Design Motifs

By Saburō Mizoguchi; Louise Allison Cort | Go to book overview

8
Beginning of Modern Motifs
Edo Period (1615-1868)

The Edo period was a glorious age of crafts and fine arts. Following the unprecedented development of all the decorative arts, design motifs became increasingly varied and complex. Japan, as a small island country, has assimilated wave after wave of alien cultural influence willingly and quickly. Even so, if over a period of some two thousand years such a process has no outlet, it will inevitably create congestion, chaos, and confusion. Decorative motifs were no exception as they struggled to achieve innovation and novelty within a framework of tradition. Against a background of confusion, motifs of the Edo period seem to run wild in unrestricted proliferation. But Japan exhibited other tendencies appropriate to an island country. The feudal system at its peak of efficiency kept the country wholly at peace. The feudal government, headquartered in Edo (present-day Tokyo), also imposed a strict policy of national seclusion, which kept the country free for more than two hundred years from new alien influences that would only have exacerbated the domestic confusion. Finally, the common people -- particularly urban citizens with money but no official position -- burst forth for the first time in Japanese history as the dominant cultural force in the society. The newly powerful urban, bourgeois culture fostered motifs that are unique to Edo and that grew directly out of their lusty, energetic way of life.

Although the Tokugawa shogunate established its headquarters in Edo, Kyoto continued to be the nominal capital of the land as well as the source and guardian of orthodox tradition and cultural taste. The cultural centers of Japan were thus divided both geographically

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