Japonisme Revisited: Reckoning with the Embrace, Appropriation, and Survival of Japanese Culture in America, 1868-1945


ACLS Fellowship Program


Architecture and History


The craze for all things Japanese has been a robust field of scholarship in American art and architectural history. However, the dominant narrative, in which France, England and the US are seen as similarly situated with respect to their “embrace” of Japanese culture, misses the distinctiveness of the American case. The US’s embrace of Japanese style within elite and popular culture was complicated by deep hostility toward Japanese immigrants and the suppression of their traditional cultural practices. Understanding how Americans related to Japanese people, and Japanese things, is the basis for a new analysis of the racial politics of Japanism in this period. Moreover, this study examines how Japanese immigrants maintained and adapted traditional cultural practices as they negotiated this racially charged climate. This study draws on material culture (fashion, interior furnishings, building design, and landscapes) to reinterpret the aesthetic movement called Japonisme in light of widespread anti-Asian sentiment.