Kanban, a fusion of art and commerce, refers to the traditional signs Japanese merchants displayed street side to advertise their presence, denote the products and services to be found inside, and to give individual identity and expression to the shop itself.

Created from wood, bamboo, iron, paper, fabric, lacquer, and even stone, kanban form a rich, visual vocabulary of traditional advertising. Elongated panels of lacquered wood ornamented with elegantly inscribed calligraphy; whimsically carved three dimensional scenes of carp climbing waterfalls or munificent deities presiding over hoards of bounty; oversized, functional Buddhist prayer beads; stencil dyed segments of colored cloth fluttering in front of an open doorway, geta clogs; sword scabbards; iron furniture fittings; combs; parasols; writing brushes; images of seductive courtesans with painted faces and coiffed hair; and giant silk thread skeins are all signs and images that would have been a familiar sight on traditional Japanese commercial streets. This exhibition provides a rare opportunity to enter this world and to figuratively walk and shop the streets of traditional Japan.

KANBAN is accompanied by a beautiful and comprehensive 176-page hardbound publication by Guest Curator Alan Scott Pate, with 155 illustrations and over 50 kanban represented. The exhibition and catalogue offer new insights into Japan’s commercial and artistic roots, the evolution of trade, the links between commerce and entertainment, and the emergence of mass consumer culture.


On View: Apr 15, 2017 - Oct 08, 2017

Curator: Alan Scott Pate


Shitta Kanban for Greengrocer thumbnail

Shitta Kanban for Greengrocer

Late 19th century
wood, pigment, lacquer, metal fittings


Noren thumbnail


c. 1940
hemp, indigo

Shitta Kanban for Blade Shop thumbnail

Shitta Kanban for Blade Shop

Late 19th century
wood,  paper, pigment, metal fittings

Mokei Kanban for Thread Shop thumbnail

Mokei Kanban for Thread Shop

19th century
wood, pigment, metal fittings

Moji Kanban for Preserved Seaweed Paste thumbnail

Moji Kanban for Preserved Seaweed Paste

Early 20th century
wood, pigment, lacquer

Sage Kanban for Pharmacy Selling Kenpien thumbnail

Sage Kanban for Pharmacy Selling Kenpien

Early 20th century
wood, pigment, lacquer, glass, metal fittings

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