Japanese Meiji Era Bronze Vase
Created in Kyoto by Torajiro Murakami.
The Meiji period refers to the era of Japanese history that ran from 1868 to 1912. Which arguably was the most significant period in Japan’s incredible history.
Japan at the time was coming to the end of the Edo period, a feudal society, which had lasted around 700 years, now found itself at risk of being colonised by european powers.
The Meiji period marked the period of time that Japan moved from the feudal system to a new paradigm of a modern industrialised nation state. This monumental shift in Japan’s direction as a country, was a new chapter in the history of this beautiful country that I know and love today.
However, while this shift was taking place, there is no doubt it must have taken a toll on the people and culture of Japan. The Japanese government was taking an active interest in the art export market, promoting Japanese arts at world’s fairs, the first of which took place at the Vienna World’s Fair in 1873.
Unlike the Lacquer and Porcelain pieces that had previously been exported, Japanese metalwork like this vase, was almost totally unknown outside of Japan. At the time metalwork was connected to buddhist practice, for example, temple bells and incense cauldrons. However, as Buddhism was displaced as the state religion, the opportunities for metalworkers became fewer and fewer.
While the need for metalwork was dwindling, and the Samurai class was disappearing, Metalworkers began to create objects for the sole purpose of display. In turn the Japanese government encouraged the innovation and attention to artistry, this resulted in a wide range of new techniques including combining metals with enamel.
This new skill and fine detail in these new works was beyond the capability of metalworker’s western counterparts – and is hardly matched in present day Japan. The subsequent exhibitions both in Japan and Europe bought these metalworkers high praise and were soon highly sought after by collectors around the world.
Which brings us nicely to this Object of Virtue.
Looking closely at this Bronze vase, that bears the mark of Torajiro Murakami, a metalworker and artist in Kyoto, and is beautifully surrounded with birds and hares in a wildlife scene. Almost every facet of this vase has something truly special, from the intricate details of the animals, the engravings make up the wildlife scene, even the differentiating hues of the bronze around the vase draw the eye.
Underneath, is the Hallmark – Dai Nippon Kyoto Murakami zo, which I think translates ‘Great Japan, Kyoto, Made by Murakami’.
To me this vase represents an incredible time in Japan’s history, for 700 years, they existed in a feudal system, some of history’s greatest and most respected warriors – the Samurai commanded incredible amounts of respect as they served their emperor faithfully. But as the edo period came to its end, western culture was making its way into the Japanese way of life, many of the virtues that edo Japan was governed by were being quickly eroded. Ultimately, this meant that the skills that were once so essential to Japan’s way of life – sword making, metal working, were no longer required.
But in amongst all this change, these skilled individuals turned their talents to making incredible pieces of art that were without equal in the rest of the western world. This vase, to me, is a representation of what Japan is, a real example of determination, resilience and hard work that has continued to this day, all the while retaining such incredible beauty, that you can’t help but lose yourself in a world that is still, even with the influence of the west, so wonderfully set apart from our own.