From my friend Gen Kanai, on Quartz: “150-year-old images reveal what Japanese artists once thought about exotic American visitors”
Inspired by the dress and habits of visiting Americans, artists in 1850s Japan once dedicated themselves with an ethnographic intensity to the study of exotic Western newcomers. Today, the artwork provides Americans with a novel perspective on their ancestors, described in portrait titles like People of the Barbarian Nations – Americans, and Americans’ Love for Children.
This particular genre of woodcut is known as Yokohama-e, and was produced in the small fishing village of Yokohama, today one of Japan’s most international cities. Yokohama was one of the first ports that Japan opened to foreign trade, at the insistence of the American government. The US made several failed attempts to get Japan’s attention throughout the early 19th century before finally forcing Japan out of isolation in 1854.
And from i09, something sillier: Japanese fart scrolls prove that human art peaked centuries ago.
Approximately 200-400 years ago during Japan’s Edo period, an unknown artist created what is easily the most profound demonstration of human aesthetics ever committed to parchment. I am referring to He-Gassen a.k.a. 屁合戦 a.k.a. “the fart war.” In this centuries-old scroll, women and men blow each other off the page with typhoon-like flatulence. Toss this in the face of any philistine who claims that art history is boring.
Gassy competitions weren’t limited to the scenes of He-Gassen (which is hilariously named in retrospect). Fart wars were also used to express displeasure at the encroaching European influence in Edo Japan — artists would depict Westerners being blown home on thunderous toots.
I shan’t reproduce the art; you’ll have to click the links.