When Japan opened up to the Western world in the 19th century, popular artistic tastes were dominated by two great woodblock print artists, Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861) and Utagawa Kunisada (1786-1864). Contemporaries, keen rivals and both members of the Utagawa School, the pair had the inventiveness and flexibility to keep abreast of changing tastes as well as the whims of the censors.

The exhibition "Kuniyoshi and Kunisada" at The Bunkamura Museum of Art (it will later travel to Kobe and Nagoya) is the first to explicitly compare the two artists, who both feature prominently in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston from which the show is sourced.

The Bostonian connection mainly derives from Dr. William Bigelow, a wealthy physician who spent seven years in Japan in the 1880s. He seems to have spent most of his time collecting, as he returned to Boston with more than 9,000 works by Kunisada and over 3,000 by Kuniyoshi.