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The History of Art in Japan

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By Nobuo Tsuji and (trans.) Nicole Coolidge Rousmaniere

New York: Columbia University Press, 2019

664 pages, ISBN: 978-0231193412, Paperback

Reviewed by Brenda G. Jordan

Nobuo Tsuji’s History of Art in Japan was originally published by the University of Tokyo Press in 2005 and is now available in English translation. The book covers Japan’s art history from the ancient Jōmon Era all the way to the rise of manga and anime in the twentieth century. Included is a list of the main historical eras in both Romanization and Japanese; a map of archaeological sites; a timeline for Japan, Korea, and China; long lists of scholarly English-languages sources on Japanese art; and an extensive index that usefully includes the Japanese rendering of words.

The author is Professor Emeritus at the University of Tokyo and Tama Art University. Tsuji is considered one of the preeminent Japanese art historians of his generation, a trailblazer in the research on Japanese eccentrics and the arts of playfulness in Japan. His introduction to this book takes a refreshingly different approach from the usual beaux arts (fine arts) focus of old by including a broad selection of Japanese arts: painting, sculpture, ceramics, lacquer, textiles, metalworking, architecture, gardens, calligraphy, photography, printmaking, and design. Rather than prioritizing one kind of art over another, Tsuji develops three concepts: “wonderous adornment (kazari), playfulness (asobi), and animism.” This kind of approach enables us to view the history of art in Japan more broadly and in tune with the current field of art history, as the idea of bijutsu (fine arts, beaux arts) didn’t exist in Japan until the latter part of the nineteenth century.