250 years of Japanese woodblock prints go on exhibit at San Diego Museum of Art

The San Diego Museum of Art

, in collaboration with the University of San Diego, is presenting a landmark exhibition of Japanese woodblock prints from its permanent collection. This major exhibition unveils one of the museum’s least known collections and pays tribute to San Diego’s unique role in U.S/Japan relations.

More than 400 Japanese woodblock prints — from some of the earliest examples of Ukiyo-e by Moronobu Hishikawa (ca. 1618–1694) to the work of modern print masters of the 1920s and ‘30s — will be on view at the museum from Nov. 6 through June 5.

Visitors will begin with a virtual journey through the countryside of Japan along the Tokaido Road, which led from the ancient capital of Kyoto to the city of Edo (now Tokyo), past views of the legendary Mount Fuji. Viewers will experience the Japanese countryside as envisioned by landscape print masters Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849), Utagawa Hiroshige (1797–1858), and others.

Upon arriving in Edo, visitors will enter a space evoking Yoshiwara, the historic entertainment district of Edo where prints featuring elegant courtesans and icons of the Kabuki theater will be on display. Natural history prints, illustrated books, and prints from the era of modernization and westernization from the 1860s to 1930s will also be on view both at the museum and at the Hoehn Family Print Galleries at the University of San Diego.

Of note is the museum’s complete set of Hiroshige’s “Famous Views of the Sixty-Odd Provinces,” which includes awe-inspiring locations, such as the floating Itsukushima shrine at Hiroshima, a tour-de-force of ancient Japanese engineering.

In 1859, on the heels of the forced opening of Japan to the West by the U.S. Naval Commodore Perry, the port at Yokohama was established and a new genre of woodblock prints arose known as Yokohama-e. The exhibition includes a special feature on the 1860s prints from Yokohama, San Diego’s sister city. Little studied until now, these prints provide access to the Japanese reception of foreigners in Yokohama, particularly Americans.

Another feature of the exhibition is the modern prints from the 1920s and ‘30s known as Shinhanga, or “New Prints.” Artists such as Yoshida Hiroshi (1876–1950) and publishers, notably Watanabe Shôzaburô, revived the traditional Japanese techniques of woodblock printmaking, but now with the incorporation of a westernized aesthetic.

If you go


“Dreams and Diversions: 250 Years of Japanese Woodblock Prints from The San Diego Museum of Art”


: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; noon to 5 p.m. Sunday, through June 5


: San Diego Museum of Art, 1450 El Prado, Balboa Park


: $4.50-$12


(619) 232-7931.


Demonstration by artisans from the Adachi Institute of Woodcut Printing in Tokyo; four-day Japanese woodblock-printmaking workshop 9 a.m. Nov. 16; performance by Malashock Dance Company, TBD.