Toyohara Kunichika (1835-1900) Twenty-four Paragons of the Meiji Restoration: Transport, 1877. Oban.
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As the other examples from this series show, 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, more than almost any other ukiyo-e print 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 umberella and imagining a bat draped over his head instead. In this print, Kunichika pictures an heroic samurai, his body bent across the neck of a galloping horse. In the satirising cartouche behind him, a rickshaw driver is assisting a woman to her front door. The carriage is a western style trap and the driver has been reduced to the status of a lowly animal.
The print neatly shows 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 good. The border is printed yellow and not yellowed with age.