"[N]early all Japanese people have figurines, anime or cartoon characters hanging from their mobile phones — for the most part without realizing they are in their mass-produced, contemporary way keeping alive the nation's netsuke tradition. In contrast, those netsuke on Kuroiwa's phone are the real deal — small, delicate, uniquely crafted sculptures in ivory and an assortment of woods." Julian Littler searches for traditional ivory netsuke carvers (print view; standard web view), and interviews Akira Kuroiwa, a member of the Japan Ivory Sculptors Association (Google auto-translation). [via MetaChat] [more inside]
"In November 1855, the Great Ansei Earthquake struck the city of Edo (now Tokyo), claiming 7,000 lives and inflicting widespread damage. Within days, a new type of color woodblock print known as namazu-e (lit. "catfish pictures") became popular among the residents of the shaken city. These prints featured depictions of mythical giant catfish (namazu) who, according to popular legend, caused earthquakes by thrashing about in their underground lairs. In addition to providing humor and social commentary, many prints claimed to offer protection from future earthquakes."
"... it seems to me that something of the Edo era shimmers just below the surface of modern Japan," Henry Tricks on Japan's return to an increasingly insular society. "Fewer young Japanese are travelling abroad, fewer are studying English (this year, the main English-language school went bust), and fewer are taking places at leading academic institutions overseas such as Harvard Business School. Bosses at Japan’s legendary export businesses complain they cannot find youngsters who are prepared to work abroad."
Nyanto mo Neko Darake (Cats of Many Varieties) is an exhibition in Kyoto featuring charming Edo-period (19th century) woodblock images of cats: playful cats forming themselves into the Japanese word for "blowfish," giant monster heads and skulls made of intertwining cats, ghost cats seeking vengeance. [more inside]
Old anatomical illustrations that provide a unique perspective on the evolution of medical knowledge in Japan during the Edo period (1603-1868) [more inside]
Tomokazu Matsuyama was born in Japan. He moved to the US when he was around ten years old, not speaking any English, and being overwhelmed by the culture shock of 1980s Los Angeles. His artistic work is a reflection of this upbringing. Matsuyama’s paintings envision traditional Japanese imagery through the lens of American pop art, creating a unique and beautiful hybrid. He strives to portray this global melee through a conscious “appropriation” of all of his influences: cultural, artistic, and personal. Matsuyama’s unconflicted and positively ebullient works do not ask, “What am I?,” but assert, “I am everybody.” (via) [more inside]
Japan's National Diet Library Gallery has been mentioned here before, but the Pink Tentacle blog came across some fantastic late Edo period illustrations in the NDL Gallery by Kurimoto Tanshu (栗本丹洲, 1756 - 1834). Apparently he was a doctor, but he seems to be better known for his hundreds of biological illustrations. Many are of sea creatures, but there are also quite a few other plants and animals. ranging from realistic renditions to bizarre creatures. A huge and varied collection, but all are equally fascinating.
The Virtual Tour of Edo allows you explore the city that would one day become Tokyo, Japan. Classical images illustrate short descriptions of life in this 18th century metropolis. Although modern Tokyo may look very "Western" on the surface, in its heart the spirit of Edo still lives on!
Look no further than John Fiorillo's Viewing of Japanese Prints for the definitive online resource on the art. Covering over three centuries of Japanese print making from Ukiyo-e through Shin Hanga and Sôsaku Hanga, Viewing has detailed histories and critiques of the artists, including such legendary masters as Katsushika Hokusai. The site also includes a wealth of information on the artform itself, with essays on topics as varied as the deciphering of prints and the various forms of poetry found on them, as well as archival notes on print fading. Have a question for the man himself? Shogun Gallery's discussion board is one of his favorite haunts, where he helps users with questions ranging from signature identification to the allusions found within a specific print. Given the wealth of information and beauty of the work, this site's a treasure.