in the Meiji era, children were as good as pictures

After several centuries of retreat during the Edo period (1603-1868), the Meiji era (1868-1912) corresponds to a period of openness to the world for Japan. Country and society change through contact with other cultures, especially western ones. In the big cities of Tokyo and Yokohama, architecture, traffic, shows, consumption and even clothing are changing under European and American influence. Japanese prints (ukiyo-e) late 19th centurye Century are valuable testimonies of the development of the way of life at that time. Unlike those of the previous period dominated by the masters Hokusai, Hiroshige or Kuniyoshi, they benefit from new colors thanks to the arrival of chemical dyes, especially red and purple, and strive to stage the modernization of the Japanese state. We see couples being transported in horse-drawn carriages, women wearing hats and dressed in western wicker dresses, men hunched over in tailcoats, and also children convinced of new parenting methods.

The works are presented in a playful and joyful setting adapted to the theme

The Maison de la culture du Japon in Paris wanted to highlight the changes affecting the world of childhood with an exhibition of prints (wooden engravings) entitled “Children of the Meiji Era”. At the School of Modernity”. More than a hundred engravings have been collected, depicting children in their various activities and others used for play or study – before being appreciated by collectors, the prints were bought at low prices and served as teaching aids, advertising posters, etc. The works are mostly unpublished in France are by curator Kana Murase of the Machida City Museum of Graphic Arts and the Kumon Institute of Education. They are presented in a playful and cheerful setting adapted to the theme.

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Since the beginning of the Meiji era, the school has undergone profound changes: the society’s class division system disappeared, social success was promoted, and schooling, which had been practiced in the family circle until then, became compulsory and collective, based on western-style systems. A triptych by Nikutei Karyo, elementary education (1874) shows groups of children, each gathered around a teacher, in a large room, like a classroom on several levels. Both students and teachers wear a uniform. With their mouths open, the children seem to be chanting the words depicted on a tablet that the teacher is showing them with his magic wand. They don’t sit on Japanese-style tatami mats, but rather on benches facing Western-style desks. “A scene of an idealized teaching intended to promote this new kind of education, says the commissioner. Only gradually did this form of teaching come into use. »

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