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Recollections of Tokyo: 1923–1945

Jul 2-Sept 25, 2022



In 1923, Tokyo was devastated by the Great Kantō earthquake. Despite the destruction caused by this natural disaster, the city developed at an astounding rate over the next few decades. During this period, a number of printmakers documented their impressions of the city’s ruin and rebirth.

Oda Kazuma. Gift of the artist

While some of these prints depict the remnants of destroyed buildings, many more show people enjoying the city’s new developments, from the bustling Ginza shopping district to the fashionable cafés of Shinjuku. This modern urban landscape became a favorite subject for artists such as Oda Kazuma (1882–1956), a lithographer who portrayed Tokyo’s crowded streets and nighttime attractions. 

Kawase Hasui. Gift of Oliver Statler

The allure of Great Tokyo, as it came to be called, would be short-lived. The area was firebombed by Allied forces during World War II, causing another round of devastation. The prints made in the period between the earthquake and World War II thus became a kind of time capsule. In 1945, some artists were prompted to reissue their scenes of urban life, along with new prints that were similarly nostalgic; this expanded series was called Recollections of Tokyo and the complete series is on view in this exhibition. A number of the scenes featured in these prints are recognizable today, including views of Tokyo Station, Ueno Zoo, and the bars and clubs of Shinjuku. Taken together, such representations of forgotten or lost places and buildings remind us of time’s passage and the ever-changing nature of a dynamic urban metropolis.


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