Becoming Modern, Becoming Global: Japanese Prints from the Meiji Period (1868-1912)

In 1868 the Tokugawa military rulers were overthrown by supporters of Emperor Meiji (whose name means “enlightened rule”), marking the end of the Edo period and ushering in a new era of Japanese government. The restoration of the emperor brought centuries of leadership by feudal military lords to an end and set in motion a series of sweeping changes in the Japanese political system. The Meiji period brought practical power of rule back to the emperor but also led to the establishment of a new form of representational government. Meiji-period reforms introduced a constitutional system whereby the rights and powers of hereditary lords were severely limited, new standardized tax laws established, and a host of other measures directed toward the modernization of the country enacted. The Meiji restoration also marked the beginning of a new level of engagement with other nations. For centuries, Japan had operated under a strict isolationist policy, which came to an end just prior to the Meiji period. The impact of global interaction would become a crucial storyline throughout the new era. 

By the beginning of the Meiji period, print culture in Japanese cities had been flourishing for well over a century. Pre-Meiji prints feature brightly colored images of actors, courtesans, and scenic views, but the Meiji period’s dramatic social, political, and cultural changes provided a wealth of new subjects for  printmakers to capture. This installation presents three groups of Meiji prints-focusing on foreign customs and styles, global warfare, and the modern print-that vividly capture the transformation of Japan.
Zoe S. Kwok
Assistant Curator of Asian Art