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Japanese paintings of famous places

The fashion for depicting meisho ('famous places') evolved in the tenth century as a subject for Yamato-e paintings. They were usually related to seasonal subjects (shiki-e) and poetry, especially waka. Although certain well-established elements usually made them immediately recognizable, essentially they were idealized views created in the imagination of the artist. As such they show the early development of the Japanese view of art as an expression of an inner essence rather than necessarily the outer reality of a subject.

Few meisho-e have survived form the Heian period (AD 794-1185) but there are many examples by Edo period artists who resurrected the genre. The best known meisho were Ama no Hashidate ('The Bridge of Heaven'), Matushima, a coastal site with many small islands covered with gnarled ancient pines, and Isuku-shima or Miyujima shrine - together generally known as 'The Three Views' (sankei). Yoshino at cherry blossom time is also frequently depicted.

Sets of views based on Chinese originals were also popular, such as ōmi hakkei ('Eight Views of Lake Biwa', a large lake near Kyoto). The eight subjects included Evening Bell at Mii-dera, Returning Sailboats at Yabase and Wild Geese Alighting at Katata. This set was a direct imitation of a Chinese original, 'Eight Views on the Xiao and Xiang Rivers', places which inspired artists and poets through their striking appearance or atmosphere at a certain time of day or season.

Places connected with famous stories such as Musashino (Musashi Moor) were also suitable for meisho inscribed with poems. By the thirteenth century, Mount Fuji with its elegant shape and spiritual associations was adopted as a subject by poets and artists alike.

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