Hanran: 20th-Century Japanese Photography

Witness a period of socio-political upheaval in 20th-century Japan, through photographs from the Yokohama Museum of Art.

Inspired by the Japanese word for flooding, overflow, or deluge, Hanran reflects 20th-century Japan, from the early 1930s to the 1990s, through the lenses of 28 significant photographers. See this unforgettable exhibition, on view for the first time outside Japan, which calls attention to the costs of nuclear warfare and Japan’s extraordinary recovery – all unfolding in front of the camera's mechanical eye.

After its introduction to Japan in 1848, photography served documentary, political, photojournalistic and aesthetic purposes, as it did in the West. It captured public imagination through mass media, magazines, photobooks and an important amateur market.

Pictorialism, a painterly approach that legitimized photography as fine art, gave way to the avant-garde Shinko Shashin (New Photography) of the 1930s, which is where Hanran begins. Waves of photographic activity ebb and flow between realism and fabrication, tradition and modernity – from the shadows of war and its grim realities, to the radical are-bure-boke (grainy, blurry, out of focus) photos of Takuma Nakahira, to the contemporary focus on everyday issues, as well as gender and urban life. These photographers expanded the medium’s creative parameters, while Japanese industry developed some of the best camera equipment and film in the world.

Adapted from an extensive 2017 Yokohama Museum of Art exhibition, this presentation of more than 200 works invites visitors to learn more about a most expressive and innovative photographic culture.

Organized by the Yokohama Museum of Art in collaboration with the National Gallery of Canada.


Friday, October 11, 2019 Sunday, March 22, 2020


National Gallery of Canada Canadian Photography Institute Galleries
380 Sussex Drive
Ottawa, ON K1N 9N4

Yokohama was the first international port in the Tokyo area and many of these photographers with progressive spirit were going and coming from abroad through here. In this exhibition, you can see the enthusiasm and challenge of them catching glimpses of the cityscapes and people throughout 20th-Century Japan.

– Eriko Kimura, Curator, Yokohama Museum of Art


What I find compelling is the extensive range of styles and approaches to photography in this one exhibition; there’s modernist collage, documentary photojournalism, and radical practices, where it becomes even more political from the social and aesthetic points of view. But you’re no more likely to find a typical Japanese photo than you are to find a typically Canadian one!

– Ann Thomas, Interim Chief Curator, National Gallery of Canada


Shōwa Era,

Following the Great Kanto Earthquake that struck the Japanese main island in 1923, the Shōwa era, corresponding to the reign of Emperor Hirohito, began in 1926, during an economic depression in Japan that predates the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Art of the early Shōwa years was generally engaged with international artistic movements, but turned inward by the 1940s, with the rise of military control. The postwar years saw displays of ambivalence towards the American-led Allied occupation, under which censorship prevailed. Although the occupation ceased with the 1952 San Francisco Peace Treaty, it wasn’t until the 1960s that photographs of the devastation in Hiroshima and Nagasaki were made public.

Continuing for 62 years, until the death of Emperor Hirohito in 1989, Shōwa is remembered in Japan as a tumultuous time, when tradition and modernity converged and Japan emerged a prosperous, industrialized country, despite economic difficulties in the 1990s.

School Programs and Adult Tours

Make a reservation for an hour-long, guided tour of Hanran for high school students or adults, from October 21, 2019 to March 22, 2020. Learn more about programs and activities taking place in conjunction with current exhibitions at the Gallery or at your school.

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Supported by

Scotiabank Photography Program


Soutenu par

Programme de photographie Banque Scotia