Ogata Gekko gekko portrait Meiji Master

The Future of Japan

The title of this could also be read as A Forecast for Japan's Future in 1890. This is an important print because it tells us more about Gekko, the man, than just about any of his works. The very young artist, only 23 years old when this print was published in May of 1883, took the unusual step of authoring an essay that is printed here at the top of the print, offering his hopeful views on what kind of country Japan could become seven years hence. This was a decisive and consequential time in Japan's history. The country was torn between two political factions: traditionalist radicals who were angry at Japan's move towards western ways and wanted to reverse recent international trade revisions and have foreigners expelled from the country; and progressives like the group of liberal intellectuals depicted here who felt that Japan could reach its full potential only through the establishment of a constitution that would guarantee rights for its citizens, such as freedom of speech and the right to establish political parties. In his essay, Gekko speaks of his hopes for the elimination of bad leadership and for establishing voting rights and a representative Diet by 1890. Well, the hopeful and humanistic young artist can count prescience as one of his many talents, because in 1889 the Meiji constitution was promulgated. It was the first constitution in Asia to establish a representative legislature and to define the powers of the ruler. The following year, in 1890, Japan's Diet convened. (text courtesy of Rob Turley)