1615, Tokugawa Ieyasu reduced Osaka Castle to ruins. Its destruction brought an end to the age of war, giving Ieyasu complete control of the Japanese archipelago. In its place was the era of ‘peace’, officially known as the Edo period. Named from the capital Edo (present-day Tokyo), the Edo period lasted until the Meiji Restoration in 1868. The era was captured through the eyes and hands of its artists. The exhibition, as part of the 2018 OzAsia Festival, will be at the David Roche Foundation until December 1.
As you walk into the first room you are immediately transported back to the Edo period. To your right is a hanging scroll of Enma, the King of Hell, glaring at a family through his crystal mirror. To your left are woodblock paintings of different people and scenes, one being The Courtesan Akashi of the Tamaya.
On the far side of the room are panels showing a view of Edo Period Kyoto. It shows sights that are still popular today like Nijo Castle and the Imperial Palace. Along the walls to the right of the panels are period artefacts, including a collection of Buddhist figurines which has been part of the Japanese religious culture for centuries. The centre has a period pot and an 18th-century Illustrated Guide behind Foreign Textiles by Naniwa Shorin Publishers, also hidden behind glass.
Stepping into the second room there is a samurai suit that catches your attention. It stands in the centre of the room, tall, brave, and honourable as if possessed by the spirit of its original wearer. However, the way of the samurai in the Edo period lost its relevance, reducing them to the roles of patrolmen.
The samurai suit isn’t the only thing in the room, there is an array of art and artefacts throughout. On the left, you come across a picnic set and can’t help wonder what food they ate and where they had it. Were they looking over at Mount Fuji or sitting in front of the Imperial Palace? You can only imagine. Your eyes shoot towards the katana (long sword) and a wakizashi (short sword) in the nearby display case. You wonder what it’ll feel like to grasp them in your hand and what it will be like to use one. Then you think of what it’d be like to wear a samurai suit while wielding it. Would it be easy to use or difficult?
Moving on to the right-hand side of the room you find a Nō (musical drama) costume and more panels. These panels depict battle scenes from the 14th-century Japanese military epic The Tales of Heike. The battle scenes are those of Heike’s clan’s stronghold fall at Ichinotani (present-day Kobe). Examining it you begin to hear the clanging of the katanas, the beating of horse hooves, and the warrior cries.
There is another panel in the third room, this one of the Seto Inland Sea, an important maritime region during the Edo period. The route connected the islands of Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu and was known for its treacherous travels. It was also the route taken to bring imported goods from Nagasaki to Osaka, which would then travel overland to Kyoto and Tokyo. Today it has largely now been replaced by road and rail systems.
Another woodblock painting on the right catches your interest, ‘Fine Wind, Clear Weather’, which depicts a snowless peak of Mount Fuji. It’s one of the few paintings from the 36 Views of Mount Fuji series on display. Moving to the left of the room you see a panel from the port at Nagasaki. Here you see these strange looking people are talking with the locals of the city. There is a black carrack on the left panel, a common Portuguese ship, sitting in the harbour. It makes you wonder what the people of the era would’ve thought, seeing these foreigners appearing in a strange looking boat. It would be intriguing, to meet a person from a big wide world you are forbidden to go out and see.
In the small final room there is a painting depicting westerners conversing and walking among the locals once again in Nagasaki. Its style allows you to see how the Western influences brought the end of the Edo period. Before stepping out you notice a book telling the story of the Japanese landscape. The eighteenth-century publication shows both the writer and illustrator’s amazement of a new world which until then they were forbidden to see.
Edo Style: The Art of Japan is the place to visit if you who have an interest in either Japanese art, culture or history, or all three together. You will step back in time to an age of peace, intrigue, and isolation from the outside world. The exhibition is a historical retelling of both Japan’s war-ridden tribal past and how it became an imperial power to challenge the likes of the European empires in the 20th century.
Words and photography by Cameron Lowe.
Cameron Lowe is a horror and sci-fi writer, editor and student. He’s had fiction and articles featured in Speakeasy Zine and Empire Times. He loves to read, play video games, and drink green tea. He’s one of the 2018 editors at Empire Times. He tweets at @cloweshadowking.