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Life in Edo | Russel Wong in Kyoto

  • Art
  1. Nakau Collection
    Photograph: Nakau Collection
  2. Russel Wong
    Photograph: Russel Wong
  3. Utagawa Kuniyoshi
    Photograph: Nakau Collection
  4. Russel Wong
    Photograph: Russel Wong
  5. Asian Civilisations Museum
    Photography: Asian Civilisations Museum
  6. Nakau Collection
    Courtesy of Nakau Collection

Time Out says

Japanophile or not, Asian Civilisations Museum's exhibition will have your heart set on a trip to the Land of the Rising Sun. But first, explore Japanese art and culture of the past and present through woodblock prints and photography with the double-bill exhibition titled Life in Edo | Russel Wong in Kyoto. And it's just been refreshed with a new selection of woodblock prints from great masters including Katsushika Hokusai, Utagawa Hiroshige, Kitagawa Utamaro, Utagawa Kuniyoshi, and more, which show lifestyles and trends of the Edo period.

The exhibition is split into Edo (present-day Tokyo and the current capital) and Kyoto (the old capital) – the former presenting lifestyles and trends in Edo from 1603 to 1868, and the latter focusing on the beauty of nature and architecture of Kyoto today. The exhibition also captures the vanishing traditions of the geisha ('geiko' in Kyoto dialect) through the lens of local photographer Russel Wong.

Nakau Collection
Photo courtesy of Nakau Collection'Looks delicious: Appearance of a courtesan in the Kaei period' from the series 'Thirty-Two Aspects of Women' (1888)

Opened in April this year, the first round of the exhibition (Life in Edo) showcased an extensive collection of 157 fully coloured ukiyo-e prints, the most to be exhibited in a single exhibition in Singapore to date – with works from great masters including Katsushika, Hokusai, Utagawa Hiroshige, Kitagawa Utamaro, Utagawa Kuniyoshi and more. Ukiyo-e, which means "pictures of the floating world", expound on people's travels, ideas on beauty, food, entertainment, and even pets of the era.  

The collection, which has been rotated midway through the exhibition to help preserve these light-sensitive works. However, those who purchased a ticket to Life in Edo | Russel Wong in Kyoto during the first rotation will be able to return to view the second rotation for free.

In the new rotation, Hiroshige’s woodblock print of the Sanjō Bridge in Kyoto from his Fifty-Three Stations of the Tōkaidō Road series has replaced the previous print, where it's juxtaposed with Russel Wong’s photograph of that same bridge in its current form. 

The exhibition intersects in a contemplative space that contrasts ukiyo-e artist Utagawa Hiroshige’s woodblock print of a morning scene at Nihonbashi – the first stop in his well-loved series Fifty-Three Stations of the Tōkaidō – with Russel Wong's photograph of the Sanjō Bridge, which is the final stop in the series.

Russel Wong
Photograph: Russel WongThe Sanjo Bridge, as photographed by Russel Wong in 2020.

In a juxtaposition of past and present, we're then brought to the other side of the exhibition. Russel Wong in Kyoto premieres photographs from the celebrity photographer's 13-year-long, ongoing personal project to document the geiko of Kyoto, shedding light on some of the rarely seen and lesser-known traditions of this private community and their place in modern society. 

You'll find 40 black-and-white photographs that give a rare glimpse of the customs and traditions such as the Erikae ceremony, a two-week-long process where a maiko (geiko in training) prepares herself to become a geiko. Emulating the ukiyo-e prints on display, nearly all photographs have been printed in oban size, the most popular woodblock print format during the Edo period. 

"In an ever-revolving world we live in, I enjoyed photographing these timeless images that had stood the test of time," Russel Wong shares in a press statement. 

After exploring the exhibition, deepen your appreciation of Japanese culture and check out workshops, curator tours, educational videos on Japanese food and art, as well as interactive activities on woodblock printing and photography. And if you want a slice of Japan at home, you can purchase a copy of the exhibition catalogue. The book contains reproductions in full colour of all 147 woodblock prints and 10 scroll paintings displayed in the show, as well as the 40 photographs of historical sites and geisha life in Kyoto by Russel Wong. Set aside some time to indulge in three short essays and detailed descriptions of each Japanese print. 

Life in Edo x Russel Wong in Kyoto retails at S$75 (including GST) and is available for purchase at the museum shop or online at Read a Book

Dewi Nurjuwita
Written by
Dewi Nurjuwita


Event website:
$12-$20 (free for children ages 6 and below, students and seniors)
Opening hours:
Sat-Thu 10am-7pm, Fri 10am-9pm
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