Imagined Neighbors: Japanese Visions of China, 1680–1980

A mountainous landscape, painted in ink in a softly abstracted style and accented with muted blue and red hues.
  • Dates

    March 16–September 3, 2024

  • Location

    Freer Gallery of Art | Galleries 5, 6, 6a, 7, 8

  • Collection Area

    Japanese Art

During the Edo period (1603–1868), feudal Japan was largely closed off from the outside world. For three hundred years, a loose movement of Japanese artists, often referred to as literati, turned to neighboring China—variably a source for emulation and a source of rivalry—for inspiration. Through painting and calligraphy, they created immersive environments in which artists and viewers alike could mentally withdraw from worldly affairs. As disparate and diverse as the literati movement was, its members were united by a common language that embraced diverse notions of “China”—a place both familiar and foreign, as much imagined as it was known. Throughout a period of modernization during the Meiji era (1868–1912) and after, when all facets of life in Japan were radically changing, China’s historic role in helping shape the fabric of Japanese history and culture remained a touchstone for Japanese artists, even in the context of imperialism and war.

Imagined Neighbors presents Japanese artworks from the Mary and Cheney Cowles Collection, given to the National Museum of Asian Art between 2018 and 2022. The Cowles Collection is arguably the largest and most comprehensive group of Japanese literati works outside of Japan. The paintings and calligraphy in this exhibition fuse reality with imagination and remain important to understanding the continuing, complex engagement of Japanese artists with China, to them both a real and an imagined place.



Art Stories | The Art of Travel

Over centuries, images depicting travel have transformed individual journeys into familiar routes and distant sites into iconic destinations, shaping perceptions of places both near and far. See how artists have depicted travelers across cultures, learn about the role of art in travel of various kinds, explore objects that have undertaken journeys of their own, and plan your own trip to the museum, whether in person or virtually.

A pen and ink-wash drawing of a person riding a donkey and traversing an arched bridge in a rocky landscape.


Generous support for the museum’s Japanese art program is provided by

Mitsubishi Corporation

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