The Demure and the Moody: Kasho Takahata

Two charming museums in East Tokyo reveal the allure of Meiji to Showa illustration.

poster for Kasho Takahata Exhibition

Kasho Takahata Exhibition

at Yayoi Museum
in the Ueno, Yanaka area
This event has ended - (2008-01-03 - 2008-03-30)

poster for Kaichi Kobayashi Exhibition

Kaichi Kobayashi Exhibition

at Takehisa Yumeji Museum
in the Ueno, Yanaka area
This event has ended - (2008-01-03 - 2008-03-30)

In Reviews by Rebecca Milner 2008-03-19

At a time when Japanese fashion was a balancing act between the kimono and Western dress, Kasho Takahata was a prominent illustrator, capturing for the trend-setting magazines of the day both the demure, down-turned eyes of the former and the moody, forlorn gaze of the latter.

Takahata was a prolific artist and the retrospective at the Yayoi Museum is a comprehensive collection, including his commercial work for magazines, books, and advertising posters that run the gamut from cherub-faced young boys to bejeweled cabaret dancers.

The first floor, devoted to his fashion plates however, is the main draw: stylized illustrations for high fashion magazines, detailed drawings of fashionable hair styles, images of tennis playing ingénues for girls’ magazines, and even pictures of kimono-clad ladies executing perfect hand placements for etiquette manuals. These illustrations delight in Takahata’s ability to capture the charm and allure of the age. So effective is this ode to the cloche hat, the parasol, and the pencil-thin eyebrow, that one visitor couldn’t help but exclaim adoringly, “Oh, I remember that hairstyle!”

Roppongi Art Triangle this is not. The Yayoi Museum is located a five-minute walk from Nezu station, which takes you past antique stores and kimono shops, Tokyo University’s engineering campus, and a coffee shop where you can get a latte for ¥250. Given the location, in Tokyo’s old town, on a Tuesday morning the majority of the visitors were well into retirement and the sense of nostalgia was palpable. That said, it’s the school holidays so they also brought their grandchildren, making the exhibition as crowded, even more so, as any other I have been in the more fashionable, artsy west side of town.

The Yayoi Museum is connected by a corridor to the Takehisa Yumeji Museum, This museum typically displays its permanent collection of Yumeji’s work, but it is worth dropping by for the current temporary exhibition of illustrations by Kaichi Kobayashi. Kobayashi’s moody Art Deco picture postcards and Yumeji’s romantic drawings round out the picture of early Showa illustration and give a neat context for Takahata’s work.

I was pleased to make the acquaintance of these two adjoining museums, dedicated to the illustrations, magazines, and cartoons from the Meiji Period through the postwar Showa period. Like so many of Tokyo’s small museums there is an appeal that extends beyond the exhibited works, in this case, the museums have the charm of an eccentric old married couple.

The two museums have the air of a small town library, with brown carpets, wrought iron banisters, and walls of glass cabinets; flyers for upcoming events lie on an ancient Victor radio electrola next to a handwritten sign that encourages visitors to pass them around. The gift shop also has a collection of offbeat illustration books and exhibition catalogs that attest to Japan’s rich and varied history of visual art and offer a measure of inspiration to anyone with a curious eye.

Rebecca Milner

Rebecca Milner. Born in San Diego, California in 1980, Rebecca studied modern English, French, and Spanish literature at Stanford University. She now works as a freelance fashion writer and trend scout, as well as doing occasional work as an interpreter, English teacher, and bar hostess. Happily infatuated with the mundane, she relishes making coffee, reading the newspaper, grocery shopping, and riding her bicycle. She is obsessed with all things urban, is an ambitious collector of magazines, makes terrible pottery, prefers graffiti to commissioned sculptures, has an unusual affinity for typefaces, and totally digs performance art. » See other writings

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