The Japanese have long revered their natural landscape, celebrating its bounty and the beauty of the changing seasons in art, literature, travel and annual festivities. The power of nature has also been a central focus in Japanese culture, rooted in the belief that supernatural forces and beings are at work in all aspects of the natural realm. Depending on how humans behave towards nature and towards each other, these forces can be benign and bountiful or angry and destructive, causing floods, earthquakes, pestilence and many other types of damage.
An appreciation of the natural landscape features prominently in the woodblock prints of the Edo (1603-1868) and Meiji (1868-1912) periods.
This artistic genre was patronized by ordinary people and depicted beloved characters and places in popular culture, theater and literature. By the 19th century, many prints featured views of people interacting with the natural landscape, such as picnics under cherry blossoms or moon-viewing gatherings. Views of regional beauty spots and famous temples and shrines encouraged people to travel – or at least to dream of travel. Artists also turned their attention to images of spiritual beings and supernatural creatures from mythology, folklore and legend. These include benign deities, mischievous nature spirits, shape-shifting animals, ghosts and demons.
This exhibition of over sixty Japanese prints from the Scripps College collection in Claremont, CA features works by some of Japan’s finest artists –Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849), Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858), Utagawa Kunisada (1786-1864), Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861), Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839-1892), Yōshū Chikanobu (1838-1912), Kawanabe Kyōsai (1831-1889), Yoshida Hiroshi (1876-1950) and Kawase Hasui (1883-1957).* These prints introduce some of Japan’s most beautiful and beloved landscapes and some of the supernatural beings who are believed to inhabit them. We hope that they will encourage a deeper understanding of the Japanese natural environment and some of the ancient beliefs that continue to inform Japanese culture today.
Explore the Exhibition
Part One | Woodblock Printing
This part in the sub-gallery introduces the history and process of Japanese woodblock printing. Included are some very early examples of Japanese printed images, woodblocks, printing tools and pigments and a set of prints that illustrates how a full-color print is made.
(L) Printed Buddhas (Suribotoke) from the central Amida statue, Jōruri Temple, Heian period (794-1185), early 12th century, (R) Woodblock for a Print Designed by Tsukioka Kōgyo, c. 1899
Woodblock Printing Process Video, "Year of OX"
This 15-minute video produced by Yoshida Kiyoko, illustrates the woodblock printing process of Yoshida Tsukasa, grandson of woodblock print artist Yoshida Hiroshi whose work is featured in the exhibition. The stages of design, carving and printing are introduced.
Part Two | Nature
The first half of the exhibition in the main gallery introduces visitors to prints depicting beauty spots in and around the capital of Edo (modern Tokyo), near Mt. Fuji and in four other regions: Nikko, the Kyoto Area, the Seto Inland Sea and Nagano. These beautiful landscape prints are by some of Japan’s most famous artists: Hokusai, Hiroshige, Chikanobu, Hasui and Yoshida.
Famous Sights of Nikkō: Hannya and Hōtō Waterfalls by Yōshū Chikanobu, 1891Explore
Part Three | Supernature
The second half of the exhibition in the main gallery explores some of the spiritual and supernatural beings that are believed to inhabit and influence nature and human lives. These include images of deities who have been worshipped for centuries to ensure bountiful harvests and protection from floods and other calamities as well as supernatural animals, trickster spirits, ghosts and demons. These lively prints were designed by artists including Kunisada, Kuniyoshi, Yoshitoshi and Kyōsai.
(L) Mishima, No.12 from the series Fifty-three Stations of the Tōkaidō by Utagawa Hiroshige, c. 1833-1834, (R)Ghost of Okiku and Asayama Tetsuzan by Utagawa Kunisada, c. 1850Explore
Kaz Kitajima is a renowned practitioner and teacher of the Sogetsu School, which is known for its dramatic, contemporary approach to flower arrangements, often incorporating unexpected materials and expanding to fill whole rooms. In this arrangement, Kitajima-sensei has drawn inspiration from Hokusai’s print Kirifuri Waterfall – in which water rushes down the hillside in slender streams resembling tree roots – arranging fig branches, ruscus and Phoenix palm to echo the flow of the water in the print.
JAPAN HOUSE Los Angeles
Special thanks to
Scripps College and the Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery, Claremont, CA
Curatorial advice provided by
Fabio Rambelli, Professor of Religious Studies & East Asian Cultures, International Shinto Foundation Chair in Shinto Studies, Chair of Religious Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara
Duncan Williams, Professor of Religion, American Studies and Ethnicity and East Asian Languages and Cultures, University of Southern California and
Director of the USC Shinso Ito Center for Japanese Religions and Culture
*Note: Japanese names in this exhibition are written in the traditional Japanese order, with the family name first and personal name last. However, if an artist has come to be known by a single name, (e.g., Hokusai and Kunisada) that name will be used for subsequent mentions.