WASHINGTON -- It was the first war of a modernized Asian country against a Western power, and Japanese propaganda turned back to a classic medium to bolster morale at home -- the centuries-old tradition of multicolored woodcuts.
Wood block prints, as made by Hokusai and Hiroshige, had portrayed the geishas, prostitutes and playboys of Tokyo's ''floating world.'' Only now the artists portrayed battle scenes and heroes.
However they were limited in their methods for showing women, and old habits were strong. Women caring for wounded or mourning a casualty were sometimes shown making subtle, traditional -- and probably unintended -- erotic gestures, said James T. Ulak, who as curator of Japanese art at the Smithsonian Institution's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery has constructed an exhibit.
Opening today, it features the dramatic woodblock prints, some not seen publicly since the Russo-Japanese War nearly a century ago.
The war was short. Smaller but efficient Japanese forces soundly beat the ill-led army and navy of Czar Nicholas II.
Eighteen months after the fighting started, President Theodore Roosevelt made peace at Portsmouth, N.H. A dozen years later, the czar was overthrown.
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