“Outer Garden of Meiji-jingu Shrine is situated on the site of the former Aoyama Parade Ground and has an area of about 120 acres. It was here that the funeral ceremony of the Emperor Meiji was held in 1912, the site being thus held sacred.
“The work of laying out the [Outer Garden] grounds and founding Meiji-jingu Shrine was begun in 1915, and took about ten years to finish, the cost amounting to ¥8.500,000, almost the whole of which was collected by public subscription.
“The grounds contain a stadium, one of the largest and finest arenas in the Orient, capable of seating more than 55,000 people, a baseball ground, holding more than 60,000, a swimming pool, with accommodations for 15,000, and a wrestling ring, seating about 20,000 people. There is also the Memorial Picture Gallery dedicated to the Emperor Meiji and his consort, in which pictures illustrative of their lives are exhibited.”
– Japan: The Official Guide, Japan Government Railways, 1941
The Meiji Memorial Picture Gallery was completed in 1925 on the grounds of the Meiji Shrine Outer Garden [Meiji Jingu Gaien], between Aoyama and Sendagaya. The gallery is a pictorial homage to Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken to commemorate and display for the public a historical record depicting the the politics, culture, and manners of the Meiji era (1868-1912) when Japan underwent its rapid modernization. The original gallery was destroyed by fire during World War II and was replaced in 1958 by an identical structure.
The series of 80 paintings – the first 40 works are painted in a Japanese-style while the latter 40 are Western-style works – move in chronological order beginning with the turbulent era of transition from the Tokugawa Shogunate [bakufu] regime to the restoration of Imperial rule, the adoption of Western-style systems (legislative, judicial, civic, and military) including the promulgation of the Meiji Constitution, Japan’s establishment as a Great Power in the early 20th century and, finally, the death of Emperor Meiji in 1912.
“The Picture Gallery was designed by the architect Kobayashi Masatsu, and consisted of a narrow hall divided into East and West Wings, divided by a domed central entrance. In the East Wing, 40 Nihon-ga (Japanese-style) paintings, the style of painting that Emperor Meiji preferred,, document key events in his life from his birth in 1852 through to 1878. Quite appropriately, painting no. 41, the first of the Western-style oil paintings (Yo-ga), shows the Emperor receiving General U.S. Grant, former US President, who visited Tokyo on 3 July 1879.
“Why were photographs not used instead? Paintings lent themselves to depicting scenes in large format, in colour, and gave artists considerable artistic license. As John McGee suggested, the Gallery and its contents ‘echo Meiji-period tensions between Japan and the West, between feudalist tradition and industrialised society, between nationhood and empire.'”
– Japan on Display: Photography and the Emperor, by Morris Low, 2006