The Japanese have long revered their natural landscape. Its beauty has been a central focus in Japanese culture, as has its power. All of this is rooted in the belief that supernatural forces and beings — from ghosts to shape-shifting animals to trickster spirits — inhabit and influence the natural realm. A new exhibition at Japan House Los Angeles, Nature/Supernature – Visions of this World and Beyond in Japanese Woodblock Prints, vividly portrays these ideas through woodblock prints.
For centuries, Japanese artists have illustrated these themes, reaching new heights in the Edo (1603–1868) and Meiji (1868–1912) eras with the rise of woodblock printing. Step into the sub-gallery — virtually, from the safety and comfort of your own home — and experience the history and process of Japanese woodblock printing, the world’s first form of “mass media.” Very early examples of printed images as well as woodblocks, tools, and pigments set the stage for evolution to come.
Enter into the main gallery, where a collection of more than 60 prints from the Scripps College collection in Claremont, California, depicts striking visions of Japan’s various landscapes and changing seasons. From rich, green forests and majestic mountains to scenic waterways and sacred temples, these colorful woodblock prints, created by celebrated artists including Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849) and Utagawa Hiroshige (1797–1858), will transport you.
Continue on to the second half of the main gallery, where nature’s supernatural influences take center stage, with artists’ depictions of forces that can be both benign and bountiful or angry and destructive. Many of the prints here depict scenes from well-known Japanese folk tales or legends, featuring kami, yōkai, and many other beings, spirits, and demons in between. Immerse yourself in Nature/Supernature and come away with a deeper understanding of Japan’s singular natural environment and some of the ancient beliefs that continue to inform Japanese culture today.
Explore the virtual exhibition at japanhousela.com.