit, symbolized by the spiderweb pattern on her kimono which represents her revengeful spirit.  "Flames" is an exceptional expression of a deep green jealousy. She  painted a number of pictures inspired by female characters in noh theater. Such roles were usually performed by men, but Uemura had women recreate the poses for her works.

Uemura Shoen (上村松園 ),  Two Women Enjoying a Summer Evening.

Shōwa period ,昭和時代

Much of graphic design during Emperor Hirohito (Showa) and his Showa Period (1926~1989) is directly related to modern trends in art. The Shōwa period was longer than the reign of any previous Japanese emperor. During the pre-1945 period, Japan moved into political totalitarianism, ultranationalism and fascism culminating in Japan's invasion of China in 1937. This was part of an overall global period of social upheavals and conflicts such as the Great Depression and the Second World War.

New Year's Card: Modern Woman Arranging her Hair in Front of Mirror, Taisho- early Showa era, Tanaka & Co

New Year's Card: Women with Silhouetted Man in Top Hat, Japanese, Taisho-early Showa era
Tanaka & Co., S. Riyo, Japanese, dates unknown

Communication design became increasingly popular in this era and was enthusiastically accepted by the general public. The evolution of graphic design, as a discipline was deeply rooted in Japan's industrialization and the growth of the modern city, and the urban consumer's needs for advertisements. Posters become meaningful in the context of city life with artistic expression and its own vocabulary and grammar. Some of the major graphic designers include:

"Buy Domestic!" poster, 1930

"Fuji Weekly" cover, Oct 1930
Cover of "Nippon" magazine issue #7, June 1936 "Health for body and country" poster, c. 1930
Kyoto Grand Exposition to Commemorate the Showa Imperial Coronation, 1928

Poster design by Shujiro Shimomura, 1928 "NAPF" (Nippona Artista Proleta Federacio) magazine cover, Feb 1931

"NAPF" (Nippona Artista Proleta Federacio) magazine cover, Sep 1931 "May 1" movie poster by Hiromu Hara, 1928-1929

"Senki" magazine cover, Oct 1929 "Senki" magazine covers: May 1930

"Affiches" magazine issue #2, Aug 1927 "Affiches" magazine issue #3, Sep 1927

"Kite" (Tako - 凧) by Takehisa Yumeji, 1926 Takehisa Yumeji,Trade or Distro It's all good!

Yumeji Takehisa, Makeup in the Autumn from "Fujin-Graph" Oct.1924

Yumeji Takehisa, Maiko in Kyoto

Yumeji Takehisa, ‘Wind Of Snow’ 1924

Yumeji Takehisa (竹久 夢二, 1884 –1934), never formally studied drawing in any art school. He challenged the concept of the 'artist', feeling they were rather pretentious which as may be expected upset many artists of his time, leading to poor reviews from the so-called elite.His portraits of the "Yumeji-style" beauties are especially famous and represent the aesthetics of the Taisho Romantic era.

"Reijin" sheet music cover, 1930 Poster for Shimadzu mannequin exhibition, 1935

Cover of "Affiches" magazine issue #1, 1927 Magazine ad for movie: "Wakaki Hi no Kangeki," 1931

Poster for "Kriemhild’s Revenge," 1925 Poster for "Volga" and "College Life," 1930

Nikke business clothing poster ad by Gihachiro Okayama, 1931 Nikke sports coat poster ad by Gihachiro Okayama, 1931

Nikke coat poster ad by Gihachiro Okayama, 1937 Nikke summer clothing poster ad by Gihachiro Okayama, 1937

Okuyama, Gihachirō (奥山儀八郎, 1907- 1981) was an extremely prolific visual artist who worked in a variety of different styles. He began his career in the late 1920s designing woodblock prints for commercial purposes. His work included posters and advertisements for the Japan Wool Company and Nikka Whiskey. In 1931, Okuyama founded the Tokyo Advertisement Art Association, whose name was later changed to Tokyo Advertising Creator's Club (Tokyo Kokoku Sakka Kurabu). Okuyama's interests were not limited to the commercial aspects of printmaking. From 1923 to 1933, he studied with Ishii Kendo, learning about the traditions of Japanese printmaking and ukiyo-e. In 1932, he was one of many artists who contributed to the print series "One Hundred Views of Great Tokyo" (Dai Tokyo hyakkei), published by Nihon Fukei Hangakai.

Proletarian Artwork Tohoku Area Famine Relief (Federation of Tokyo Area Proletarian Organizations, 1931):

The 2nd Proletarian Art Grand Exhibition (Japan Proletarian Artists Federation, 1929): Proletarian Art Institute (1930)

Poster for The Proletarian Graph Magazine (Proletarian News Company, 1929) Election Poster for Labor-Farmer Party, 1928:

Yusaku Kamekura Poster Exhibition, The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo,  1953-1996

Yusaku Kamekura, Expo'70, Osaka

Yusaku Kamekura

Tokyo 1964, Summer Olympics. Yusaku Kamekura. 1964

Yusaku Kamekura, Nikon

Yusaku Kamekura (亀倉雄策 , 1915-1997) was one of the pioneers of Japanese graphic design. His designs included a wide diversity of projects such as logos, packages, books, and page layout, but some of his most memorable achievements were in posters. From 1935 to 1938. Kamekura studied architecture and the principles of constructivism at the Institute for Contemporary Architecture and Industrial Arts 新 建筑 工 芸 学院, shin-kenchiku kōgei Gakuin) in Tokyo, a private institution founded by Kawakita Renshichirō with the aim of introducing the design theories of the Bauhaus in Japan. Since 1938 he assumed the position of Art Director in a number of Japanese magazines, which included "Nippon". In 1951, he became a co-founder of the Japan Advertising Arts Club, and devoted himself to the social recognition of the profession of graphic designer. In 1955 he participated in the "graphic 55" exhibition, together with Hiromu Hara, Paul Rand and others. After his death in 1997, Japan Graphic Designers Association (JAGDA) honoured Kamekura in 1999 with a design award in his name, recognising him as a key leader of JAGDA and for his "profound influence on design both at home and abroad". The Yusaku Kamekura Design Award is offered to a Japanese or international designer "producing the most outstanding work of the year, regardless of age or career."

PB Grand Prix. Keiichi Tanaami. 1968

Keiichi Tanaami 田名網 敬一(たなあみ けいいち、1936- ) began working as an artist starting in the 1960s. His practice centered on the "han-geijutsu" (anti-art) group Neo Dada Japan from the 60s through to the 70s, during which he exchanged ideas with Robert Rauschenberg and Michel Tapie among others and produced work in collaboration with Andy Warhol. He was a central figure in the nascent days of the postwar Japanese avant-garde, and a standard bearer of the flourishing counterculture that reflected a turbulent historical period marked by the Vietnam War, the revision of the security treaty between Japan and the US, the Cultural Revolution in China and the oil shock. At the height of psychedelic culture and pop art, Tanaami’s kitschy, colorful illustrations and design work received high acclaim in both Japan and abroad. “NO MORE WAR”, his prize-winning piece from the 1968 antiwar poster contest organized by AVANT-GARDE Magazine, in addition to his album cover art for legendary bands The Monkees and Jefferson Airplane and other such works left a major footprint on the path to introducing psychedelic and pop art to Japan. Furthermore, his series of erotic paintings featuring Hollywood actresses done in the early ‘70s became an important body of work that declared Tanaami as the Japanese artist with a witty eye on American culture.

Flower Arrangement. Ikko Tanaka. 1978

Folk Song Festival. Ikko Tanaka. 1960

Graphic Art Exhibition. Ikko Tanaka. 1990Music Today. Ikko Tanaka. 1973

Ikko Tanaka (田中一光, 1930 – 2002) graphic design is deeply rooted in Japanese traditions while at the same is informed by contemporary western visual expression. His work includes the design of the logos for Expo '85 in Tsukuba, World City Expo Tokyo '96, and the main logo of Osaka University. He curated and designed exhibitions for the Victoria and Albert Museum (London) and throughout Japan. Ikko Tanaka is also credited with developing the Muji (無印良品 Mujirushi Ryōhin) brand together with Kazuko Koike (marketing consultant)and Takashi Sugimoto (interior designer). Muji,a Japanese retail company,sells a wide variety of household and consumer goods, characterized by its minimalist design, emphasis on recycling, avoidance of waste in production and packaging, and no-logo or "no-brand" policy. He worked as Muji's art director until 2001.

Matter. Kazumasa Nagai. 1966
Kazumasa Nagai's Animals

Solo show. Kazumasa Nagai. 1968 Peace. Ban the Nukes! Kazumasa Nagai. 1987.

Kazumasa Nagai (永井 一正, 1929 in Osaka - *)is a multiple award-winner for his imaginative posters, whose works are exhibited in many museums of modern art, among others: at MoMa in New York and the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo. Kazumasa's style evolved from abstract into organic forms, with animals and plants have become a frequent theme. He is true to the traditional graphical techniques and animals presented on the posters often have symbolic meaning and refer to the tradition of Japanese art. Kasumasa Nagai uses a visual grammar that is strikingly simple and straight forward, rendering his animals with original forms composed with vibrant colors.

Six dimension samurai. Keisuke Nagatomo. 2004

Frightening faces. Keisuke Nagatomo. 1989

Keisuke Nagatomo(長友啓典さん, 1939-*) was born in Osaka. After graduating from Kuwasawa Design School he joined Nippon Design Center. In 1969, he co-founded K2, with Seitaro Kuroda. He has won a number of awards such as Kodansha Cultural Publishing Illustrations Award in 1964 and the 37th Kodansha Cultural Publishing Book Design Award in 2006. He has worked as art director and illustrator for some magazines and has been a Visiting professor at Tokyo Zokei University's Graphic Design Department.

Kyogen. Shigeo Fukuda. 1981 Inter Design. Shigeo Fukuda. 1981

Happy Earthday. Shigeo Fukuda. 1982

Ten World Artists. Shigeo Fukuda. 1982 Private Exhibition. Shigeo Fukuda. 1981

Taro Izumi: Kneading. Tama Art University. 2010 Textile Design. Tama Art University. 2011

See You Tomorrow. Yuka Nishino. 2010

Furuya Takahiro, 古屋貴広, Donate old books, 2011
Furuya Takahiro, 古屋貴広 , The Night Art Summit. 2011

Furuya Takahiro, 古屋貴広 , Gesellschaft Calendar 2011 ゲゼルシャフトカレンダー2011Furuya Takahiro, 古屋貴広 , Laforet Meets. 2011

Shanghai Biennial Exhibition. Takashi Akiyama. 2011

Earthquake in Japan. Takashi Akiyama. 2006 Message Illustration Poster. Takashi Akiyama

Takashi Akiyama 秋山孝ポスター美術館長岡|  was born in the state of Nagaoka in Japan in 1952. After graduating from the Tama University of Plastic Arts and receiving his MA from the Art University of Tokyo, he started his professional career as a graphic designer.    Being an environmental activist, most of his work is known for its ecological themesusing an ironic, humoristic approach.   In 1991, the Development Secretariat of Japan commissioned him to create a series of highly acclaimed  ecology week posters.   In 1992, he chose AIDS as the principal theme in his graphic work.   He has received many internatinal awards and his work has been published in  a number of books.   He also tought at the Tama University of Plastic Arts.

The End. Masuteru Aoba. 1982 The Sun is Beautiful Energy. Masuteru Aoba. 1981

Masuteru Aoba (青葉益輝, 1939-2011)known as guru of graphic design in Japan was known for his ability to create bold posters with striking compositions. He was a social activist and many of his works dealt with the theme of peace, environment, pollution and other social concerns. His major works include the official posters of the Nagano Olympic games, Hiroshima Appeal's, calling for peace and the abolition of of nuclear weapons.

Kenji Itoh / Cover of Industrial Art News monthly review Graphis Annual 60/61

Kiyoshi Awazu / Theatre poster for a Japanese dramatic company Graphis 92, 1960 Kazumasa Nagai / Poster for Nippon Kogaku K.K. camera Graphis 92, 1960

Takashi Kono / Magazine cover, Advertising Art Graphis 88, 1960 Isao Arimoto / Poster for an international exhibition of packaging held in Tokyo Graphis Annual 61/62

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