A journey through Japan

The exhibition, “Life is a Highway: Prints of Japan’s Tokaido Road,” features such woodblock prints as Utagawa Kuniyoshi’s “Kawasaki: Nitta Yoshioki,” pictured, through Aug. 17 at the Harn Museum of Art.

Doug Finger/Staff photographer
Published: Wednesday, May 14, 2014 at 12:55 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, May 15, 2014 at 8:28 a.m.

Summer is usually a time for travel, and visitors at the Harn Museum of Art this season can take a virtual trip through 19th-century Japan.


‘Life is a Highway: Prints of Japan’s Tokaido Road’

What: Exhibition of more than 150 woodblock prints that depict the most heavily traveled route in pre-World War II Japan
When: Through Aug. 17; museum hours are 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and 1-5 p.m. Sunday
Where: Harn Museum of Art, 3201 Hull Road
Admission: Free
Info: 392-9826, www.harn.ufl.edu

Schedule of events:
Saturday: Ann Wehmayer, UF associate professor of Japanese, Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures, discusses “High and Low on the Tokaido Road,” 3 p.m.
June 1: The Harn Museum store features merchandise relating to Japanese culture and the Tokaido Road, with demonstrations on how to wear kimono, create bento lunches and paint in Sumi-e style.
June 1: Jerry Heines, author of “Japan’s Explosive Cultural Evolution,” offers a virtual tour of Japan’s history through his travel experience and photos of posts along the Tokaido Road, and signs copies of his book in the Harn Museum store following his talk, 3 p.m.
June 14: Family friendly tours of “Life is a Highway” and activities including printing your own multicolor image of a scene from woodblocks prepared by a local artist and a demonstration of traditional woodblock cutting methods, 1-4 p.m. (A donation of $5 per family or $2 per child is requested to participate in the art-making activity)
June 21: Martin McKellar, Harn volunteer and Asian garden specialist, discusses “Imagining the Japanese Coastline: Experience the Tokaido Road in the Harn’s Dry Garden,” 11 a.m.
June 29: Allysa Browne Peyton, Harn curatorial associate for Asian art, discusses “Encounters on the Tokaido,” 3 p.m.
July 10: Celebrate the exhibition with performances, art making, tours and other activities relating to the exhibit, 6-9 p.m.
Aug. 3: Jason Steuber, Harn Cofrin curator of Asian art, discusses “The Tokaido Road: Folk Tales and Travels,” 3 p.m.
Aug. 9-10: Artist Leslie Peebles leads a beginner workshop on relief printing with participants creating a small multicolor reduction print or prints with linoleum using several techniques; one- and two-day options available, 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Aug. 9 and/or 1-4:30 p.m. Aug. 10. ($100 per person, $90 for Harn members, on Saturday; $50 per person, $40 for Harn members, on Sunday)

“Life is a Highway: Prints of Japan’s Tokaido Road,” a new exhibition on display through Aug. 17, showcases more than 150 woodblock prints relating to the Tokaido Road, the most heavily traveled route in Japan before World War II.

About 300 miles in length, the road linked Kyoto to Edo (now Tokyo), and was heavily traveled during the Tokugawa Era from 1600 through the mid-1800s. It eventually became popular for its 53 stations — each with its own distinct culture — where travelers could stop to rest during their trip.

In the way that people can often pick up a souvenir at different rest stops today, woodblock print-makers sold these prints to Tokaido travelers who purchased them as a token of their journey, says Jason Steuber, Cofrin curator of Asian art at the Harn. For each station, the artists created a distinct print that captured what the station was best known for.

The museum exhibit organizes these 19th-century prints geographically by station, so visitors are able to start at the beginning of the road, viewing the prints for that first station, and make their way to the end.

Modern woodblock print representations of select stations from artist Sekino Jun’ichiro are grouped with their 19th-century counterparts so visitors are able to see them side by side.

“It’s about universal stories that every traveler can relate to,” says Allysa B. Peyton, Harn curatorial associate for Asian art.

Various aspects of Japanese culture are evident throughout the prints; one features a giant ghost cat that was said to haunt a particular station and others feature the samurais who frequently passed through.

The exhibit is unique because few collections have this many complete works of artist Utagawa Hiroshige on Tokaido Road, Peyton says.

It features his entire woodblock print series titled “Parallel Tokaido” along with selections from the series “Reisho Tokaido” and “Vertical Tokaido.”

For this exhibit, the museum has purchased and added works to the collection that complements some of the works brought in during the mid-2000s, says Steuber. “Bringing all those together make a richer story,” he says.

In addition to the woodblock prints, the exhibit also features a large, studio-format camera and kimonos, which were common to the era in which the prints were made.

The summer exhibit aims to be more hands-on, so it can meet the needs of people who learn in different ways, says Peyton.

The exhibit features a photo booth where visitors can have their pictures taken as if they were traveling along the Tokaido. Visitors can also fill out a Tokaido Road postcard provided by the museum to send to family or friends.

Throughout the summer, the museum will offer several programs themed around the Tokaido Road and Japan. Through these programs, visitors can listen to experts on Japanese culture and art, or partake in making woodblock prints of their own.

On July 10, the Harn will hold a Museum Nights event based on the Tokaido, and visitors can view the exhibit from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Admission to the museum is free.

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