In 1853, Commodore Matthew Perry of the U.S. Navy sailed into Tokyo Harbor, pointed his cannons at the city, and warned that if he wasnt allowed ashore, and if the Japanese didnt sign up for global trade, hed open fire indiscriminately. It was classic American pirate diplomacy. The Japanese caved, and in came a flood of Western fashion, commodities, and sensibilities. The hermetic, feudal shogunate transformed, nearly overnight, into one of the most modern empires on Earth. That breakneck transition from the samurai to the Meiji era is chronicled in the Morikami Museums 60 exquisite, painstakingly detailed woodblock prints by Toyohara Chikanobu, who, starting in the late 19th Century, depicted both Kabuki characters and sensational yellow-news stories, old samurai battles, and the clash of mechanized armies in the Russo-Japanese war. Chikanobu pivoted between the ancient and the modern: At first glance, the women in a print called Western Clothing seem to be wearing bright-colored, traditional kimonos, but look closer and you notice that theyre decked out in the bonnets and corsets of a Southern belle. Today, Japan has, with its gadgets and fetishes, almost exceeded American modernism. But in Tokyo Harbor, theres still the ruin of an unsuccessful island fort built to keep the Americans out.
Tuesdays-Sundays. Starts: Jan. 26. Continues through Feb. 20, 2011