- Nara: Pagoda of Murooji Temple in
Early Summer, 8th cent., wood structure. Poster.
|A Japanese temple is always built
within an enclosure, which may include a whole series of temples.
The entrance is usually guarded by forbidding statues with
scowling faces, which are thought to ward off evil spirits. They
are customarily covered with paper on which worshippers have
written petitions. After chewing the petition it is thrown at the
figures. If they stick, it is thought that the prayer will be
answered. the temple will often have a pagoda 3-5 stories high,
usually with elaborate ornamentation. The pagoda acts as a central
structure in the temple precincts.
Winter, Edo Period, Isoda
Koryusai (active 1764-1780) Ukiyo-e School. Reproduction Print
|Koryusai was famous for his
"pillar-prints" particularly of women in gorgeous dress. He was a
master of Japanese color print. Towards the end of his life he
concentrated on book illustration and painting.
a movement of Japanese genre painting which emerged during
the 16th and 17th centuries to satisfy popular taste, in
particular for the plebian class who were despised by the
The word "ukiyo-e"
is usually translated as "pictures of the floating world".
In his popular Ukiyo Monogatari (Tales
of the Floating World) Asai Ryoi (1610-1690) describes
the floating world as "living only for the moment,
savoring the moon, the snow, the cherry blossoms, and the
maple leaves, singing songs, drinking sake, and diverting
oneself in floating, unconcerned with the prospect of
imminent poverty, buoyant and carefree like a gourd carried
along with the river current."
The term ukiyo quickly became
popular, acquiring connotations of fashionable, erotic,
hedonistic, risqué or chic and was applied to a broad range
of topics and objects including umbrellas, hats, hairstyles,
novels and pictures. In particular ukiyo refers to
the actors of the Kabuki stage. Images of beautiful women
represent a primary motif. Earlier wood block print
representations are of courtesans of the licensed brothel
areas of Edo (Tokyo), Kyoto and Osaka. Depicted in every
imaginable pose and setting, their images are not portraits
but glorifications of a feminine ideal. Japanese woodblock
prints clearly reflect the changing concepts of female
beauty and the vagaries of fashion through the Edo period.
The Hall of Asian Peoples,
late 18th -early 19th cent., Theatrical wood block print for Kabuki
Character. American Museum Poster.
|The first theatre entertainment in Japan
originated in the 13th century , called NOH, meaning "the art of
movement". Prose, poetry, music, singing and dancing were all part
of NOH. The plays were short and told stories of ghosts, favorite
legends or sometimes described an historical event. All of the
characters were played by men wearing masks. NOH was performed
only for the members of the royal court, the very rich and
Kabuki is a
traditional form of Japanese theater. It was founded early in the
17th century to cater to the middle classes, by a Shinto shrine
dancer (Okuni), who brought her unique and lively dance style to
the ancient capital of Kyoto. In 1629 women were officially banned
from the stage and Wakusha, or young men's Kabuki developed. It
took many years to train as a kabuki actor and many sons inherited
their fathers positions in the theatre. The plays were longer and
more elaborate than NOH. masks were replaced by elaborate makeup.
The costumes were rich and beautiful. During the next 300 years
this developed into a sophisticated, highly stylized form of
theater. Kabuki plays and dances portray grand historical events
or the everyday life of people of the Edo period (1600-1868).
The Great Wave of Kanagawa,
Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) 10" x 15" Color woodcut from the
series Thirty-six views of Mount Fuji. (1823-29)
Metropolitan Museum of Fine Art,
Oide Makoto (Toko) (1836-1905)
ink and color on Hanging silk scroll. Metropolitan Museum of Fine Art,
NY. Reproduction photograph.
| One of the most renowned masters
of the Japanese ukiyo-e color print was Katsushika Hokusai, a
prolific painter, print designer, and book illustrator. He was
comparatively slow to find his own style and did not produce his
greatest work until 1818-30.
|Woodcuts have been used
for a long time in Japanese art. For a woodcut, the artist first
paints a picture on paper. This picture becomes the cutter's
pattern for carving a wooden block. The block is covered in ink
and paper is then pressed onto it. The removed paper is the print.
Originally prints were in black and white, then they were colored
by hand with watercolor. When the color print was invented,
separate woodblock carvings had to be made for each color in the
|Through most of her history, Japan
has borrowed the inspiration of her art from China. Even the
themes were predominantly of Chinese origin, although occasionally
subjects were taken from Japanese history or mythology.
Japanese, like many Chinese, are often lovers of
nature but their artistic approach is often more sentimental.
Japanese painters paint on paper or silk more
often than western artists who favor canvas. Ink or watercolors
are favored mediums stemming from the development of their
painting from calligraphy (like the Chinese).
Mt. Fuji in Moonlight, early
19th cent., sprinkled design on lacquer. Detail from a Suzuribako
(inkstone case) Reproduction.
|The art of lacquering, like many
other Japanese arts was derived from China, but attained a
quality, both aesthetic and technical that exceeded that of any
other in the Far East. Lacquer is a natural varnish of exceptional
hardness derived from the lac tree. In 646 AD it was demanded as a
kind of tax.
Fine lacquerware takes a long
time to make. Many coats are applied to pieces that are usually
made of pine, but can be of cloth, clay or leather. Each coat of
lacquer is dried in moist air before the next is applied. The
design is inlaid in gold dust, mother-of-pearl, gold or silver.
Then more lacquer is applied, allowed to dry and then polished
until the inlay shows through.
An "inkstone" is made of pottery, stone or
earthenware with a flat area where an inkstick can be rubbed; this
slopes to a slight hollow where a little water; liquefies the ink,
freshening and diluting it in the course of writing or painting.
Inkstones used also to be made of iron, jade and quartz.
The grinding of the inkstone is in a very real
way, a meditative and preparatory process for the writing to come.
First the calligrapher pours a bit of water into the small hollow
in his inkstone and, sitting in an upright position, takes an
inkstick in his right hand and begins to move it slowly and
steadily in a circular motion across the stone. A good inkstick
makes no noise, although the term "grinding ink" seems to imply
otherwise. As the calligrapher concentrates on this motion, the
inkstick becomes an extension of the hand and his mind focuses.
Once the correct consistency is achieved, the calligrapher has
settled to a peaceful and undistracted state of mind allowing him
to focus his attentions to the poem or essay he intends to write.
This focused mental quality is thought to result in calligraphy of
Child's Kimono and Obi (Sash),
|The kimono is the national dress of
Japan. It is a long robe which opens in the front, has wide
sleeves, and is worn with a narrow sash (men and Children) or a
wide one (women). The kimono was originally introduced into Japan
from China as an undergarment. In the 10th century people began
wearing it as an outer garment, since it was so beautiful. During
the Edo period ladies' kimonos became highly decorative and during
this time, the sash (obi) was developed into the wide one still
The style and cut of a kimono
varies only in colors and cloth pattern. Bright colors and more
elaborate sleeve panels are favored by younger women. Men
generally wear dark blue, black or brown kimonos.
Kimonos were worn for everyday wear by the
Japanese until a strong wave of western influence swept into Japan
at the beginning of the last century. people quickly switched to
western attire and now wear kimonos primarily for weddings,
funerals, festivals and parties.
Daruma Dolls, Photograph
8a. Daruma Doll, papier-mâché,
On the Wing, Koson
(Ikeda Sanshin) , Japanese (1801-1866)),
, Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris
|The daruma doll is named after a Buddhist
priest from India who is said to have traveled to China in the 6th
century and founded the Zen Buddhist religion. he is shown as
having round wide-open eyes, and a black moustache, wearing a red
robe. The legend tells that he sat in the same position, day and
night, for nine years, meditating on his beliefs, and that because
he did not use his arms or legs they slowly withered away. The
ability to forget self is an important step in Buddhism.
The Japanese remember this legend with armless,
legless dolls, like a model, made of papier-mâché and painted red,
black and white. The dolls are weighted at the bottom so that no
matter how many times they are knocked over, they will return to
an upright position. This symbolizes resilience in the face of
misfortune. The doll is thought to bring good luck and success.
On New Year's Day in Japan (Feb 3rd. -
Toshitori), or on other special occasions, people buy a daruma
doll, make a wish, and paint a black dot in the center of one of
the blank eye spaces. The doll is then placed where it can be seen
every day, to remind the owner of the wish or goal. When his wish
comes true or he reaches his goal, he paints a black dot in the