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Western influences

Events of Western contact prior to the Edo era resulted in some specific examples of artistic exchange. The Namban (southern barbarian) golden-screen paintings of the Momoyama era show Portuguese merchants and missionaries at Nagasaki before they were expelled. The continued Dutch presence similarly gave rise to paintings and prints which portrayed the Dutch settlement at Nagasaki's Dejima. Later, this was also the route for stylistic change generated by imported Western art.

The reopening of Japan by Commodore Perry in 1854 and the fall of the Tokugawa Shogunate in 1867 launched a period of massive social and cultural change. With the restoration of the emperor Meiji to power and a new government in place in Tokyo from 1868, a process of modernization and Westernization was embarked upon which transformed the face of Japan and of the visual arts.

The opening of the treaty ports furnished a new subject matter for woodblock print artists who produced marvellous portraits of big-nosed Westerners in Yokohama and other ports. Meiji modernization provided additional themes as the opening of the first railway, spinning factory and many other advances were recorded for posterity. Western advisers assisted in the design and construction of European-style buildings, some of which can still be found scattered around Japanese cities, while others have been relocated to the Meiji Mura Open-Air Museum near Nagoya.

In the early years of the Meiji era (1868-1912), traditional Japanese and Chinese styles of painting were rejected by many artists in favour of Western styles and techniques. Artists such as Kuroda Seiki (1866-1924) and Fujishima Takeji (1867-1943) studied in Paris and returned to become leaders of Western-style painting (Yoga) in Japan. Realism, Impressionism and other Western art movements were directly transplanted to the Tokyo art scene. More conservative painters, such as Yokoyama Taikan (1868-1958) worked to establish Nihon-ga, a modern style of Japanese painting, drawing on a mixture of Chinese, Japanese and Western techniques.

Western influence on the arts expanded greatly in the Taisho era (1912-1926) with sculpture, as well as painting, closely following current trends. In the postwar period, Japanese artists looked again to Europe and America but more selectively took their inspiration from a range of avant-garde developments in the West. Art in Japan today can be seen as a blend of Japanese and international currents. Sources of tradition can no longer be identified purely with the East or the West.

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