Japanese Art Exhibitions outside of Japan

Must see Japanese art exhibitions to catch over the winter break

Welcome to the season of mince pies and mulled wine. The winter break brings much joy to hopefully include time to catch up on great art exhibitions. For Japanese art lovers, there are fantastic exhibitions during the holiday season. It might involve a bit of travelling, but they are certainly worth a visit. Especially so as the destinations covered in this edition are in some of the most delightfull cities of the world. Happy holidays and wishing you a festive and inspiring winter break!

The Japanese Renaissance. Nature of painted screens from the 15th to the 17th centuries
The Uffizi, Florence
Now until 7 January 2018


The Japanese Renaissance. Nature on painted screens from the 15th to the 17th centuries exhibition at the Uffizi, Florence, celebrates the 150th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Japan and Italy when the Treaty of Amity and Commerce was signed on 25 August 1866. This exhibition on until 7 January 2018 offers a rare opportunity to view 39 spectacular Japanese masterpiece paintings from Japan, some of which are designated as National Treasures and Important Cultural Properties.

All of the paintings on display are iconic images and popular amongst Japanese art lovers. However, most encounters are limited to reproductions in books and exhibition catalogues. Experiencing the actual works is often difficult as the pigments and substrates used in the paintings are fragile, light sensitive and as a result are very rarely put on display even in Japan. This exhibition is therefore a fabulous opportunity to experience first-hand the beautify of these enduring images. From sombre monochrome ink depictions in kanga style to the dazzling opulence of polychrome paintings in yamato-e style, the paintings all reflect Japanese aesthetic sensibilities and their love of nature. Among the artists shown are Kano School painters, Hasegawa Tōhaku, Kaihō Yūshō and Unkoku Tōgan, who were leading painters active between the Muromachi period (1392-1573), a period that parallels with the Italian Renaissance, and the early Edo period (1615-1868). How wonderful for visitors in Florence to have the opportunity to enjoy both the Japanese Renaissance exhibition and Italian Renaissance paintings.


Takashi Murakami: Lineage of Eccentric
A Collaboration with Nobuo Tsuji and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Now until 1 April 2018

Murakami Takashi’s close encounters with Japanese masterpieces with the help of Professor Tsuji Nobuo culminate into a hugely dynamic and contemporary art exhibition in Boston. Murakami is one of the best known and internationally celebrated Japanese artists of our times. His charismatic work has found global success and is appreciated beyond his homeland of Japan. The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston’s current show, Takashi Murakami: Lineage of Eccentric, A Collaboration with Nobuo Tsuji and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston [on until 1st April 2018], demonstrates Murakami’s fascinating as well as extraordinary talent. His collaborator who guided the execution of the exhibited works is Professor Tsuji Nobuo. Professor Tsuji is a distinguished scholar of Japanese art history who redefined the boundary of the study through his groundbreaking book Kisō no Keifu (Lineage of Eccentricity), which was originally published in 1970 and still in print. He has also written a definitive textbook on Japanese art history which has been translated into Chinese and is currently being translated into English by our very own Professor Nicole Coolidge Rousmaniere. He continues to be a beacon of Japanese art history at the age of 85.

What makes this Boston exhibition particularly unique is that it showcases the fruit of Murakami and Tsuji’s collaborative process. Professor Tsuji chose key masterpieces from the MFA’s collection, which Murakami then reinterpreted to create new pieces of work. A dragon and tiger painted by Soga Shōhaku, one of the most eccentric artists in the Edo period, have been construed by Murakami in his Murakami way. Interestingly, the outcome retains its original essence. In another work, Murakami filled folding screens with a vast number of KaiKai and Kiki, his trademark smily daisy-like characters, which are displayed side-by-side with ‘Scenes from the Nakamura Kabuki Theatre’ folding screens attributed to a late 17th century artist, Hishikawa Moronobu. Murakami’s Buddha statue is as shiny as the golden Buddha statue from the late 10th century when it was originally made, but Murakami’s Buddha is silver, not gold. As the exhibition title suggests, eccentricity in Japanese art definitely founds its way to fuel Murakami’s singular mind and exceptional talent.

Disasters of Peace: Social Discontent in the Manga of Tsuge Tadao and Katsumata Susumu, Honolulu Museum of Art
Now until 15 April 2018


The festive season is also a time for reflection. Disasters of Peace exhibition in Honolulu explores how key avant-garde manga artists in Japan in the early 1960s have used graphic communication as a mean to voice some of the most pressing social and ethical concerns the Japanese experienced in modern history. Some of the issues still hold resonances today, especially with the effects of 3.11 Fukushima triple disasters still acutely felt.

Manga is perhaps the most versatile and definitely an important form of expression to debate this dark part of cultural history in Japan. Manga is, without exaggeration, ubiquitous. It would be surprising to find a Japanese person today who have never read a manga before and in fact many have grown up reading manga to some degree. For those who are less familiar with the medium, manga may on appearance look like comic books full of fantasy stories. However, it encompasses a wide range of narrative genres within the graphic novel tradition. One of the genres is called ‘gekiga’ (dramatic pictures), aimed at adult readers, which often conveys contemporary political and social messages.

Such gekiga manga is at the heart of the current Honolulu Museum of Art exhbition. Focusing on the inhumanity and hardship that Japanese communities was forced to endure after the war and in the confusion of post-war regeneration, Disasters of Peace: Social Discontent in the Manga of Tsuge Tadao and Katsumata Susumu [on until 15th April 2018] taps into the works of Tsuge Tadao and Katsumata Susumu who were regular contributors of the legendary monthly magazine, Garo. Both artists provocatively exposed the bleak and muffled lives of ordinary people put in impossible circumstances. Tsuge Tadao’s effective use of shadow creates dramatic silhouette effects in telling a story of two lovers whose relationship quickly deteriorates in ‘Gently Goes the Night’ (1970). Meanwhile, Katsumata Susumu employs clean lines to bring a more light hearted atmosphere. However, his narratives are often philosophical and like Tsuge convey equally distressing stories. These include tales of faithful servitude to a nuclear power plant company that always seem to fold with a less than happy ending, as discussed in more detail in the anti-nuclear manga talk section in this article.

Both Tsuge and Katsumata are united in their depiction of the dark side of post-war Japan that contradicts the peaceful optimistic images of post-war Showa era with which we are often presented. In fact, Japan at the time was a nation both in mourning and reinventing itself. It began with the collapse of the belief in its military might marked by war defeat, which was followed by economic impasse, environmental destruction to secure economic growth, and moral and social disorder. Many unexpected and unforeseen incidents occurred. Tsuge and Katsumata were amongst the vocal activists at the time who shed light on these less celebrated realities of Showa Japan. Read more in the Honolulu Museum’s blog page.

Some of Tsuge and Katsumata’s influential works have been translated into English by Ryan Holmberg, an art and comic historian and former Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Fellow (2013-14) and currently our academic associate. For more details on manga titles translated by Ryan, please see the Tobunken Research Database and our publication page.

Upcoming exhibitions

For those who like to plan their exhibition trips well in advance, something to look out for in 2018 is Japonism 2018: souls in harmony in Paris, which will host a series of cultural events from July 2018 to February 2019 to celebrate the 160th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between France and Japan. 10 years ago, Maruyama Ōkyo’s sliding panels recreated the Kotohira-gū shrine or known as Konpira-san, at the Musée Guimet to commemorate the 150th anniversary. This time, Ito Jakuchū’s handing scrolls will be brought from Japan and be put on display at the Petit Palais in Paris. More on this Jakuchū exhibition will be discussed in our next e-magazine.

The Ashmolean Museum, which is our feature museum in this e-magazine, will open an exhibition to feature their surimono collection. 2 October is the opening date for your 2018 diary.

All the exhibition details and publication information introduced here and more on what is happening in and outside around Japanese arts and culture can be found on the comprehensive research database, developed by the Tokyo National Research Institute for Cultural Properties, known as Tobunken. As a research partner of Tobunken, the Sainsbury Institute contributes by providing resources to gather information and add data on Japanese art exhibitions taking place outside of Japan and publications in English.

Miwako Hayashi Bitmead
Japanese Art Database Officer

Cover image: By Chris Wee [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

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