Japan art and Yoshu Chikanobu (1838-1912): Military to art

Japan art and Yoshu Chikanobu (1838-1912): Military to art

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times 

The Japanese artist Yoshu Chikanobu (Toyohara Chikanobu) witnessed much during his time on this earth. Artistically, it was also a time of internal momentous changes in Japan. Therefore, throughout his lifetime (1838-1912), the ending of the Edo Period to the dynamics of the Meiji Period (1868-1912) shaped his art.

His diverse art includes beautiful women (bijin-ga) to sensational news of the day. Hence, gruesome murders were covered in Chikanobu’s art, along with historical events – from the changing nature of fashion to wars that occurred during the Meiji Period.

He fought in several military conflicts before turning to art during the Meiji Period. Thus, from being embroiled in military events, including the Battle of Ueno and Battle of Hakodate – art became his livelihood after being known for his military bravery on the battlefield.

The Morikami Museum says, “Yōshū Chikanobu was one of the last great ukiyo-e print designers. He produced images of the kabuki stage, beautiful women (bijin-ga), and historical and legendary events. Chikanobu also illustrated murders and other sensational news of the day and chronicled the modernization of Japanese society in the late 19th century.”

Chikanobu was fully aware that the artistic sands were changing. Therefore, despite the ruling elites focusing on Western art themes during the Meiji Period, Chikanobu adapted his ukiyo-e to meet the changing times. 

Overall, Chikanobu highlights the strength of adversity and how to overcome countless dangerous situations. Art, in a sense, became a new lease of life after internal military stability became entrenched under the new Meiji order.


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