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Seasons: Arts of Japan

September 3, 2011–February 12, 2012
Freer Gallery of Art

Explore how seasonal associations permeate Japanese literature, art, and customs. The annual cycle of the seasons has been integral to the lives and art of Japanese people since the earliest historical times. On the islands of Japan, gentle open plains, rolling hills, and a temperate climate prevail where the imperial capitals, Asuka, Nara, and Kyoto—and Edo (modern Tokyo), the administrative center of the Tokugawa shogunate—once were located and where main commercial and cultural centers flourished. In this environment, a sensitivity to subtle shifts in light, land, and natural life resulted in an array of descriptive terms and temporal divisions that extend far beyond four seasons. The hazy moon of spring, for example, is called oborozuki, while the bright harvest moon of autumn is called meigetsu. Intimate views of nature came to dominate representations of the seasons in Japanese art, with specific images associated with each. Early spring is evoked by blossoming plum and the first cry of the warbler; the brief, lush glory of cherry blossoms comes later that same season. Summer equates with abundant flowers and the call of the cuckoo; autumn with red maples, chrysanthemums, and geese in flight; and winter with frozen waters and falling snow.

This exhibition is part of the series Seasons.

detail from Heron and Willow hanging scroll

Detail, Heron and Willow; Edo period, 1652-1724; Ink and color; Japan. F1902.274.