Thursday, April 4, 2024

Japanese Prints Starting with the "S" Word --- Day 13/91

Walk: Hood

Distance: 2.5 miles

Ciwt was surprised to learn that one art subject majorly affected by the arrival of Americans and other Westerners to Japan was pornography.  Or what Americans called and still call pornography. Until they arrived, the Japanese just called it art.  

Every conceivable coupling was made into a woodblock print, distributed and displayed in Japan as Art. In the U.S., such prints wouldn't have been legal; in European countries they would usually be created on commission by 'gentlemen' who would hang their prints in clandestine rooms shared only with 'gentlemen' friends.  

But not so in Japan. For one thing nudity was not inherently erotic in Japan where people were used to seeing the opposite sex naked in communal baths.  Vividly explicit sexual prints were abundant and very often given as gifts to brides and shared by parents or other adults with children of all ages. The Shogun's occasional disapproval of erotica was largely ignored, and Western Puritanical moral principles were utterly unheard of in Japan. Things people would be arrested for having on their computers in the West today were completely accepted as A-R-T. 

Ciwt isn't sure exactly what changed in this regard with opening of Japan among Japanese artists and print collectors.  But certainly the Western (and Puritanical) tourists and people who moved or stayed in Japan were scandalized and horrified and probably initiated protests and censorship to the best of their abilities.  Their children, as they do today, probably snuck around to look at the prints anyway. And the Japanese art communities would have been under pressure to at least rein in the publication of erotic art.  For instance, the Legion's show has hung the erotic prints are in a separate room with warning signs outside it.  "Beware; sexually explicit material ahead." That kind of thing.

Ciwt is no prude, but all this explicit and accepted erotica was actually quite shocking to her - several other press members at the preview as well.  In the process of getting a clearer understanding from the curator, even she admitted to being surprised when she learned of the prominent role erotic prints played in Japanese art and society. 

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