Appreciation in Japanese culture of that particular form of attractiveness now known as kawaii (cute) can be traced back in literature to the 10th-century collection of musings known as “Makura no Soshi” (“The Pillow Book”), in which author Sei Shonagan fetes the “beauty” of small children and sparrow chicks. But what about visual art? The Yamatane Museum of Art attempts an answer in an exhibition that explores early expressions of cuteness in paintings, ceramics and other media.
One of the oldest exhibits is a 16th-century scroll in which monkeys are depicted imitating various human activities. It is thought the work was designed as a kind of explanatory illustration for children. Another highlight is 18th-century virtuoso Ito Jakuchu’s “Birds, Animals, and Flowering Plants in Imaginary Scene,” a fantastical menagerie depicted across 12 folding screens. Note, though, that it is only on display from Feb. 4; till March 2.
Yamatane Museum of Art; 3-12-36 Hiroo, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo; Ebisu Stn. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. ¥1,200. Closed Mon. 03-5777-8600; www.yamatane-museum.jp