Japan art and Shima Seien: Taisho era and female suffering

Japan art and Shima Seien: Taisho era and female suffering

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

The Japanese artist Shima Seien was born during the Meiji Period (1868-1912). However, the three art pieces in this article were completed during the Taisho Period (1912-1926).

Interestingly, even if sadness abounds, the first art piece is a self-portrait of herself with a bruised face. Accordingly, this image shows solidarity with women, who were frequently abused by men. Also, it was a challenge to cultural traits that sought to silence women in this period of Japanese history – an issue that continues in modern Japan.

The Osaka Art Museum says, “SHIMA Seien(1892-1970)was a female painter of Nihon-ga, Japanese style painting. She was born in Sakai and spent her active years as a painter in Osaka. She made her mark early on, being accepted for the 6th Bunten Art Exhibition when she was only twenty years old and garnered attention for her sensational work that transcended the domain of bijinga (beautiful woman picture).”

Ironically, concerning the bruised face art piece, Seien relocated to Manchuria during the war period. Japan would enslave many women from different ethnic groups and force them into prostitution. Therefore, similar to ISIS (Islamic State – IS) raping and selling Yazidi women into slavery, the armed forces of Imperial Japan also had the same mindset in this period of history.

It is difficult to imagine this period in highly developed nations – not for people still butchered in the Democratic Republic of Congo or other conflicts where untold brutality continues in modern times. However, in this period of history, Arab Muslims were still selling slaves throughout Arabia and further afield (slavery was abolished in the 1960s in Saudi Arabia), the British Empire continued to exploit, Stalinism and Nazism were on the march, and other brutal realities existed.

One can only imagine the world that Seien witnessed and how females suffered. Indeed, from low rape convictions in the United Kingdom, the Taliban preventing girls to study, FGM, honor killings, and countless other realities: the self-portrait – despite its mildness – belonged to her world and it continues to belong to this world.


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