A prominent place in the exhibition is occupied by woodcuts, one of the most popular forms of Japanese art. In the second half of the seventeenth century a school known as Ukiyo-e (“Pictures of Our Transitory World”) developed in the Japanese capital Yedo, present-day Tokyo.
The crafsmen of this school, breaking with the traditions of medieval painting which was limited to a number of religious subjects and conventional landscapes, turned to the graphic arts as a more popular form, depicting in their works the life of the townspeople and vivid scenes from their native countryside. Well represented in the exhibition is the work of the most prominent exponents of colour woodcut, Suzuki Harunobu (1725-1770), Kitagawa Utamaro (1753-1806), Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1894) and Ando Hi-roshige (1794-1858). Japanese engraving, with its variety of subjects, expressiveness of line, beauty of colour and originality of compositional design, became known in the West in the mid-nineteenth century and exercised a definite influence upon the work of many European artists. The exhibition includes the earliest of the thirteenth – early fourteenth century Japanese Buddhist paintings in the Soviet Union with the representation of Kokudzu, a deity giving wisdom and prosperity. The fundamental methods of monochrome painting in Indian ink on silk were brought to Japan from China, and it was in this manner that Tanyu Kano, a well-known artist of the early seventeenth century, produced his album of miniatures (horizontal case by the window).
The Hermitage possesses valuable examples of Japanese applied art, one of the distinctive features of which is the variety of materials and methods of execution. Miniature statuettes and decorative waist-pendants (netsuke), made from ivory and wood, depict scenes from the life of the people and from Japanese history, legend and mythology. Also of note are the details on the handles of swords (tsuba) made from iron, silver, bronze and different non-ferrous alloys and embellished with incisions and engraving. Refined taste, skill, and a wealth of imagination of the craftsmen are also evident in the lacquers; black and gold Japanese lacquer was particularly famous – see the caskets, and the boxes for Indian ink and brushes, for medicine, tea and tobacco. There are two caskets bearing the signature of the well-known craftsman Ogata Korin (1658-1716).
In the second room there is a fine collection of modern decorative and applied art – articles of clay, lacquer, metal, wood and bamboo, handmade by the foremost Japanese craftsmen. These items include a vase made of forged silver with fish designs; a cotton fabric screen, Pine Forest; a forged iron statuette, Sea-lion, and a flame-red lacquer vase. Folk art is represented by ceramic plates and dishes, fabrics, lacquers and wooden toys.