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Maximum Embodiment

Yoga, the Western Painting of Japan, 1912 -1955

Bert Winther-Tamaki

Publication Year: 2012

Maximum Embodiment presents a compelling thesis articulating the historical character of Yoga, literally the “Western painting” of Japan. The term designates what was arguably the most important movement in modern Japanese art from the late nineteenth to the mid-twentieth centuries. Perhaps the most critical marker of Yoga was its association with the medium of oil-on-canvas, which differed greatly from the water-based pigments and inks of earlier Japanese painting. Yoga encompassed both establishment fine art and avant-gardist insurgencies, but in both cases, as the term suggests, it was typically focused on techniques, motifs, canons, or iconographies that were obtained in Europe and deployed by Japanese artists. Despite recent advances in Yoga studies, important questions remain unanswered: What specific visuality did the protagonists of Yoga seek from Europe and contribute to modern Japanese society? What qualities of representation were so dearly coveted as to stimulate dedication to the pursuit of Yoga? What distinguished Yoga in Japanese visual culture? This study answers these questions by defining a paradigm of embodied representation unique to Yoga painting that may be conceptualized in four registers: first, the distinctive materiality of oil paint pigments on the picture surface; second, the depiction of palpable human bodies; third, the identification of the act and product of painting with a somatic expression of the artist’s physical being; and finally, rhetorical metaphors of political and social incorporation. The so-called Western painters of Japan were driven to strengthen subjectivity by maximizing a Japanese sense of embodiment through the technical, aesthetic, and political means suggested by these interactive registers of embodiment. Balancing critique and sympathy for the twelve Yoga painters who are its principal protagonists, Maximum Embodiment investigates the quest for embodiment in some of the most compelling images of modern Japanese art. The valiant struggles of artists to garner strongly embodied positions of subjectivity in the 1910s and 1930s gave way to despairing attempts at fathoming and mediating the horrifying experiences of real life during and after the war in the 1940s and 1950s. The very properties of Yoga that had been so conducive to expressing forceful embodiment now produced often gruesome imagery of the destruction of bodies. Combining acute visual analysis within a convincing conceptual framework, this volume provides an original account of how the drive toward maximum embodiment in early twentieth-century Yoga was derailed by an impulse toward maximum disembodiment.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. iii-iv


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p. vii-vii


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pp. ix-xi

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pp. xiii-xv

My early impressions of Yōga, the “Western painting” of Japan, were far from positive. When I worked on the curatorial staff of the Seibu Art Museum in Tokyo in the early 1980s, my enthusiasm for the avant-gardes of the day eclipsed sympathy for Japanese oil paintings of the early and midtwentieth ...

Note on Translations and Names

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p. xvii-xvii

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Introduction: Yōga, the Intercultural Art of Embodiment and Disembodiment

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pp. 1-24

In one of his last films, the celebrated director Kurosawa Akira, who started his career in the 1920s as a Yōga-ka, or “Western painter,” created a poignant expression of Japanese yearning for Western painting in a segment called “Crows.”1 An anonymous young Japanese painter peers longingly at a group of ...

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Chapter 1. Strong Flesh at the Ready: Body and Self in Self-Portraiture

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pp. 25-62

Among the various genres of the Yōga movement—portraiture, still life, the nude, landscape, and battle scenery—self-portraiture produced the most intimate manifestations of a contradiction that is endemic to Yōga discourse. How can a sense of nativity be embodied in a medium that was stigmatized ...

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Chapter 2. Accelerating the Heartbeat: Erotic Nationalism and the Japanese Nude

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pp. 63-99

The subject of this chapter, the Yōga genre of the female nude, is surprisingly similar to the self-portraiture discussed in the previous chapter. For the male Yōga painter of the female nude typically assumed the stance of Pygmalion, endowing the bodies he painted with aesthetic properties he desired for ...

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Chapter 3. Creating Oriental Beauty: Chinese Passages to Imperial Yōga [Contains Image Plates]

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pp. 100-127

The previous two chapters have demonstrated how the Eurocentrism of the Yōga self-portrait and nude was neutralized by transferring the focus of these genres from European bodies to Japanese bodies, paradigmatically those of the male Self and the desirable female. It might seem that endowing Yōga with a ...

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Chapter 4. The Feast of Fierce Massacre: Maximum Disembodiment

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pp. 128-162

This chapter charts a dramatically different direction in the development of the Yōga movement from the preceding chapters. Th us far, early twentieth- century Yōga has been explained in terms of the fitful quest for ideal embodiment—whether the artist’s own body in self-portraiture, desirable erotic ...

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Epilogue: The Collapse of Yōga Embodiment

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pp. 163-168

The urge toward maximum disembodiment in Yōga painting between the mid-1930s and the mid-1950s was to be the last chapter of the Yōga movement. The four interrelated components of Yōga embodiment—the illustrated body, oil-pigment matière, the sense of the painter’s somatic presence, and ...


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pp. 169-194

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 195-206


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pp. 207-217

E-ISBN-13: 9780824861131
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824835378

Publication Year: 2012