The Art of Observation in the Edo Period (1600–1868) [part two]

Between the late thirteenth and mid-nineteenth centuries, Japan was ruled by a series of shoguns, feudal military lords who were the holders of actual power, despite the emperor’s role in appointing them. Emperors were important cultural figures despite holding only titular power. In 1600, after a series of civil wars, the Tokugawa family seized control of the government and established the Tokugawa Shogunate. Their nearly two-and-a-half-century rule was known as the Edo period, in reference to their capital city (now called Tokyo). 

The Edo period ushered Japan into an era of wealth and relative peace, during which the arts flourished. Artists found a new audience in prosperous city-dwellers who had an appetite for images of daily life—both quiet domestic scenes and lively depictions of festivals and pilgrimages. Urban audiences also were drawn to images of scenic spots and travel pictures, a nod to the rise of tourism in a country once plagued by frequent warfare. Consumers of Edo art ranged from rich merchants who could afford sumptuous multi-panel screens to working-class citizens who fueled the market for inexpensive woodblock prints. As the screens, paintings, and prints on display demonstrate, a common challenge for Edo period artists was the creation of images that required keen observation of the world around them.