MEIJI JAPAN 1868 - 1912
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A horse-drawn carriage after passing over the Nihon Bridge in Tokyo, the posts of the bridge visible at right. A Western man drives the wagon, which carries two Japanese beauties and two foreigners. At left, a man in a green jacket holds an umbrella over a woman’s head. She wears a full grey hoop skirt and fitted shirt. Her hair pulled back and adorned with flowers. In the centre, labourers struggle with an enormous wooden crate tied to a cart with rope. At Left, the wooden structure atop a stone base is a message board with notices. Beyond the trees in the distance, the towers of the castle rise. A lively depiction of foreigners in Japan dring theearly Meiji era.

The year 1868 was a turning point in the history of the Japan of the Shoguns. It meant the need to open its borders and adopt western models in order to modernize the country and enable it to compete with modern industrialized nations. This assimilation of western models influenced almost all spheres of life in Japan: politics, economics, army, mores, social life, and of course, culture were testing fields for what the government called bunmei kaika (civilization and enlightenment). During the first two decades of the Meiji period (1868-1912) this process brought about what researcher Amy Newland termed a blind and unrestrained assimilation of western technology and culture. All things western were viewed as better, more advanced and preferable to things Japanese. The taste for western objects permeated the life of important cities such as Tokyo and Yokohama.
"It does not matter how commonplace many of these objects are today. There was a time when they were new and astonishing to Japanese eyes. The Meiji period is a spectacular case of cultural transplant and, at the same time, a unique contribution by Japan to todays world"(1).
The changes that took place since the Meiji Restoration were swift, and culture could not let them pass by unnoticed. The world of ukiyo-e or, in the broader sence of the term, the traditional Japanese technique of woodblock printing mirrored these new events. The turn of the century was captured in these prints that were used as a means of communication at a time when newspapers had just started to appear, thus making available much of the information pertaining to this period, as well as many aspects of the fast modernization process unfolding Japan. The interest for both western life style and western objects, was recorded as early as 1860 in the Yokohama-e (Yokohama stamps), where the European life style and the hectic trade at the various ports were portrayed with great detail and even ironically. In this first period, artists such as Hiroshige III used the traditional techniques of the ukiyo-e to mainly represent modernization and life in the big cities . These prints maintain the characteristics of traditional xylography and reflect the ongoing changes in architecture, clothes and transportation in the country. Modernization in Japan and the Ukiyo-e. Amaury García Rodríguez. Web Page.

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