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Life and Leisure: Everyday Life in Japanese Art
at the Smithsonian's Freer Gallery of Art from August 14–February 20, 2005

Media only: Brenda Kean Tabor: 202.633.0523
Barbara Kram: 202.633.0520
Public only: 202.633.1000

A new exhibition of Japanese paintings and screens depicting scenes of everyday life during the Edo period (1615–1868) opens Aug. 14 to complement another exhibition on view at the Freer that focuses on Chinese scenes of work and commerce. "Life and Leisure: Everyday Life in Japanese Art" includes a wide variety of illustrations ranging from colorful paintings abuzz with activity and humor picturing the daily lives of peasants and entertainers, to glamorous images of female courtesans from the pleasure quarters fixing their lipstick or washing their hair. Several ceramic household or restaurant objects from the period, including a teapot and water caddy, water and sake bottles, a serving bowl, sushi bucket and storage jar are also on view.

Although people of various social classes pursuing everyday activities had long been pictured in the backgrounds of both religious and secular Japanese paintings, it was only in the late 16th century that contented commoners pictured at work or at play began to appear as an independent central subject of Japanese art.

Works on view include:

  • A painting illustrating the Japanese custom of presenting a newborn infant at a Shinto Shrine
  • An almost cartoon-like painting featuring multiple images of cheerful women—all of whom resemble a popular Japanese deity of prosperity and mirth (known as Uzume, Otafuku or Okame)—engaged in dancing, food preparation and other activities
  • A small screen showing children involved in playful activities including shell-matching games and a snowball fight
  • A painting showing one child playfully chasing another beneath a drying line
  • A detailed painting by Osaka artist Tsukioka Settei (1710-1786) of a private puppet performance. Osaka was the leading center for the development of puppet dramas, which rivaled Kabuki performances in popularity
  • A painting of dances performed during the summer Bon festival, held to welcome back the spirits of the dead, and paintings depicting other seasonal and annual festivals
  • Two ink drawings by Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) of peasants performing a variety of mundane tasks
  • Paintings of horses with their grooms and riders
  • Several paintings of courtesans or famous beauties in different settings

The women of the Yoshiwara—the licensed pleasure quarter of Edo (modern Tokyo)—were equivalents of the film stars of today and prompted a flourishing market for both cheap and sumptuously produced copies of their images like the works on view.

A group of screens depicting related subjects such as rice cultivation, equestrian events, and town life in 17th-century Kyoto will be on view from July 24, 2004 to Feb. 27, 2005.

The Freer and Sackler galleries together form the national museum of Asian art. Hours are from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. every day except Christmas Day. Admission is free. The galleries are located near the Smithsonian Metrorail station on the Blue and Orange lines. For more information, the public may call (202) 633-1000 or TTY (202) 357-1729, or visit the special, exhibition-related section of the galleries' Web site at

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