Five must-see Japanese exhibitions

Published 27 September 2013

Explore the incredible history and culture of Japan with our pick of Eastern-inspired exhibitions from around the UK, opening this October.

1. Shunga: Sex and humour in Japanese art 1600-1900

British Museum, London

50% off with National Art Pass

The erotic paintings, prints and books produced between 1600 and 1900 by the artists of the 'floating world' were unanimously popular throughout Japan until the 20th century, when they were banned by government law. British Museum charts shunga's most prolific years as well as its influence on modern art forms such as manga, anime and Japanese tattoo design.

2. The night of longing: Love and desire in Japanese prints

Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

Free to all

Designed to compliment the British Museum display, prints and woodcuts drawn from the Fitzwilliam collection find lovers expressing their longing in poems, letters and erotic books. A rare version of the Rustic Genji is a particular highlight, including sex scenes that were only hinted at in the original.

3. Kabuki: Japanese Theatre Prints

National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh

Free to all

In the 1800s, Kabuki, the traditional form of all-male theatre, transfixed audiences with its thrilling plot lines and emotional conflicts which were then reproduced in woodblock print by leading artists of the period. The exhibition brings together some of the most interesting examples from the National Museum of Scotland's 4000-piece collection and includes many prints that have rarely been seen before.

4. The Happy Carp

Oriental Museum, Durham

Free with National Art Pass

Taking its name from a work by Nana Shiomi, the exhibition showcases a collection of contemporary Japanese woodblock prints recently acquired by the Oriental Museum with the support of the Art Fund's Renew scheme. As well as the new additions, the display provides insight into the techniques used by contemporary artists who work in what is the nation's most traditional media.

5. Chiharu Shiota: Other Side

Towner, Eastbourne

​Free to all

The Japanese performance and installation artist is best known for her series of works in which various everyday objects, such as beds, windows, pianos and suitcases, are entwined inside webbed labyrinths of coloured thread. For the Towner commission, Shiota presents a gateway of five doors leading to black yarn cocoons beyond.

This year marks the 400th anniversary of British and Japanese relations, commemorated by a series of events around the UK. For more information see the Japan400 website.

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