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Meiji Period

Updated on January 25, 2013


With the Meiji restoration (1868) came a great enthusiasm for all things western, which naturally had an impact upon art and architecture. In painting, the introduction of concepts such as shading and perspective gave rise to a school of realism.

In some cases the subject matter was western (nudes and still lifes) and often painted in oils. Impressionism was even adopted by some painters, most notably by Funishima Takeji (1867-1943). Due to the influence of prominent critics and academics, the largely abandoned traditional modes of painting enjoyed a gradual revival, particularly in the work of painters such as Tomioka Tessai (1836-1924), Takeuchi Seiho (1864-1942), Kobayashi Kokei (1883-1957) and Hayami Gyoshu (1894-1935).

The horrors experienced by Japan in World War II rendered both realism and traditional styles totally inadequate and modern Japanese artists have turned to Conceptualism and Expressionism or to other media such as cinema.

Traditional sculpture, which had experienced a slow decline since the advent of Zen, had become almost non-existent until westernization led to some experimentation with new approaches and the folk art movements of the twentieth century have encouraged some degree of revival, especially in ceramics.

Architecture, being the most public of the arts, was also most strongly affected by the urge for westernization. The Meiji government commissioned foreign architects to design civic buildings in an array of styles, for example the brick Rokumeikan (official reception hall) in Italian Renaissance style and the Ministry of Justice, also brick built, in German style. The International and Functionalist styles reached Japan too, so most modern public buildings resemble the reinforced concrete and glass structures of the west. Domestic architecture, however, has largely retained traditional styles and taste.


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