The Freer | Sackler Library of the Smithsonian Libraries have completed digitizing over 1100 volumes/41500 images from its collection of illustrated Japanese woodblock-printed books and manuscripts from the Edo and Meiji periods (1600-1912).
This post was contributed by Matt Alt. Matt is the co-founder of AltJapan Co., Ltd., a Tokyo-based localization company that specializes in producing the English versions of Japanese games, manga, and other entertainment. Together with Hiroko Yoda he is the co-author of Yokai Attack! The Japanese Monster Survival Guide, and the upcoming Japandemonium Illustrated: The Yokai Encyclopedias of Toriyama Sekien which features images from the Smithsonian Libraries volumes of Toriyma Sekien’s works.
Roughly half of the Cultural Heritage Library (CHL), available online here, includes titles from the Smithsonian’s Art Libraries. While copyright restrictions prohibit much coverage of more contemporary titles, the CHL addresses a broad swath of art history’s major movements and themes, including wildly popular and renowned movements like Cubism and Impressionism. Sometimes we isolate historical events; we forget that preceding events and influences play major roles in what comes next. This seems to be especially easy when it comes to art history’s tendency to declare masterpieces and the genius of the artisté. This month we take a look at part of what made Van Gogh and Monet so relevant for their time and enduring into ours: ukiyo-e, the “floating world” of Japanese woodblock prints.
For the 2002-2003 exhibition of Japanese prints in the Anne van Biema Collection titled Masterful Illusions, the Freer-Sackler Gallery produced a promotional bookmark using an image of a print by Yoshitoshi, “Hōryūkaku ni Ryōyū Ugoku” or “Two Heroes in Battle at Horyūkakū.” Materials in the Freer-Sackler Library make it possible to research some of the background of the print, as well as other prints depicting the same story.
Since 1995 the Freer/Sackler Library has been the North American depository library for the JAC Project (Japan Art Catalog Project). Through the project the library receives every year 300-500 exhibition and collection catalogs on Asian-related subjects published in Japan and processes them in order to make them available for art historians and the general public.
This scene, although from a fictional story, shows the respect with which the craftsman Hon’ami Kōetsu (1558-1637) is regarded in Japan, where his skill not only in the family trade of sword polishing but also calligraphy, pottery, and lacquerware are esteemed.
It's May, and the carp are swimming through the skies of Japan! Well, not really . . . but close enough. In 1948, the Japanese government designated the fifth day of the fifth month as an annual national holiday: "Day of the Child", Kodomo no hi (こどもの日). This day is set aside to celebrate children and wish for their happiness. The fifth of May was originally called Tango no Sekku (端午の節句) and was only intended for boys; girls had their own day, Hina Matsuri (雛祭り), "Festival of Dolls", on the third of March. Both boys and girls, however, are celebrated on Kodomo no hi. In honour of the day, families fly carp-shaped banners or windsocks, known as koinobori (鯉幟), one for each child. When the wind blows, the banners look like swimming fish. Families who live in apartments may use miniature versions that can be used indoors. The carp signifies strength and success, for they are a hardy and adaptable fish. Traditionally, on Boy's Day, a tiered stand was set more »
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