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CONTEMPORARY ART MOVEMENTS

PUBLISHER
MFA Publications, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

BOOK FORMAT
Clth, 9 x 9.5 in. / 208 pgs / 160 color.

PUBLISHING STATUS
Pub Date
Out of print

DISTRIBUTION
D.A.P. Exclusive
Catalog: SPRING 2012 p. 52   

PRODUCT DETAILS
ISBN 9780878467693 TRADE
List Price: $45.00 CDN $60.00 GBP £40.00

AVAILABILITY
Not available

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MFA PUBLICATIONS, MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS, BOSTON

The Brittle Decade: Visualizing Japan in the 1930s

Text by John W. Dower, Anne Nishimura Morse, Jacqueline M. Atkins, Frederic A. Sharf.

The Brittle Decade: Visualizing Japan in the 1930s

Visualizing modernism in prewar Japan

Modernity took many forms in 1930s Japan, but in the tumultuous years before militarism pushed the country toward global aggression, it was most visibly associated with a glittering consumer culture. Inundated with western jazz-age trends and new technologies, Japan’s big cities, especially Tokyo, offered the most enticing attractions to a newly liberated generation: bustling streets of department stores, cafés and teahouses, movie theaters and ballroom dance halls. Modern architecture, industrial design and fashion overshadowed traditional arts as Japan strove to take its place in a cosmopolitan world. The Brittle Years examines the different ways in which designers and artists visualized what it meant to be modern in Japan in the years leading up to World War II. Its 160 full-color illustrations of paintings, textiles and graphic arts are astonishing not only for their great visual impact but also for the insight they provide into a rapidly transforming nation. Among the more surprising images are kimonos bearing patterns of tanks or futuristic cityscapes, paintings of fashionable Japanese women with bobbed hair in western dress and handbills of factory and agricultural workers joined in solidarity. Essays by leading experts on Japanese art and history, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning author John W. Dower, elucidate the many tensions within Japanese society and show how and why such images of power, progress, and beauty helped the nation celebrate and divert modernity to new purposes during these brittle years.

Featured image, Tateishi Harumi's 1934 painting, "Clover," is reproduced from The Brittle Decade: Visualizing Japan in the 1930s.

PRAISE AND REVIEWS

Bookforum

Jessica Loudis

In the twenty-two years between the day the 1923 Kanto earthquake razed Tokyo and the months in which American bombers demolished it anew, modernity arrived in Japan. Ushered in by the creeping popularity of Western fashions, the rise of mass communication and transit, and the Europeanizing of urban public life, the "brittle years" of the early 1930s marked an uneasy encounter between Japanese traditionalism and Western cosmopolitanism, and nowhere did the attendant anxieties play out more than in the 'modan garu' -- Japan's "modern girl." The equivalent of the '20s-era-flapper, 'modan garus' dressed like New Yorkers and smoked like Parisians; they held jobs, slept around (precipitating a decline in geisha services), and rebuffed the "good wife, wise mother" role that Japanese women had long been expected to play.

The Brittle Decade: Visualizing Japan in the 1930s

STATUS: Out of print | 00/00/00

For assistance locating a copy, please see our list of recommended out of print specialists

FROM THE BOOK
"Soon after the Great Kantō Earthquake in 1923 and the initial efforts to reconstruct and refashion Tokyo, journalists noted the emergence of a new type of woman in Japan's major cities. This new woman, whom they labeled the Modern Girl (modan gāru, or moga for short), was no longer dependent upon men, nor bound by age-old conventions. At first the Modern Girl was seen as a woman who could think on her own and act freely, but almost immediately she came to be viewed as being as much threatening as she was fascinating. While the actual Modern Girl did not conform to a single stereotype—some women chose Japanese dress, some wore the most up-to-date European fashions, and others combined the two—in the press she was described as having short, bobbed hair and long legs; her facial features were westernized, and her clothing flashy. Contemporary commentators found her an embodiment of cosmopolitanism but also lamented her rejection of the 'good wife, good mother' role. They descried her as the symbol of the possible breakdown of social order. Artists especially found in her a source of new imagery."
—Anne Nishimura Morse, excerpted from the chapter "Modern Girls in the Palace of Lyrical Elegance: Nihonga Painting," published in The Brittle Decade: Visualizing Japan in the 1930s.

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