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What wasn’t to like about an artist who painted the scroll “Hard Times in Hell,” in which the king of Hell and his coterie of demons ascend to paradise in search of more suitable employment?

Laughter from official quarters was decidedly muted when the same acute satirical eye focused on contemporary society and its fondness for all things Western. Whether Kawanabe Kyosai (1831-1889) really did depict an act of sodomy between foreigners and Japanese at a shogakai (a drinking and painting party) in 1870 is unsubstantiated. The jail time Kyosai spent in the event’s aftermath, however, is historical record.

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