Moon over the water: Awesome Japanese woodblock prints

by | Jun 17, 2022 | Maritime Art, Culture and History

The Japanese have a love affair with the moon that goes back centuries. It is reflected in their traditional art and poetry and the annual moon-viewing festival called tsukimi. It is not just the moon’s beauty that drives this lunar mania.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art provides the following insight into Japan’s fascination with the moon in a 2014 essay entitled ‘Seasonal Imagery in Japanese Art’:

From ancient times to the present, the Japanese people have celebrated the beauty of the seasons and the poignancy of their inevitable evanescence through the many festivals and rituals that fill their year—from the welcoming of spring at the lunar New Year to picnics under the blossoming cherry trees to offerings made to the harvest moon. Poetry provided the earliest artistic outlet for the expression of these impulses. Painters and artisans in turn formed images of visual beauty in response to seasonal themes and poetic inspiration. In this way, artists in Japan created meditations on the fleeting seasons of life and, through them, expressed essential truths about the nature of human experience.

This sensitivity to seasonal change is an important part of Shinto, Japan’s native belief system. Since ancient times, Shinto has focused on the cycles of the earth and the annual agrarian calendar…

Click here to read the whole essay.

Bobbing on the waves, sipping wine
And gazing—tipsy—at the moon divine.

Matsuo Basho (1644–1694)
(Terebess Asian Online)

Kankai Pavillion at Wakaura Beach, 1950
Hasui Kawase (Japanese, 1883–1957)
Courtesy of WikiArt: Visual Art Encyclopedia

Autumn Moon on the Tama River, c. 1838
Utagawa Hiroshige (Japanese, 1797–1858)
Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Moon over Arakawa River at Akabane, published in 1929
Hasui Kawase (Japanese, 1883–1957)
Courtesy of National Diet Library Digital Collections (via Wikimedia Commons)

Full Moon at Kanazawa, Province of Musashi (Edo period, 1615–1868)
Utagawa Hiroshige (Japanese, 1797–1858)
Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Monkey Bridge, early 1830s
Katsushika Taito II (Japanese, active c. 1810–50s)
Courtesy of The Cleveland Museum of Art

Chrysanthemums in Moonlight, c. 1890–1910
Ogata Gekko (Japanese, 1859–1920)
Courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum

Six Jewel Rivers from Various Provinces, 1857
Utagawa Hiroshige (Japanese, 1797–1858)
Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Cooling off at Shijo by the Kamo River, 1885
Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (Japanese, 1839–1892)
Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art


More Japanese art to fascinate you:

Beauty and terror: Ocean waves in Japanese art

~ Barista Uno

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