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  • Kyoto Visual Culture in the Early Edo and Meiji Periods: The Arts of Reinvention ed. by Morgan Pitelka and Alice Y. Tseng
  • Akiko Walley (bio)
Kyoto Visual Culture in the Early Edo and Meiji Periods: The Arts of Reinvention. Edited by Morgan Pitelka and Alice Y. Tseng. Routledge, London, 2016. xii, 187 pages. $145.00, cloth; $54.95, E-book.

Kyoto went through multiple natural and human-caused disasters after its establishment as the new imperial capital in 794 CE but continued to serve its initial function until 1869 when Emperor Meiji moved to Tokyo (formerly Edo) with the end of the 200-year dominance of the Tokugawa shogunate. The heart of Kyoto has stood in its current location since its completion, contributing to the impression of continuity in its cultural identity. The seven essays in this volume, however, demonstrate that "Kyoto" had to be "reinvented" and revitalized in response to changing political and cultural currents. In two parts, this volume explores the visual culture of Kyoto at two moments of crisis: immediately following the establishment of the Tokugawa regime in the seventeenth century, when the center of political authority moved to Edo; and in the latter half of the nineteenth century following the Meiji Restoration, when the emperor moved to Tokyo, along with members of the former aristocracy.

In its approach, this book is in alignment particularly with Japanese scholarship beginning around the late 1990s which sought to reconsider Kyoto through its changes, focusing on the efforts made by both the residents and interested outside parties to reinvigorate it by redefining its identity at critical junctures in the city's history. (All key previous studies are listed in the bibliography of one or more of the essays included in this volume.) Kyoto Visual Culture is, however, distinct from this preceding scholarship in the way it juxtaposes the Kyoto of the early modern and modern periods.

The three essays in part 1 are case studies of how Kyoto-based individuals of different status appropriated or embodied the cultural history of ancient and medieval times in reaction to the rapidly changing political climate surrounding them. Morgan Pitelka traces the major accomplishments of the revered tea master and Kyoto-based influential warrior bureaucrat Kobori Enshū (1579–1647). Appointed as the Fushimi Magistrate in 1623, Enshū moved within the circle of social and political elites in and out of the city. Combining the splendor of the tea-drinking practice of the medieval warrior, the rusticity of the wabi tea of Sen no Rikyū (1522–91), and the elegance of Kyoto courtly culture, Enshū established a new aesthetic of tea that came to be known as kirei sabi or "gorgeous simplicity." Pitelka concludes that Enshū's tea practices and his orchestration and appraisal of tea utensils reflected Kyoto's "hybridized form" of cultural production in [End Page 438] the seventeenth century that triangulated Tokugawa patrons, Kyoto customers and associates of varying social status, and peers in one's own cultural circle (p. 33).

Elizabeth Lillehoj discusses the career of Karasumaru Mitsuhiro (1579–1638), a high-ranking courtier famed for his poetry and calligraphy. Mitsuhiro learned poetry from a Kyoto-born warrior official, Hosokawa Yūsai (1534–1610), the ties with whom contributed to his receiving favors from the first three Tokugawa shoguns. Thoroughly versed in courtly customs and artistic traditions, Mitsuhiro provided legitimacy and authority to the new Tokugawa regime, while benefiting the emperor, courtiers, and the Kyoto-based artists by serving as their mediator with the Tokugawa. Lillehoj concludes that the bond between the Kyoto residents and Edo-centric military officials continued even after Mitsuhiro's death, refreshing "the stores of Kyoto's prestige, ensuring the preservation of imperial culture as one facet of Japan's emergent identity in the early modern era" (p. 56).

Patrick Schwemmer's essay shifts the focus to lower-ranking samurai and elite commoners in Kyoto. The study features the seventeenth-century narrative handscrolls based on the kōwaka ballad (kMwakamai) Sagamigawa, now in the collection of Princeton University. Loosely based on a historical incident, Sagamigawa tells the story of Minamoto no Yoritomo's (1147–99) ultimately fatal fall from his horse in 1198 at the...


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