Travel, Teach, Live in Japan
What is the Meiji Era?
The Meiji Era was a time period in Japan, under which Emperor Meiji started Japan’s modernization. Under Meiji, Japan climbed to world power status. Emperor Meiji’s rule ran from October 23, 1868 to July 30, 1912. The Meiji restoration effectively brought the Shogun feudal system to an end and restored imperial rule.
The Effects of Meiji and the Restoration
The Meiji and imperial restoration was largely responsible for the industrialization of Japan which allowed Japan to rise as a military power by 1905. This was accomplished in mainly two ways: the first was the 3,000 or so foreign experts that were brought into Japan to teach an assortment of specialist subjects; the second was government subsidies to students to go abroad into mainly Europe and America. This vast influx of western culture and ideals impacted many aspects of Japanese life in this era, one being the arts.
Art in Japan during the Meiji Era
These new western ideas split Japan in two directions, upholding traditional values or assimilate these new, different – sometimes radical – new ideas into their own culture. By the early 1900’s, many European forms of art were already well known and their intermingling with Japanese art created some noteworthy architectural feats such as the Tokyo Train Station and the National Diet Building. During the Meiji Era, manga were first drawn; manga was inspired from French and English political cartoons. The polarity of traditional versus western cause two distinct art styles to develop: Yooga (Western-influenced) and Nihonga (Traditional Japanese style).
Yooga was characterized as Renaissance style painting – oil paintings on a canvas, dramatic lighting, the subject matter is adorned in western attire, using the third dimension and using techniques such as vanishing points and having distant objects be vague. Two artists who were important to the expansion of western style painting and art were Kawakami Togai and Koyama Shoutaro. Because of these two men, and Togai’s assistant Takahashi Yuichi, western art became a school of art in the Meiji period. However the pendulum swung both ways; while many seemed to embrace the new western lifestyle, there were also those who opposed change. This rapid influx of foreign culture also caused a state of confusion, many Japanese felt that Japan had lost its identity and would often look towards Asia for a reminder of where they fit in. This also had an influence on the style at the time, Yokoyama Taikan’s “Ryuutou” or “Floating Lanterns” is an example of an attempt to confirm Japan’s identity as part of Asia. The Meiji era ended in 1912 with the death of the Emperor.
Craig writes about all things art in japan. Read more at his blog Art in Japan: