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Tani Bunchō, Tiger Family and Magpies, Edo period, 1807, hanging scroll, ink and color on silk, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Gift of Charlotte Wayne and Richard Wayne in memory of Lenore Wayne. Photo © Museum Associates /LACMA

The Roles and Representations of Animals in Japanese Art and Culture, Part 4—East Meets West: The Introduction of Exotic Animals to Japan

Rory A. W. Browne, director of the academic advising center and associate dean of Morrissey College of Arts and Sciences, Boston College

Artworks representing animals—real or imaginary, religious or secular—span the full breadth and splendor of Japanese artistic production. As the first exhibition devoted to the subject, The Life of Animals in Japanese Art covers 17 centuries (from the fifth century to the present day) and a wide variety of media. At the symposium held on June 7, 2019 in conjunction with the exhibition, Rory A. W. Browne discussed artistic depictions of unfamiliar animals in Japanese life. People in Japan’s busy cities and agrarian villages longed to see and possess strange and spectacular birds and beasts, whether from inaccessible parts of its far-flung archipelago or from overseas. Visitors and merchants from China, Korea, and the Netherlands often fed that hunger for the exotic with both domesticated and wild animals, whether as tribute and prestige gifts for rulers and aristocrats or as pets traded to all levels of society. In doing so, they changed irrevocably Japan’s perception and knowledge of the natural world and its ecosystem.