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The Floating World of Japan: The Urban Culture of the Tokugawa Period, 1615-1867

DATES January 24, 1950 through March 26, 1950
  • January 24, 1950 An exhibition of Japanese art entitled "The Floating World of Japan" will open to the public today (Tuesday, Jan. 24) at the Brooklyn Museum. It will remain on view through March 26.

    The exhibition will cover the urban culture of the Tokugawa Period (1615 - 1867). This urban art centered around a world of amusement. Actors and their ladies, wrestlers and other entertainers drew from and contributed to the culture of the day. For this was Ukiyo, a Japanese term meaning "The floating world" or "The passing scene". In its achievements and its frivolities, "the floating world" supported a host of skilled craftsmen: print makers and lacquerors, pottery experts, costume designers and textile makers. The splendid workmanship and gay fashions, of all these trades is reflected in the handsome pieces in this exhibit. All objects are from the Brooklyn Museum Collection.

    The prints are the work of the Tokugawa period best known to the West. It is not generally realized, however, that many of them were simply announcements of current theatrical attractions. Few of our billboards today match the dramatic simplicity of an actor by Kiyonobu or the telling impact of a print by Sharaku. And if the print maker often worked for the theatre, the clothier continually felt its influence. The richly dyed, embroidered and painted robes of the stage delighted its audience; and despite government regulations of somber dress from the chonin (townspeople), such rules were avoided with ease. A quiet robe could be lined with gaily colored material or patches of the finest silk added to the outer surface. The chonin had real wealth for the first tine in history, and they were determined to spend it on what they liked. Perhaps their age is best reflected in the gold lacquer objects of all shapes and uses. When this technique is used with taste and sensitivity, as in the lacquer picnic box dating around 1700 A.D., it can symbolize for us the exuberant, fun-loving society of the main Japanese cities.

    Yet even this show has its more serious aspect, since it represents the first expression of the taste of the Japanese urban middle class. It is a group we might do well to study, for on their shoulders rests the possible democratization of the Japanese people.

    Brooklyn Museum Archives. Records of the Department of Public Information. Press releases, 1947 - 1952. 01-03/1950, 004-5.
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