CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

Japan envisions the West: 16th-19th century Japanese art from Kobe City Museum

Exhibition: 11 October 2007 - 6 January 2008

Hasegawa Sadanobu II, The port of Kobe. Kobe City Museum

Hasegawa Sadanobu II (1848-1941)
Bustling Port of Kobe, Settsū Province (Sesshū Kobe kaigan han’ei no zu), 1871
Ō-ban triptych; woodblock print on paper
Kobe City Museum


Yukiko Shirahara, John A. McCone Foundation Curator of Asian Art

Because the “West” referred to in the title of the exhibition is mainly the Netherlands, or a source mediated by the Dutch in their 200-year long monopoly on trade with Japan, this exhibition of Japanese art is listed on the CODART site.

Museum press release, 21 June 2007

This fall, the Seattle Art Museum is the only venue for the groundbreaking exhibition Japan Envisions the West: 16th -19th Century Japanese Art from Kobe City Museum, which will be presented in two parts, Part I: Oct. 11 through Nov. 25, 2007 and Part II: Dec. 1, 2007 through Jan. 6, 2008. Organized by the Seattle Art Museum in collaboration with Kobe City Museum, this international exhibition explores how Japanese artists, scientists and the public responded to and interpreted Western art and culture from the 16th to the 19th century.

Japan Envisions the West will include 142 cultural treasures from Kobe City Museum, many of which have never traveled outside of Japan before, and 20 works from SAM’s collection. The exhibition features exquisite paintings, prints, maps, ceramics, lacquer ware, metal ware, glass ware, leather ware and textiles. The project also includes an extensive 224 page exhibition catalogue.

From Japan’s first contact with Western culture to the end of its self-induced isolation (called sakoku), the works in this exhibition exemplify the historical mutual appreciation between Western and Japanese culture, and coincide with the 50th anniversary celebration of the Seattle-Kobe Sister City relationship.

“This extraordinary exhibition will further visitors’ understanding of the early intersection of Japan and the West, providing keen insight into how Japan viewed and assimilated Western art from the 16th to the 19th Century,” says Yukiko Shirahara, SAM’s John A. McCone Foundation Curator of Asian Art. “SAM is honored to be the only venue to have this significant exhibition of the treasures from Kobe City Museum. This is the first opportunity that the Kobe City Museum is exhibiting its masterpieces from its unique collection of namban art (Japanese art reflecting art of Portugal and Spain), kōmō art (influenced by Holland), various maps and crafts in the United States.”

Western European culture was first introduced to Japan in the 1540’s with the arrival of Portuguese and Spanish traders and missionaries, the stark contrasts of the strange art, culture, and religion with traditional Japanese values and aesthetics created a kind of culture shock. Later, namban art styles represented Japan’s eagerness to adopt new techniques and add to their expanding world perspective. Europeans, in turn, readily learned and adopted techniques and images of Japanese exoticism in their ceramics and lacquer ware. Japanese craftsmen learned to bridge both worlds by creating Western style pieces for their domestic markets while exporting Japanese style pieces to new European markets.

After the Tokugawa shogunate enforced the policy of National Seclusion in 1639, Western culture was introduced solely from Holland and indirectly from China at the Nagasaki port until American Commodore Perry’s arrival in 1853. During this period, European perspective, motif, and design were adapted to suit Japanese taste, which was called as kōmō art, and they co-existed with Japanese conventional artistic styles and concepts to create varied decorative arts.

With subject matter inspired by the visitors themselves as well as by the visual materials they brought, Japan Envisions the West will demonstrate not only how Japanese and Westerners comprehended and appreciated each others’ cultures, but will also raise important contemporary questions about how we perceive people and cultures different from our own.

From the museum website

This international exhibition explores how the Japanese saw Westerners and how Japanese artists responded to and interpreted Western art and culture from the 16th to the 19th century. Japan Envisions the West features 140 objects from Kobe City Museum, including paintings, prints, maps, ceramics, lacquerware, metalware, glassware and textiles, along with 20 objects from SAM’s collection. This exhibition commemorates the 50th anniversary of the sister city relationship between Kobe and Seattle.

Due to their fragile nature, 44 works of art in the Kobe exhibition will be taken down in November and new works will take their place. Don’t miss the exciting second half of this unique exhibition. Bring in your ticket stub from Part I (October 11–November 25) and receive ½ off admission to Part II (November 30–January 6). An exhibition checklist will be posted to this website in September. Please check back then to find out which objects will be on display at the time you plan to visit.


The Atsuhiko and Ina Goodwin Tateuchi Foundation
The E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation
National Endowment for the Arts
U.S. Bank
Additional support provided by Nippon Express and contributors to the Annual Fund.

Related event

Symposium Japan envisions the West: an international symposium on 16th–19th century art from Kobe City Museum, Seattle, Seattle Art Museum (30 November-1 December 2007