Unexpected Smiles: Seven Types of Humor in Japanese Paintings

May 19 2018 - Aug 5 2018

In 1600 the Tokugawa clan succeeded in reuniting Japan after almost a century of violent power struggles. Establishing its Shogunate in Edo (now Tokyo), the Tokugawa ruled for 268 years until Japan was forced to open to the West in 1868. While the regime brought peace and relative prosperity to the populace, it attempted to control almost every aspect of life and shut Japan off from the rest of the world. 

One of the ways to alleviate the repressions of the Shogunate was through humor, both verbal and visual; it was officially tolerated as long as it was not directed at the government. The need for “letting off steam” was one of the causes of a great outpouring of comic poems, pointed jokes, witty puns, and amusing paintings. Featuring forty-eight paintings on hanging scrolls, the works illustrate humor developed in Japan from the 1700s to the early 1900s. The seven categories of humor are: parody, satire, personification, word-play, fantasy, exaggeration, and playfulness.

Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website

  • Painting
  • Asian
  • Japanese
  • Various artists

Exhibition Venues & Dates