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Sawako Takemura

PhD candidate

S. Takemura
+31 71 527 2171

Sawako Takemura doesn't have a desk at the university. Please send an email if you want to contact her. The above mentioned telephone number is the number of the secretariat.

More information about Sawako Takemura

Fields of interest

Representation of Women in Japanese Art, Ukiyo-e, Contemporary Japanese Art.


PhD research

Ideals of Femininity and Female Representation in Nineteenth-century Ukiyo-e

The goal of my research is to examine the emergence of new types of female representation in nineteenth-century ukiyo-e (woodblock prints from early modern Japan) as these images relate to the ideals of femininity of the time. My principal focus is on two ideals of femininity, the so-called “decadent woman” and subsequently, the “virtuous woman” as two subgenres particular to ukiyo-e. Until recently, nineteenth-century ukiyo-e largely produced by artists of the Utagawa school had been academically neglected despite great popularity at the time of publication. In general, these nineteenth century ukiyo-e were described as “decadent” by leading Japanese art historians due to the overtly conspicuous style with bold colors and dynamic composition. In the midst of an international trend toward nationalism in the early twentieth century, the canon of Japanese art history was established partly in order to display Japanese identity as a civilized modern nation with its own distinctive esthetic characteristics, thus clearly rivaling the modern Occidental nations. The value system adopted by key Japanese art historians and government officials was often that of an original ruling class—the aristocracy of the Heian period (794- 1192 A.D.). Hence, they might have underrated the importance of the art of the commoners that did not embrace the specific features recognized in the noble art of the Heian period. My research will be crucial in introducing a disregarded visual art that was widely disseminated and demanded by commoners. It will also consider who were the main audience of those female images, what they signified, and how they manipulate the perception and status of women and for what purpose.

This research hypothesizes that the increasing depictions of these new ideals of femininity in ukiyo-e point to a sort of socio-political transformation— the advent of new social power, namely, commoners (the lower ranked samurai and the middle to lower class townspeople). Comparing the female images from eighteenth century that often depict high-ranked courtesans, wealthy merchants’ daughters and famous teahouse waitresses and so on, the focus of female representation in the late Edo period shifted toward more lower-class prostitutes or entertainers, townswomen, and peasant girls. They generally appear gaudy, daring, and vulgar and were usually categorized as “decadent” by traditional ukiyo-e scholars as mentioned earlier. Soon thereafter, another type of female image — “virtuous women” —became popular. They are commonly illustrations of historical female figures, heroines, dutiful wives, and other virtuous women. This research will investigate how each different type of woman was portrayed and what that portrayal signified beside new ideals of femininity. One of my assumptions is that those new types of representation of women advocated by the commoners helped suppress the traditional value of the former power (high to middle ranked samurai and wealthy merchants) including the traditional ideals of femininity by presenting their own distinguishing taste through representation of women.

In addition, focusing on the social function of these bijin-ga (pictures of beautiful people), including proliferating ideals of femininity as well as ideas on status of women, would bring a new perspective to the examination of the ukiyo-e. In other words, contextualizing the images of those women in the socio-political environment of their time as well as placing them in the larger framework of women’s history overall will contribute to the field of gender studies by revealing the state and treatment of women of the time and how gender roles were set for different sexes and classes (and by whom) in the late Edo period.





Assistant Curator of Japanese Art, Asian Art Department, Honolulu Museum (Academy) of Artsm Honolulu, HI


Japanese Art Imaging Project Manager & Research Assistant,

Asian Art Department, Honolulu Museum (Academy) of Arts
Honolulu, HI

Managing digitization of the Japanese Art Collection and research as well as curating Japanese prints exhibitions.


Research Assistant to Assistant Professor Kuwahara Noriko (Shōtoku University, Chiba, Japan)

- Research on “International Expansion and Exchange of Postwar Japanese prints: Exhibitions, Collectors and Artists,” supported by the Ministry of Education, Science, Sports and Culture, Government of Japan.

2005- 2007

Research Assistant to Dr. Kuwahara Noriko (Shōtoku University, Chiba, Japan)

- Research on “Introduction and Evaluation of modern Japanese prints in the United States,” supported by the Ministry of Education, Science, Sports and Culture, Government of Japan.


The Robert F. Lange Asian Art Curatorial Intern, Honolulu Museum (Academy) of Arts, Honolulu, HI

- Helped organizing two Japanese art exhibitions:

- Taishō Chic, 2001

- Sacred Treasures of Mt. Kōya, 2002


Society of Asian Art of Hawaii Intern, Honolulu Museum (Academy) of Arts, Honolulu, HI

- Curated an exhibition entitled, New/Creative Prints: 20 th century Japanese prints.



Administrative Assistant, Japan Society Gallery, Japan Society, Inc., New York, NY

- Assistant to the gallery’s director. Assisted with administration of office and organization of exhibitions




Japanese (native), English



2002: M.A. in Art History (Focusing on Japanese Art), University of Hawai’i at Manoa
2003: Curatorial Program Certificate, Mount Kōya Reihōkan Museum, Japan.
1996: B.A. in Art History, State University of New York at Oswego



2009: Society of Asian Art in Hawai’i Scholarship, 2009

1997-1996: Recorded on the Dean’s list: State University of New York at Oswego,





AAS Panel presentation “Introduction of Richard Lane Collection at Honolulu Academy of Arts,” for a session#194, Printed Book as a Physical Object in Early Modern Japan, 1600-1900 for the Association of Asian Studies Annual Conference /International Convention of Asian Scholars, March 31 st, 2011 in Honolulu, HI


Exhibition talk for a special exhibition at the Honolulu Academy of Arts, Hokusai’s Summit on November 12 th, 2009.


Lecture on the Japanese Art and Online Collection of the Honolulu Academy of Arts at the Ritsumeikan University Art Research Center in Kyoto, Japan.


Lecture on a brief history of ukiyo-e at the East West Center in Honolulu in conjunction with their ukiyo-e exhibition, From Stage to Page: Kabuki through Woodblock prints on June 4 th, 2006.


Lecture on a brief history of ukiyo-e to the Society of James A. Michener at the Honolulu Academy of Arts on September 27 th, 2006.


Talk on the Japanese Art Collection of the Honolulu Academy of Arts at the Ochanomizu Women’s University, Tokyo, Japan.


Talk on the Japanese Art Collection of the Honolulu Academy of Arts at the Reihōkan Museum at Mt. Kōya, Japan.

Publications (titles in their original language, with English translations)

James A. Michener and Hokusai-Hokusai’s Works at the Honolulu Academy of Arts, Hokusai-The 250 th Anniversary of Hokusai’s Birth: Masterpieces from the Honolulu Academy of Arts, pp26-31, Osaka, Japan: Art System Inc., 2011, co-authored with Dr. Shawn Eichman (Asian Art Curator at the Honolulu Academy of Arts).

PhD candidate

  • Faculty of Humanities
  • Leiden Institute for Area Studies
  • SAS Japan
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