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Heisei Period Art & Architecture in Japan

Instructor: David Juliao

David has a bachelor's degree in architecture, has done research in architecture, arts and design and has worked in the field for several years.

In this lesson, we will take a look at today's Japan: the Heisei period. Learn about the contemporary architecture that has been built in this modern nation and explore the diverse artwork and the different forms of artistic expression going on today.

The Heisei Period

The Heisei period is today's Japan. During recent years there has been a boom in technology and elements from the popular culture have captivated audiences from all over the world.

The Heisei period started in January 1989, when Akihito was proclaimed emperor. He is expected to abdicate the throne in April of 2019 and his son Naruhito will become emperor, starting a new era. The name Heisei roughly means 'achieving peace'.

The Shibuya District in Tokyo
Shibuya

The early Heisei years were marked by economic stagnation. After decades of growth, the local stock market and real estate prices dropped significantly and it took years for Japan to recover.

During the Heisei period, Japan has seen important changes. The nation has become a military power, the government has sought to stop deflation and promote economic growth, and technology has touched daily life like never before.

Architecture

The contemporary architecture in Japan has been international in scope, as in most places around the world. Commercial structures, skyscrapers, and public buildings have often given architects the opportunity to experiment with innovative designs, pushing the limits of engineering and creating stunning pieces of great architectonic value.

Tokyo Skytree (2012), by Nikken Sekkei
Tokyo Skytree

For decades, architecture has been developed both by Japanese architects and by international firms. Japanese architects have also designed buildings in other countries. However, common elements have been frequently included. Inspired by the order and balance of the Japanese culture, architects have often conceived clean lines and balanced compositions. Minimalist designs are also common. In recent years, there is a growing sensibility for the environment and eco-friendly architecture has been developing.

The work of Tadao Ando is an outstanding example of contemporary Japanese architecture. Ando has been designing since the 1970s and has worked in several countries. He is recognized for his minimalist architecture and the artistic use of reinforced concrete. His buildings include museums, places of worship, houses, train stations, and many others.

Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art (2002), by Tadao Ando
Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art

Elements of the traditional Japanese architecture still remain and are often used in residential interiors. Examples include tatami floors and the paper panels used for dividing different spaces.

Contemporary Art

Contemporary art has been diverse in materials, forms, and scope. Japanese artists have experimented with different art forms, mainly painting and sculpture, and diverse materials, including plastic, paper, and even ordinary everyday objects. Although the Japanese public has not been as enthusiastic as the Chinese or Korean about buying contemporary art, there is a growing demand and the local market is expanding. Many museums and galleries have been built to exhibit the work of the local artists.

Yokoo Tadanori Museum of Contemporary Art, in Kobe
Yokoo Tadanori Museum

Traditional Arts

Japan has a strong national identity. In recent years, some artists have promoted traditional arts and their cultural and historic value, making them somewhat popular.

The black ink drawings on paper or silk continue to be popular. The motifs are diverse, both traditional and modern. Calligraphy also continues to be present, but rather than entire texts, the contemporary pieces often focus on a few characters. Some artists have created sculptures of wood and clay, inspired by traditional techniques. Also, kimonos and items for tea ceremonies continue to awake interest.

Calligraphy (2014), by Shinzan Miyamae Roshi
Calligraphy

Other Japanese artworks

Japanese society is connected with the phenomena of popular culture and has made little differentiation between decorative and fine arts, so artistic forms of expression have developed in peculiar areas, often related to commercial activity. Technology has been another great influence and, in such a fast-paced world, the conception of art is being transformed.

Anime and Video games

Japanese animations, known as anime, have been popular since the 1960s and by the 1990s they were famous all over the world. Studios produce different stories with intriguing and complex plots and have created many iconic characters. Similarly, Japan has been a pioneer in video games, not only the production of consoles for playing them but also conceiving diverse genres and animations that become more sophisticated every year.

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