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Images of Asia: The East as Longed-for Other in Japanese Art

The half century from about 1910 to the 1960s was a period in which  Japanese intellectuals, art lovers, and artists were fascinated by classic Asian art. An interest in things Chinese was part of Japanese tradition, but during this period the “Asia fever” reached a new peak. Archeological relics and ancient works of art were brought to Japan from the Korean Peninsula and China. Business leaders competed fiercely to acquire them. Lelang lacquerware from the Han dynasty was excavated in Pyongyang. Surveys of the Cizhou and Ding kilns in Hebei were conducted. Breathtaking works that had been handed down for generations were imported. These included Shang bronzes, Tang sancai ceramics, Song porcelains, Yuan blue-and-white and Ming underglaze copper red ceramics, and dearly loved rattan baskets for green tea from China, as well as Yi-dynasty white porcelains from Korea. Having seen these works, painters and craft artists spread their creative wings and soared toward Asia.

Artists saw the stone Buddhas in the Yungang Grottoes in Datong and were reminded of their connection to Buddhist culture in the Asuka Period in Japan. Their eyes were drawn to the “China dress” (cheongsam), a fashion in which they felt a new breath of fresh air from Asia. That longing for Asia began to fade from the main stage around 1960, but remained deeply rooted. Its effects can still be seen in the works of three contemporary artists displayed in the new annex gallery.

HIDA Toyojiro
Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum

Nearly a hundred works will be shown at this exhibition.

I. Return to Asia

Encounters with the Yungang Stone Buddhas (KAWABATA Ryushi, SUGIYAMA Yasushi)
China Dress Women (OKADA Kenzo, FUJISHIMA Takeji, YASUI Sotaro)
Asia in Still Life (KISHIDA Ryusei, MAEDA Seison, Bernard LEACH)

II. Classics Revived

Ancient Bronzes and Craft Modernism (OKABE Mineo, KATORI Hotsuma, TAKAMURA Toyochika, TOYODA Katsuaki, TSUDA Shinobu)
The Enduring Presence of Chinese Porcelain (ISHIGURO Munemaro, KITAOJI Rosanjin, TOMIMOTO Kenkichi)
(1) Black glaze with brown design (2) Black flowers on white ground (3) Five-color (gosai)

Rattan and Bamboo Basketry (IIZUKA Rokansai)
Joseon White Porcelain and Mingei(KAWAI Kanjiro)
From Patterns to the Decorative Arts (TAKANO Shozan, MASUDA Mitsuo, ISHIGURO Munemaro, KITAHARA Senroku)

Ⅲ Fantasies of Asia

Okamura Keizaburo (Painter)
Tanaka Nobuyuki (Lacquer artist)
Yamagata Yoshikazu (Designer)

Visiting Information


Images of Asia: The East as Longed-for Other in Japanese Art


Saturday, October 12, 2019 - Monday, January 13, 2020


Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum
5-21-9, Shirokanedai, Minato-ku, Tokyo
Tel +81(0)3 3443 0201


Closed on second and fourth Wednesdays (10/23, 11/13, 11/27, 12/11, 12/25, 1/8) and the New Year’s holiday (12/28 – 1/4)


10:00-18:00 *Last admission at 17:30
(Open until 20:00 with last admission at 19:30 on 11/22, 11/23, 11/29, 11/30, 12/6, and 12/7 Fridays and Saturdays)


  General Advance/Group
Adults General¥1,000 Advance/Group¥800
College and vocational school students General¥800 Advance/Group¥640
Junior high and high school students General¥500 前売・団体¥400
Seniors (65 and older) General¥500 Advance/Group¥400

・Pre-purchased tickets are available online from e+: or from FamilyMart FamilyPort terminals.
・“Group” means groups of twenty or more.
・Admission is free for elementary and younger students and for middle school students residing or going to schools in Tokyo.
・Admission is free for visitors (and two accompanying person) with a Physical Disability Certificate, Intellectual Disability Certificate, Rehabilitation Certificate, Mental Disability Certificate, or Atomic Bomb Survivor's Certificate.
・Admission is free for seniors (65 and above) on the third Wednesday of each month.

Organized by

Tokyo Metropolitan Foundation for History and Culture, Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum

With the co-sponsorship of

Toda Corporation
Bloomberg L.P. Bloomberg

With the co-sponsorship of

Unimat Group

Tokyo Tokyo FESTIVAL

Highlights of the Exhibition

  • 1. Japanese Immersed in Asia
    In 1942, the Japanese painter SUGIYAMA Yasushi visited the Yungang Grottoes in Datong, China, and sketched the stone Buddhas he found there. He did not, however, sketch every Buddha he saw. For his models he chose images of Buddhas with gentle smiles. During this period, the theory that sculpture depicting Indian and Chinese Buddhas and Asuka Period Buddhas in Japan was influenced by Ancient Greek sculpture was widespread, as was the term “archaic smile” associated with it.
    It was in this context that, of the many Buddhas at the Yungang Grottoes, Sugiyama chose those that were smiling to embody the respect and longing that he felt toward the origins of his own Japanese identity in mainland Asia. In his sketches he distanced himself from stern Buddhas with grave expressions and focused instead on those that with hearts filled with compassion toward those who saw them. In another direction, in modernizing China, the Western-style dress was combined with an image of China desired by the West to create the “China Dress,” the cheongsam. A new fashion was created by giving a Chinese twist to the way that the West wanted to see China. Japanese artists who painted women wearing the China Dress understood the profound depths of Chinese culture embodied in it. What, then, was the meaning of the faint smiles conveyed by these women’s lips? The relationships of the West to Asia and of Asia to Japan drew these Japanese artists eyes to Asia.
  • 2. Ancient Vessels’ Modern Rebirth
    The ancient works of art and various containers unearthed by modern excavations in Asia delivered an enormous shock to Japanese artists. Their forms, patterns, and imagery, so different from those of traditional Japanese crafts, showed them a new kind of beauty.
    Consider, for example bronze vessels. In ancient China bronze vessels were used in food preparation and ritual. But Japanese artists enthralled by their forms and patterns took them in radically new directions. KATORI Hotsuma’s Horned-owl-shaped incense burner appears to have been inspired by ancient Chinese ritual vessels shaped like birds. While the spiral patterns on the wings and the plump breast evoke ancient birds, the charming expression, sleek textures, and the boldness of the large foot ready to take a stride give this work a uniquely contemporary appeal. This exhibition also includes many other artists’ works of a similar nature. The improvised character of the images drawn by Kawai Kanjiro on Joseon white porcelain are heart-stopping. Ishiguro Munemano was fascinated by the beauty of the naturally flowing glazes in Tang sancai. His own works are deliberately finished in ways that evoke their spontaneity and naturalness.
  • 3. How Contemporary Artists See Asia
    The third section of this exhibition showcases works that embody images of Asia created by three contemporary artists. Painter OKAMURA Keizaburo depicts legendary supernatural animals, drawing inspiration from ancient bronze vessels. The multiple eyes of the supernatural beasts stare not only at those who view these works but beyond them to the promise of Japan and Asia. Lacquer artist TANAKA Nobuyuki continues his search for originality in objets that overturn tradition and convention in lacquer art. In recent years, he has recognized that his craft working with lacquer is inseparable from Japan and the Far East. The changes visible in the works displayed in this exhibition reflect Tanaka’s growing consciousness of his Asian roots. Designer YAMAGATA Yoshikazu’s theme is the Japan-US textile negotiations in the 1970s. These works incorporate a vision of the economic rivalry between the West and Asia during this period. They subtly remind us of the traces of this rivalry still visible today.

Related Programs

  • Lecture: The Dancing Bear — Not Leaving Asia to Join Europe, Asia Is Many Things

    Time and Date:
    14:00 November 2, 2019 (reservation required)

    HIDA Toyojiro, Exhibition curator and Director, Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum

    Tokyo Photographic Art Museum, Ebisu Garden Place, Mita 1-13-3, Meguro-ku, Tokyo

  • Symposium: Japanese Artists Longing for the Orient - Its History and Influence on the Art World

    Time and Date:
    10:30, November 17, 2019 (reservation required)

    Speakers (in alphabetical order):
    HIDA Toyojiro (Director, Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum)
    MIURA Atsushi (Professor, University of Tokyo Graduate School of Arts and Sciences)
    RAWANCHAIKUL Toshiko (Curator, Fukuoka Asian Art Museum)
    SATO Doshin (Professor, Tokyo University of the Arts)
    TSAI Chia-Chiu (Assistant Professor, Graduate Institute of Art, National Taiwan Normal University)

    TAKAHASHI Akiya (Director, Mitsubishi Ichigokan Museum, Tokyo)

    Maison Franco-japonaise, 3-9-25 Ebisu, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo)

  • Gallery Talks: Asian Fantasies: The Artists Discuss Their Works

    Time and Date:
    18:30, Friday, November 22, 2019 (reservation required)
    Okamura Keizaburo, Painter

    Time and Date:
    18:30, Friday, November 29, 2019
    Yamagata Yoshikazu, Designer

    Time and Date:
    18:30, Friday, December 6, 2019
    Tanaka Nobuyuki, Lacquer artist

    Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum Annex.
    The talks are free of charge, but a valid ticket for the exhibition for the day of the talk is required.

  • *All events are free of charge.
    *Please note that the lecture and symposium are held at other venues, not the museum.
    *Reservations for all events open one month before the event is held. Those who wish to attend should go to the museum’s website to make a reservation.

Upper row, from left: SUGIYAMA Yasushi, Statue of Buddha in Yungang Grotto 5, 1942, Unimat Group; Pot, fish and water plant design in underglaze blue, Yuan dynasty, 14th century, Tokyo National Museum; image: TNM Archives; Vase, transparent glaze on white slip with lotus bouquet design in iron pigment, Jin dynasty, Tokyo National Museum, Image: TNM Archives.

Lower row, from left: Owl-shaped wine vessel (zun), latter half of the Shang dynasty, Sen-oku Hakuko Kan (from December 12); KATORI Hotsuma, Pigeon-shaped incense burner, 1949, Chiba Prefectural Museum of Art; IIZUKA Rokansai, Flower basket, 1936, collection of Saito Masamitsu, © T. MINAMOTO; YASUI Sotaro, Portrait of Chin-Jung, 1934, National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo.