Edo Culture as Reflected in Japanese Woodblock Prints
With the founding of the Tokugawa shogunate in the early seventeenth century, the city of Edo (modern Tokyo) expanded from a garrison town to become the capital of Japan. The prolonged period of peace introduced by the family of hereditary new military rulers (shoguns) appointed by the emperor and the mandatory residence of his feudal lords (daimyo) and their families there on a rotating basis encouraged expenditures that in turn fostered the development of a merchant class and a commercial economy. The response to these altered demands eventually led to profound social and economic changes as well. By the mid-eighteenth century, Edo had become a vital urban environment in which different parts of society patronized a variety of cultural traditions.
The subject of this exhibition is the life of that city and its townspeople (chonin). They were the chief audience for the numerous woodblock prints published throughout the Edo period and dictated the character of one cultural tradition. The streets that they populated and the shops that they frequented, the kabuki theater that they patronized, the seasonal and festival observances that marked their annual calendar, and their religious and folk beliefs and practices are all represented here. The "pleasure quarters" of the Yoshiwara, the brothel district which offered entertainment and govemmentregulated prostitution, will be the focus for part II of this installation. Together these two exhibitions provide us with a vivid record of life in the Tokugawa capital in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.