Art and Fashion in the Eyes of Yōshū Chikanobu: Edo, Meiji and Western Influence

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Art and Fashion in the Eyes of Yōshū Chikanobu: Edo, Meiji and Western Influence

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times


In modern day Japan the fashion scene is electric in major cities like Kobe, Osaka, and Tokyo. This applies to crème de la crème fashion and independent styles and the fusion of Japanese fashion, European fashion, and North American fashion, is simply creating a new dynamic. Therefore, when you look at the stunning ukiyo-e art and the fashion angle of Yōshū Chikanobu (Chikanobu Toyohara), it is clear that the fusion of traditional styles and new styles from western nations must have led to new creativity.

Chikanobu was born in 1838 and died in 1912 and the changing nature of Japan can be seen by the magnificent art work of this talented individual. The Meiji Restoration of 1868 meant that more ideas from outside of Japan would enter this nation. This also applied to changing fashion trends and Chikanobu certainly highlights this.


In the first image in this article by Chikanobu you have a stylish piece of art focused on the Japanese tea ceremony. However, it is clear that the fashion angle appealed greatly to Chikanobu because he highlights this with stunning detail. Therefore, you have lovely color schemes, sophisticated patterns, the richness of the Japanese tea ceremony, and an amazing detail of each individual lady. This is set in magnificent tranquility whereby Japanese ethics, tradition, culture and society is blended naturally within the environment of nature.

Therefore, in this one image alone you can see the pride of Chikanobu who understands that international artists are now focusing more and more on Japanese art. Not only this, while some cultures desired to throw away the old styles this does not apply to the reasoning of Chikanobu. Instead, he is showing that Japan is rich in history and that modernity also belongs within the richness of Japanese traditions. Thereby, the only change which is highlighting modernity is the more daring designs and color schemes which express more freedom.


Chikanobu is also highlighting change but within Japanese sensibilities and which naturally flow with the onset of modernity in Japan in this period. This is important because the fashion angle of Chikanobu’s art shows the confidence of the old world alongside the new fashion styles of nations in Europe and North America.

In the last image in this article Chikanobu is focusing on fashion from Europe and North America but the backdrop is based on powerful Japanese imagery. This applies to the stunning color of leafs and a famous mountain in the distance which signifies that the two worlds blend naturally.


The fashionable style of all the ladies in this image shows confidence, elegance, crème de la crème fabrics and high society. This image could represent nineteenth century America, England, France, or other nations like Scotland, whereby high society is showing its grandness and the importance of exquisite fashion.

If we think about modern day Japan then perhaps the clothes would be bought in exclusive boutiques in Aoyama, Ginza, or made to measure, because of the exclusive nature of the image. Also, it is clear that these ladies adore fashion and you can imagine the care that they took in buying such stylish clothes. The same care also applies to the individual designer and boutique which is focused on exquisite fabrics, amazing color schemes, elegant patterns, and providing clothes of the highest quality.


Chikanobu blessed Japanese art in many ways because when it comes to fashion, culture, ethics, the fusion of the new world and confidence of the old world – it is difficult to surpass Chikanobu in these areas. Of course, other famous ukiyo-e artists belong to a different time periods and you can’t compare art work fairly based on so many factors. Yet Chikanobu combines the reality of the Edo period he was born into, the new demands of the Meiji era and the growing power and influence of Western ways in this period of history in a special way.

Chikanobu therefore certainly left a rich legacy when it comes to amazing fashion styles, color schemes and the changing nature of Japan. Given this reality, the elegance of his artwork is a wonder to behold. Also, equally important is the fact that both worlds blend naturally. Therefore, Chikanobu is highlighting the rich traditions of Japan and the positives of a new culture which began to impact on the fashion scene, areas of high society, politics, and modernization.

Yet at no time does Chikanobu focus on weakness within the rich traditions of Japanese fashion, style, ethics, and cultural norms. In this sense, this amazing artist is showing an image of the modern world which fits naturally within Japan but which is being “Japanized” within the ethics of this nation.


In an earlier article I wrote about Chikanobu I comment that “Ukiyo-e artists of the Meiji era have often been overlooked but times are changing and Chikanobu and Ogata Gekko, and others, are now being valued in their own right. Therefore, prints by Meiji artists are being studied more and not only based on the artistic merits but also for studying Japanese culture. After all, Meiji artists witnessed a rapidly changing Japan and visual images provide a glimpse into this changing world.”

Chikanobu’s famous print series called “Chiyoda no Ooku” (Court Ladies of the Chiyoda Palace) and “Shin Bijin” (True Beauties) highlight stunning colors and show the complexity of this period. This applies to images which show Japanese ladies dressed in exquisite traditional clothes like the kimono and Chikanobu also depicts women in Western clothes.” 


Therefore, by looking at the sublime art of Chikanobu you can feel the imperial nature of the Meiji period and the fusion of ideas, whereby the outside world was gaining a bridge into Japan. However, the changes taking place doesn’t depict weakness or cultural inferiority. On the contrary, the work of Chikanobu is highlighting confidence, pride, a purpose, the richness of Japanese culture, and that Japan can fuse the best of both worlds, while maintaining its rich heritage and ethics.

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