Special Exhibition “Aves Japonicae (6) – The Nominal and the Actual”


This exhibition reconstructs how Japanese artists gazed at birds, by showing drawings and the corresponding bird specimens side by side.
Kawabe Kakyo (1844-1928)’s Sketches of Birds series is a handbook for Japanese drawing called funpon, serving so to speak as a reference specimen drawn on paper. In Japan, those names were organized to a certain extent during the Edo period, but there wasn’t yet a unique name for each species, the classification allowing long lists of aliases and local names. In this exhibition, we selected sketches from Kawabe Kakyo’s Sketches of Birds for which the name differs from contemporary denomination, or for which the identification of the species is problematic, and confronted them with the associated actual bird specimen. Based on modern scientific knowledge, it is easy to state that these identifications are incorrect. But these cases remind us that in order to establish the correct identification, it was necessary to collect many specimens, describe and classify them, publish theses, unify the local names and attach precise drawings and photographs. With the help of actual specimens, the aim of this exhibition is to picture what people saw and thought when naming animals in the absence of scientific names.

[Organizer] The University Museum, the University of Tokyo (UMUT)

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