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Here and There introduces art, artists, galleries and museums around Japan that non-Japanese readers and first-time visitors may find of particular interest. The writer claims no art expertise, just a subjective viewpoint acquired over many years' residence in Japan.

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image image Denshoubi: New Frontiers in Art Reproduction
Alan Gleason
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The Denshoubi full-scale reproduction of the two-screen Rakuchu Rakugai Zu, Ikeda Version (ca. mid-17th century).

Some of Japan's finest pre-modern art was painted on byobu folding screens and fusuma sliding doors inside palaces, castles, temples and shrines. Though many of these treasures survive to this day, the risk of damage from sustained exposure to light or the elements often prevents them from being displayed in public. That's a shame when the works form an integral part of still-standing structures, many of them designated cultural properties.

A solution appears to be in sight, however, thanks to recent developments in digital imaging and materials technology. Super-high-resolution images can now be printed onto traditional-style Japanese paper or, even more impressively, gold leaf. The latter breakthrough lends itself especially to the reproduction of screen and door paintings of the Edo period (1603-1867) and earlier, which were often done on gold-leaf backgrounds.

Pioneering the application of this technology in the art world is Dai Nippon Printing (DNP), long known as Japan's largest printing concern but now making forays into such fields as art preservation and reproduction (it is also the publisher of the Artscape Japan website). DNP's patented Denshoubi process combines high-definition digital technologies--running the gamut from image capture to printing--with proprietary materials technology to create stunningly precise replicas of byobu or fusuma paintings that can be printed on traditional backing for display in their original format.

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Screen-painting reproductions on sale at MMM in Tokyo, including a smaller version of the Denshoubi Rakuchu Rakugai Zu, with the full-size left screen on display in back. To the right is a touch-panel display about the painting.

Arguably the most impressive Denshoubi project to date is a pair of six-panel screens depicting panoramic views of Edo-era Kyoto, the ancient capital. Collectively known as Rakuchu Rakugai Zu ("Scenes in and around Kyoto"), screen paintings on this theme were popular for several centuries, and a number of them survive today. The one selected for the Denshoubi process is an Important Cultural Property identified as the Ikeda Version after its original owner, the Ikeda clan that ruled what is now Okayama Prefecture. The Denshoubi team has created two full-scale sets of the screens, one of which is kept in Okayama at the Hayashibara Museum of Art, owner of the original. The other pair is usually on display at the DNP Kyoto Uzumasa Cultural Heritage Gallery, but until 20 March the left screen, depicting the western part of Kyoto, is on view at DNP's MMM (Maison des Musées du Monde) shop in Tokyo's Ginza district.

As with most paintings of this genre, the bird's-eye view of feudal-era Kyoto is a wondrous thing to behold, with landmarks like Nijo Castle and Kinkakuji temple floating amid swirls of golden mist. What makes this reproduction truly remarkable, however, is that the gold-leaf background glimmers through the yellow-painted overlay of clouds, just as in the original. The degree of detail captured by the high-definition camerawork comes into full play in the throngs of tiny, meticulously drawn figures of Kyoto citizens going about their daily lives--everyone from court nobles in their luxurious quarters to merchants hawking wares on the streets. Indeed, one shining attribute of all the Rakuchu Rakugai Zu paintings is their value as a record of life in the capital several centuries ago.

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A large touch-panel display offers close-up detail views and descriptions of the Rakuchu Rakugai Zu at DNP Kyoto Uzumasa Cultural Heritage Gallery.

Considering the alternative--waiting years for one of the rare occasions when a temple or museum that owns one of these screens puts it on public display for a very brief period--Denshoubi reproductions hold immense promise as a means of exhibiting such treasures on a year-round basis. What makes them truly special, though, is the authenticity of the viewing experience they afford. Printed and mounted on traditional byobu or fusuma backing, these hi-res images are barely distinguishable from the real thing.

Originally opened to sell art-related goods from museums in France (DNP has had long-term joint projects with the Louvre and the Réunion des Musées Nationaux), MMM now showcases artwork from all over the world, with an emphasis on graphic design (the specialty of its next-door neighbor Ginza Graphic Gallery, another DNP exhibit space). In addition to displaying the Denshoubi Rakuchu Rakugai Zu screen, the shop sells smaller reproductions of the work as well as a selection of other masterpieces of byobu art. These mini-screens fold up into compact dimensions that make them highly portable and popular as artistic souvenirs or gifts from Japan.

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MMM (Maison des Musees du Monde)
DNP Ginza Annex, 7-7-4 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
Phone: 03-3574-2380
Open: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Closed: Sundays, holidays, New Year's, and last day of March and September
Access: 5-minute walk from Ginza Station on the Tokyo Metro Ginza, Marunouchi, and Hibiya Lines
DNP Kyoto Uzumasa Cultural Heritage Gallery
Phone: 075-871-1481
Open: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. (6 p.m. on Saturdays)
Closed: Sundays, holidays, and during exhibit changes
Access: 3-minute walk from Uzumasa-Tenjingawa Station on the Tozai Subway Line
 
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Alan Gleason
Alan Gleason is a translator, editor and writer based in Tokyo, where he has lived for 30 years. In addition to writing about the Japanese art scene he has edited and translated works on Japanese theater (from kabuki to the avant-garde) and music (both traditional and contemporary).
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