160 years ago, diplomatic relations between France and Japan were instated. This 160th anniversary coincides with the 150th of the start of the Meiji period, when Japan opened to the Western world. After signing a Treaty of Amity and Commerce in 1858 in Edo, the former Tokyo, diplomatic relations were established between both countries. Exchanges started in many fields, including the cultural area. The treaty is available online from Gallica(in French).
By opening to the West, Japan embarks on the path of major transformations, while the japonisme trend unfurls among Western arts communities. In Japan, the changes pervaded in many fields, political, military, economic, social, scientific, technical. On a cultural level too, the country adopted European, including French, trends. To this day, the Japanese are still very fond of French fashion or cuisine, for example.
In France, collectors and artists get interested in engravings and Japanese arts as early as the 19th century. The National Library (Bibliothèque nationale de France) engraving collection is a witness of this craze, acquiring a volume of Katsushika HOKUSAI’s Manga as soon as 1843. When Japan takes part in the World’s Fair for the first time in 1867 in Paris, the pavilion exhibits traditional architecture and thousands of artistic and traditional items, launching a general trend of interest for Japanese arts.
Their influence shows in many fields, from decorative arts to fashion, theatre, literature, cinema, and of course arts. Japanese engravings, Katsushika HOKUSAI’s, Utagawa HIROSHIGE’s, and Kitagawa UTAMARO’s above all, appeal to French artists, like Charles BAUDELAIRE, Auguste RODIN, Victor HUGO, and of course impressionists. This influence can be found into the works of Claude MONET, Edgar DEGAS, Édouard MANET, or Auguste RENOIR.
Since then, the interest of both countries for each other hasn’t faltered, it has even kept swelling. Japan Expo festivals are a vivid example of the French attachment to Japan and those events pay a tribute to Japanese culture year after year, bringing together thousands of fans of Japan and its culture.