Japonism – when and in what forms did this phenomenon appear in western societies?

National Seclusion and Re-opening of Japan

The Edo period was a period in Japan (1639-1868) which was characterized by isolationist foreign policies. Apart from one international port that remained active in a small amount of trade with the Netherlands and China the country was secluded from the outside world. This small amount of exchanges still allowed for Japanese art to influence the West and Japanese goods became a sought after luxury by the European elites.

In 1853 American Commodore Matthew C. Perry and his crew of 600 men came to Japan in large warships forcing Japan to conclude a treaty that would open up the countries ports to trade. With the Meji Restoration in 1868 Japan ended the long period of national isolation and radically started modernizing to western standards.

The Introduction of Japonism

By opening up Japan the West suddenly got overwhelmed with exotic goods from “the faraway East-Asia”. This is when Japonism began as a craze for collecting Japanese art. Particularly Ukiyo-e was one of the main Japanese influences on Western art. These woodblock prints inspired many great Western artists like Édouard Manet, Vincent van Gogh, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Edgar Degas, Gustav Klimt and Claude Monet.

Japonism in contemporary fashion

Still today Japan has an influence on numerous Western art forms including fashion. At first the influence of Japanese fashion was limited to the import of Japanese style motifs and painting techniques. It was only in the beginning of the 20th century that the West was confronted with Japanese clothing concepts like the kimono. Soon the fashion world was flooded by collections that are strongly inspired by kimono principles. Japanese fashion designers make their way on the runways of Paris and are soon indispensable in the Western fashion world. Today many well known western fashion designers like Dries Van Noten, Raf Simons, Martin Margiella en Gosha Rubchinski are influenced by Japan and its fashion trends.



Online sources: