Tomodachi-Special Tour at the Honolulu Museum of Art

Examples of Japanese kuchi-e artwork used in war-era novels

On Tuesday, May 20, JASH members and friends explored two exhibits on Japanese art at the Honolulu Museum of Art. They were able to get a special guided tour by art history expert Dr. Kazuko Kameda-Madar. Dr. Kameda-Madar is Lecturer at Hawaii Pacific University and also Visiting Researcher at the Ritsumeikan University. She earned her PhD in Japanese Art History at University of British Columbia. 

The “Light From Shadow: Gold in Japanese Art” exhibition features many artworks, especially large screens, that use gold leaf or gild, mineral pigments from precious stones (ground up and mixed with ‘gelatin’ and pasted on paper), and ground seashell pigments that create a lasting shimmer. Gold has aesthetic and symbolic value which also allowed the owner to show off their level of prestige. The moon on the screens was often created out of silver. When new, it would shine bright like the moon. However silver, unlike gold, tarnishes over time, so now only the gold and minerals shine on the screen. Screens of this type are now not allowed to be sold or taken outside of Japan. A majority of the collection was purchased from private collections in Japan and brought over by Mrs. Anna Rice Cooke, who also established the museum. She donated most of her collection to the museum.

During the late Meiji period (1868-1912), romance novels that highlighted the predicaments of female protagonists enjoyed enormous commercial success in Japan. The “War-Torn Hearts: Political Propaganda in Japanese Romance Novels” exhibition introduces kuchi-e (woodblock prints produced as frontispieces for these novels). Kuchi-e often represents the female anxieties about loved ones in danger and their mourning of those who died in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905). One such notable print showed a woman biting on her handkerchief to symbolize ‘biting back her emotions’.

Dr. Kazuko Kameda-Madar and Tomodachi Chair Kazuko Love

The Tomodachi Planning Committee would like to thank Dr. Kameda-Madar for providing this insightful and educational tour.