Kunichika, 24 Paragons of the Meiji Restoration - Meganebashi Bridge

Toyohara Kunichika (1835-1900) Twenty-four Paragons of the Meiji Restoration - Meganebashi Bridge: Ichikawa Danjuro in the role of Shakkyo, 1877. Deluxe Oban.

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As in the other examples from this entertaining and subtly critical series, traditional kabuki roles and pastimes are reimagined as modern equivalents in a satirical play on the traditional woodblock theme of Twenty-four Paragons of Filial Piety. This little known series displays the conflict in Meiji culture between modernity and tradition. The series as a whole takes twenty-four examples of activities which have been 'modernised' under the Meiji Restoration. Kunichika then goes on to satirise each activity, in some cases showing the confusion of say, a samurai struggling to understand a western umbrella  and imagining a bat draped over his head instead.

In this print, kabuki actor Ichikawa Danjuro is in the role of a Shishi from the traditional Lion Dance of the Noh and kabuki theatres. In the background cartouche, crowds of people in modern dress cross the oldest bridge in Japan - the Meganebashi in Nagasaki - in rush hour, heedless of the history and traditions beneath their feet.  The parody here is harder to imagine than in some of the other pieces. In the lion dance itself, a monk pauses on a stone bridge… the bridge represents the path to enlightenment and is hard to cross, partly because of the lion which emerges to play with the luxurious peony blossoms. The ease with which the modern crowd passes neatly demonstrates the extreme discomfort that some people in Japan felt with the modernisation programme of the Meiji Emperor. There was a real longing for the dignity and the romance of the past and genuine distaste for western ideas which were considered demeaning and base. The Meiji restoration in 1868 was the cause of civil war skirmishes and some unpopularity amongst the Japanese public. Part of the country (principally the merchants) were enthusiastic about the new chances that open trade with the west would bring. Others, who were more traditional, feared the erosion of Japanese identity and were deeply suspicious about modern innovation. This print is a parodic manifestation of that anxiety and distaste. 

The print is from a rare series and is in excellent condition. Colour and impression are all equally brilliant.  There is deep, clean embossing to the lion wig and pom-pom decoration. The border is printed yellow and not yellowed with age.

36.5 x 25 cm.