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Japan was effectively closed to the West for many centuries. It chose to keep itself, its arts and culture isolated from contact with Europe. This changed in the 1850s, when Western merchants signed the first trade agreements with Japan. From then on Europeans became more aware of the country and its products.

As a result, Japanese wood-block prints, lacquerwork, textiles and pottery began to pour into Europe. They were eagerly copied by European artists and craftsmen. These European interpretations of Japanese art forms evolved into the style known variously as Japonisme or Japonaiserie. Typical designs include birds such as the crane, plants like bamboo and the chrysanthemum, figures wearing the traditional kimono garment and a restrained use of colour.