i think calligraphy, writing, is at the base of design. in the west the alphabet grew, over the centuries, more and more straight-lined; in the east, it grew less so. yes, japan changed the lines of the chinese arts, crafts, religion, etc. as much as did the french, for example, when the line crossed the continent. perhaps, the japanese loosened it even further, and the french found some middle-ground.
well, i'm getting way off the point here. i could talk about aryan nature religions entering into china, then proceeding into japan.... in any case, and however one explains it, that is the route it took.
when i was in tokyo, i went to the tokyo national museum (whose website features some incredible treasures), and i saw one imari ware plate, with lotus and herons, that looked to me like "the missing link." it really did look like it was halfway between the japanese ceramics i was seeing around me, and what i'd seen of art nouveau. (sorry i can't reproduce it--the photo in my book isn't good, and the museum website seems to be down).
i felt the same way when i was looking through a book from the library and saw this vase from the 1700s--an example of 'peking glass.' this was chinese! (it's currently at the victoria and albert museum.)
the extra- ordinary 'cameo glass' vase is about as 'art nouveau' as it gets, but doesn't it now begin to look less 'nouveau' when you see it in context? it's by eugene rousseau, and it's from about 1880.
during the meiji period (1868-1912), stencils like this were used in the making of kimono fabric in japan. An exhibit is running from oct. 19 to 20 jan. 2007 at the maison de la culture du japon in paris.
this charming print by hiroshi yoshida is from 1926
and this one, by shiro kasamatsu, is from 1957!
and this book is from some time in-between!
and the one at the top? china. qing dynasty -- that's sometime between 1736 and 1795.