The printmakers who produced the New Tokyo series were all part of the Sōsaku hanga or "creative print" movement. Their style and approach differed from the traditional Japanese practice of woodblock printmaking in which a publisher, artist, block carver, and printer worked jointly to create a print. Artists of the creative print movement worked directly with the materials, carving and printing their own designs. They looked on the medium as an authentic means of personal artistic expression. As a group, they had collaborated informally on various projects, calling themselves the Takujōsha, or "On the Table Group." They gave exhibitions and published a small magazine. "One Hundred Views of New Tokyo" was their greatest and most enduring success.
Urban Metamorphosis is a lesson on the New Print Movement that allows the user to enter the material through three distinct pathways. You may explore the material in this lesson by viewing all the material by a particular artist or by entering via a map of Tokyo circa 1936 or by reading the full text about the movement which explains the artists' work.
Urban Metamorphosis is based on an exhibit of the entire New Tokyo series that was shown at the Carnegie Museum of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania from January to March of 2001. All prints and photos in this lesson are used with permission from the Carnegie Museum of Pittsburgh, all rights reserved.
It was noon on September 1, 1923, and the Tokyo streets were hot. Suddenly and without warning, the earth began to tremble, and within moments, the cooking fires, lit for making lunch in so many thousands of homes, set the many wooden homes ablaze, and the whole city seemed to go up in smoke. The famous Tokyo earthquake, long considered one of the major disasters of its kind in the twentieth century, virtually destroyed the capital of Japan. Mile after mile of only ashes from the flattened buildings remained, with only the shells of those relatively few structures made of concrete still standing. Tokyo, formerly known as Edo during the preceding Tokugawa period (1603-1868), had continued to grow into one of the largest urban areas in the world. Now it was laid waste. Throughout the Meiji period (1868-1912), many of the older monuments of architecture were still standing, a great number of them constructed of wood in the traditional manner. During those years, the capital was, visually speaking, a mixture of the old and the new. Now, in less than a day, Tokyo's visual past had virtually disappeared.
The city, however, was soon to spring back like a phoenix. Because of the prevalence of empty spaces, city planners now were able to find open areas which allowed them to move closer to contemporary European and American city planning models. Office buildings were constructed from concrete, roads developed for auto traffic, and the kinds of elements familiar from similar urban environments around the world began to appear. Parks, dance halls, baseball parks, theatres, fashionable restaurants, art galleries, movie houses, and department stores all had a contemporary look that was by the late 1920s to turn Tokyo into one of the most contemporary of all East Asian cities.
Yet this new and glittering façade was again to vanish some twenty-odd years later, when the bombings of Tokyo at the end of the Pacific War reduced the city to rubble again once more. Photographs of Tokyo after the earthquake and after the bombings bear an eerie resemblance: both reveal similar vast stretches of flattened, empty space. Tokyo would of course again come to life, but in its postwar incarnation, traces of both the Edo past and the interwar elegance would disappear.