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Mt. Fuji Viewed from the Imai Ferry on the Tone River, 1812

Mt. Fuji Viewed from the Imai Ferry on the Tone River, Shimosa Province

Mt. Fuji Viewed from the Imai Ferry on the Tone River, Shimosa Province, by Shiba Kokan, (Japanese (1738-1818)), 1812. Japan. Hanging scroll; oil on silk. Gift of Junkichi Mayuyama, B66D18.

This view of the traditional Japanese subject of Mt. Fuji is painted in an approximation of Western oils. Both the depiction of the blue sky with soft, variegated clouds and the diminution of the size of the sailboats as they recede into the distance must derive from Western painting. Note too that the artist Shiba Kokan has signed his name in the Western alphabet.

Kokan was interested in what he could learn of Western science and art from the limited number of books and other materials then available in Japan. Beginning in 1639 Japan excluded most Westerners from visiting or doing business there, permitting only a small group of Dutch merchants to maintain a trading station near Nagasaki. Kokan walked more than 800 miles from Tokyo (then called Edo) to Nagasaki to study aspects of Western knowledge but found no one there capable of teaching him Western painting techniques. He was forced to experiment.