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Islands of the imagination: Hokusai's Eight views of Ryūkyū


The "Eight Views of Ryūkyū" (Ryūkyū Hakkei), designed by Katsushika Hokusai and published in 1832, are perhaps the only series of single-sheet ukiyo-e prints to depict landscape scenes in Ryūkyū (Okinawa). They both informed and were informed by popular (mis)conceptions about Ryūkyū among Japanese at the time, and thus provide a window into those (mis)conceptions. Works such as these, along with ones describing or depicting ceremonial processions performed by Ryukyuan embassies to Japan, played a key role in informing Japanese attitudes regarding Oknawa which carried on well into the 20th and even the 21st centuries. The Eight Views depict a Ryūkyū which is fantastical and both geographically and culturally distant, but at the same time in other respects both geographically and culturally (and therefore, perhaps politically?) nearby.

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