The twentieth century is a turbulent time in Japan, as the country vacillates between unprecedented heights of power and wealth and the depths of poverty and devastation. After the dramatic efforts to modernize politically, socially, economically, and culturally during the Meiji Restoration, Japan seeks to win control over neighboring countries, competing with Western imperialist ambitions. Finally, Japan participates in World War I, fighting on the side of the Allies. Despite dramatic industrial and financial expansion during the war years, along with the rest of the world, Japan is plunged into economic crisis in the 1920s, accompanied by social upheaval caused by the stresses of unemployment, an expanding population, and rapid urban growth. Continuing an imperialist agenda and buttressed by a strong sense of nationalism, Japan, allied with Germany and Italy, enters World War II hoping to gain control of strategic territory and natural resources in East and Southeast Asia. Despite initial successes, Japan is ultimately defeated by the United States, ending with the horrific detonation of two atomic bombs. Japan’s postwar period is marked by a miraculous revival, culminating within a few decades in the nation’s emergence as one of the world’s wealthiest democracies.
Culturally, Japanese art parallels the country’s historical experience during this century. On one hand, interest in traditional art forms, including woodblock prints, Kabuki theater, ceramics, and native crafts, continues and is sometimes coupled with nationalistic motivations and identification. On the other hand, not only do Japanese artists and the public continue to study and be influenced by foreign art techniques, forms, and trends, such as oil painting, sculpture, psychologically probing novels, modern dance, and Western-style architecture, but many Japanese artists gain worldwide renown. Japanese artists also master and use expressively and innovatively such new art forms as cinema, animation, photography, and fashion.