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Japanese art and culture: Ukiyo-e and a spirit without boundaries

Japanese art and culture: Ukiyo-e and a spirit without boundaries

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

The amazing aspect of ukiyo-e is that nothing is hidden and you can witness stunning landscapes, the world of sinister ghosts, elegant fashion, beautiful ladies, murders, military ventures, holy religious leaders, strong images of sexuality whereby nothing is deemed beyond the pale, and then return to aspects of culture and amazing images of Mount Fuji. Therefore, the spirit of ukiyo-e is alive and kicking in new creative forms like manga and fresh authors who desire to open-up a new world.

Asai Ryoi commented in his novel called Tales of the Floating World (Ukiyo-monogatari) in 1661 that“Living only for the moment, savoring the moon, the snow, the cherry blossoms and the maple leaves, singing songs, loving sake, women and poetry, letting oneself drift, buoyant and carefree, like a gourd carried along with the river current.” This definition certainly seemed to apply to some ukiyo-e artists but like all art forms you have a hidden depth which is often neglected and the meaning of images isn’t always transcended from culture to culture. The same also applies to the written word and you also had a natural monetary survival mechanism within ukiyo-e therefore it was important to relate to the world that they came from.

The original meaning of ukiyo was based on pessimism which could be felt within aspects of Buddhism and stratification in old Japan. Karma may have many angles but for the masses it was often viewed alongside pessimism and related to past deeds. However, by the seventeenth century the word had been transformed and now became linked to stylish pleasure whereby the soul was freed from the burden of “a higher being.”

Dieter Wanczura comments that “The first ukiyo-e was produced in black and white in the seventeenth century. There was however a demand for color and the first colored prints were produced by adding coloring to the finished b/w print with a brush. But that was too expensive and time-consuming. Okomura Masanobu and Suzuki Harunobu are said to have been the first to introduce multi-color prints by using more than one block – one block for each different color.”

“Ukiyo-e during its time was not considered as fine art but rather as commercial art. These woodblock prints were largely commissioned by the Kabuki and Noh-Theaters and by actors as a form of advertising. It was not before the twentieth century that the Japanese began regarding Japanese woodblock prints as an art form worth collecting. The Europeans, mainly the Dutch and the French, discovered the Japanese prints and their artistic value at the end of the nineteenth century, when large numbers of ukiyo-e were imported to Europe.”

Many international artists fell in love with aspects of ukiyo-e and the partial list includes Paul Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh, Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Félix Bracquemond, Mary Cassatt, and many more. Of course, like all meetings of different thought patterns and styles the same applied the other way because Dutch artists and others impacted on some ukiyo-e artists. Therefore, while nations in this period had vague notions of “the other” in the field of art barriers were being broken and this especially applies to the late Edo period when new ideas were spreading to distant shores.

Ukiyo-e was constantly evolving and Meiji ukiyo-e is often overlooked but some of the greatest artists of this art form were based in this period of history. This notably applies to Chikanobu, Kunichika, Kyosai, Ogata Gekko, and Yoshitoshi. Of course, individuals like Kyosai and Chikanobu were born firmly within the Edo period but while Kyosai belonged to both worlds the life of Chikanobu is best summed up in the Meiji period.

The Japan Ukiyo-e Museum in Matsumoto, Nagano prefecture, is a great place to visit if you reside in Japan or if you are a tourist to this intriguing nation. On their website it is stated that “The average citizen’s mood of Edo period (1603-1867) was an extremely buoyant and joyful one –not the transitory, heavy atmosphere characteristic of the troubled middle age. The word “ukiyo-e” means “the picture of buoyant world” and incorporates in its meaning the common man’s daily pleasures, such as Kabuki plays, Geisha houses, and so on. The forerunner of Edo period prints was simple drawings that gradually developed into a wood-block, thus satisfying the growth of the demand.”

 

However, the Edo period is too distant to view with nostalgia because many evil deeds were happening throughout the world in this period. Therefore, beautiful gardens, stunning architecture and holy Christian churches, Buddhist temples, and Islamic mosques, don’t tell us anything because many a slave built the finest monuments that graced this earth.

Despite this, clearly changes were happening in Japan in the middle to late Edo period and ukiyo-e provides a greater depth to what was happening in Japan than most art forms in other nations in this period of history. However, I believe the maturity of Meiji ukiyo-e represents a clearer picture but given the closer timescale then this is only natural.

Even today the vast majority of individuals don’t fully understand the complexity of ukiyo-e and the areas which artists delved in. The image of Hokusai is mainly based on images from the Thirty-six Views of Mount Fujiand other stunning landscape images. Yet the other Hokusai is the creator of The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife whereby a young lady is enjoying being sexually touched by a fully grown octopus and a young octopus.

In another article I wrote I stated that Ukiyo-e expresses the richness of Japanese culture, nature, history, mythology, theatre, stunning landscapes, and highlights the importance of entertainment and other areas. Also, ukiyo-e shows vivid images of sexuality and some shunga is extremely explicit even by the standards of today in liberal nations.  This reality is what makes ukiyo-e so powerful because it relates to both reality and a world of mythology and ghosts.”

Turning back to Hokusai then in many ways this aspect of his art sums up the beauty of ukiyo-e because you have so many forces and factors behind the images. Therefore, this art form expresses an abundance of topics, issues, cultural aspects, the hidden world – and the mundane – and this is the heart of ukiyo-e and its power.

http://www.ukiyo-e.co.jp/jum-e/index.html

The Japan Ukiyo-e Museum: 2206-1, Shimadachi, Matsumoto, 390-0852, JAPAN.

Open: 10:00 a.m.—5:00 p.m.
Closed on Monday

http://welcome.city.matsumoto.nagano.jp/contents03+index.id+7.htm

Please visit http://toshidama.wordpress.com for more information about ukiyo-e

Please visit http://toshidama-japanese-prints.com/  –   On this site you will see a wonderful selection of Japanese woodblock prints for sale. Ukiyo-e (the Japanese name for woodblock prints of the 18th and 19th centuries) are beautiful, collectible and a sound financial investment.

http://welcome.city.matsumoto.nagano.jp/

leejay@moderntokyotimes.com

http://moderntokyotimes.com 

 
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Posted by on January 30, 2012 in Japan

 

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Japanese art and culture: Japan Ukiyo-e Museum in Matsumoto

Japanese art and culture: Japan Ukiyo-e Museum in Matsumoto

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

 

Japan is a nation which is very rich in art and culture and the uniqueness of the Shinto faith sums up this country in a certain way. After all, nearly all developed nations had their indigenous faiths swept away by Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam, depending on geographic location and respective missionary work. However, Japan managed to preserve a faith which blended naturally with the landscape and wasn’t interested in strict social dogma.

Of course Buddhism impacted on Japan in the past but even today the indigenous faith continues to beat. Therefore, not surprisingly ukiyo-e shows many sides to Japan and this rich form of art also wasn’t abstract but belonged to the people because it represented many things.

Ukiyo-e in all its manifestations highlights the richness of culture in Japan because it shows images of history, nature, culture, theatre, mythology, the spirit world, stunning landscapes, the beauty of women, and other important areas like entertainment. Not only this, the sexual nature is extremely potent even by the standards of liberal nations in the modern world. Also, true to ukiyo-e, then shunga can be purely sexual and explicit or sexuality can be fused within mythology.

Therefore, ukiyo-e relates to the real world, magnificent landscapes, a world of powerful mythology and the spirit world. This is the beauty of ukiyo-e because at times it can be so chaotic but at other times the scene is extremely tranquil and placid.

Not only this, this art form also highlights the complexity of each ukiyo-e artist and shows the huge array of themes open to individuals like Hokusai, Hiroshige, and countless others.

The international appeal of ukiyo-e within the art world can be seen by the fact that Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, Manet, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Degas, Renoir, Monet, Félix Bracquemond, Mary Cassatt, and others, were admirers of ukiyo-e. Therefore, the impact of ukiyo-e within the international art world grew once Japan began to open up just before the Meiji period in 1868 and after this important year in Japanese history. However, just like the chaotic theme within ukiyo-e, this recognition was at a time when this art form was facing new challenges from modernity, which would ultimately eclipse this art form. 

In Matsumoto you have the Japan Ukiyo-e Museum and on their website it states that “The average citizen’s mood of Edo period (1603-1867) was an extremely buoyant and joyful one –not the transitory, heavy atmosphere characteristic of the troubled middle age. The word “ukiyo-e” means “the picture of buoyant world” and incorporates in its meaning the common man’s daily pleasures, such as Kabuki plays, Geisha houses, and so on. The forerunner of Edo period prints was simple drawings that gradually developed into a wood-block, thus satisfying the growth of the demand.”

This comment is part true but also just like all cultures and nations you have many hidden realities which were not so tranquil. In an earlier article I commented that “Obviously the Edo period had darkness within the myths and this applies to the killing of all Christians (because of Buddhist elites and rulers) and brutal methods were used against criminals.  Also, stratification and other factors meant that the Edo period also had major negatives and art can often be used to over-simplify reality. This applies to art all over the world which may neglect serious issues and the marginalized or which may be constrained by cultural and political factors of the day.”

Yet, in general, ukiyo-e does give a major glimpse into the fascinating Edo period and the same applies to the revolutionary Meiji period. This also applies to natural things like fashion and how the creeping Western world was impacting on modern Japan.

More important, ukiyo-e wasn’t exclusive unlike aspects of Western art in the same period which had negative connotations to class, power, and other negative aspects. Therefore, ukiyo-e connected with people from all social backgrounds and this is the beauty of this art form and possibly this fact paved the way in the future for the richness of manga and Japanese anime.

If you love Japanese art then a visit to the Japan Ukiyo-e Museum in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, is a must. On their website it is stated that “Japan Ukiyo-e (Ukiyoe) Museum is a print maker’s dream, holding the largest private collection of ukiyo-e (woodblock prints), paintings screens and old books in the world. The Sakai family has collected more than 100,000 pieces over several generations. English information is limited, but there is a pamphlet you can get at the front and the staff members are very friendly.”

Also, irrespective if you are an internal or external tourist, this museum is located in a beautiful part of Japan. Therefore, you can mix your visit with a lovely holiday and this applies to the stunning mountain scenery of Nagano Prefecture. Also, the museum is located in Matsumoto and this city is a fantastic base because you have a stunning castle and the environment and ambience of this city is very appealing. 

The Japan Ukiyo-e Museum is a real gem and for lovers of art then it is a paradise. Therefore, a visit to this museum will certainly heighten your knowledge of Japanese art, culture and the richness of ukiyo-e.

http://www.ukiyo-e.co.jp/jum-e/index.html  

The Japan Ukiyo-e Museum: 2206-1, Shimadachi, Matsumoto, 390-0852, JAPAN.

Open: 10:00 a.m.—5:00 p.m.

Closed on Monday

 

http://welcome.city.matsumoto.nagano.jp/contents03+index.id+7.htm  

http://welcome.city.matsumoto.nagano.jp/  

http://moderntokyotimes.com  please visit

 
 
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Posted by on November 18, 2011 in Japan

 

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Japan Ukiyo-e Museum in Matsumoto: richness of art and culture

Japan Ukiyo-e Museum in Matsumoto: richness of art and culture

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

Hokusai

Ukiyo-e expresses the richness of Japanese culture, nature, history, mythology, theatre, stunning landscapes, and highlights the importance of entertainment and other areas. Also, ukiyo-e shows vivid images of sexuality and some shunga is extremely explicit even by the standards of today in liberal nations.  This reality is what makes ukiyo-e so powerful because it relates to both reality and a world of mythology and ghosts.

Hiroshige

Ukiyo-e therefore covers a very broad spectrum and many famous international artists like Vincent van Gogh, Manet, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Degas, Renoir, Paul Gaugin, Monet, Félix Bracquemond, Mary Cassatt, and others, were admirers of ukiyo-e.  

Chikanobu

 The Japan Ukiyo-e Museum website comments that “The average citizen’s mood of Edo period (1603-1867) was an extremely buoyant and joyful one –not the transitory, heavy atmosphere characteristic of the troubled middle age. The word “ukiyo-e” means “the picture of buoyant world” and incorporates in its meaning the common man’s daily pleasures, such as Kabuki plays, Geisha houses, and so on. The forerunner of Edo period prints was simple drawings that gradually developed into a wood-block, thus satisfying the growth of the demand.”

Kunichika

Obviously the Edo period had darkness within the myths and this applies to the killing of all Christians and brutal methods were used against criminals.  Also, stratification and other factors meant that the Edo period also had major negatives and art can often be used to over-simplify reality. This applies to art all over the world which may neglect serious issues and the marginalized or which may be constrained by cultural and political factors of the day.

Ogata Gekko

However, ukiyo-e does provide major glimpses into the Edo period and the changing Japan which began after the Meiji Restoration of 1868.  More important, ukiyo-e connected with people from all social backgrounds and elitist aspects of Western art appears to be unimportant.

Yoshitoshi

The Japanese Ukiyo-e Museum in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, is located in a stunning part of Japan and the mountain scenery of Nagano Prefecture is a wonder to behold. Therefore, if you love art and Japanese culture this museum is a must place to visit because the ukiyo-e collection is enormous and you will be spoilt for choice. 

Hiroshige

Irrespective if you are a citizen who resides in Japan or an international tourist who is visiting Japan; the Japan Ukiyo-e Museum is a genuine treasure. Matsumoto itself is a very nice city and Matsumoto Castle is very beautiful. The surrounding area is also blessed with amazing nature and beautiful mountain ranges and this will further add to your visit to the Japan Ukiyo-e Museum in Matsumoto.  

http://www.ukiyo-e.co.jp/jum-e/index.html

The Japan Ukiyo-e Museum: 2206-1, Shimadachi, Matsumoto, 390-0852, JAPAN.

Open: 10:00 a.m.—5:00 p.m.
Closed on Monday

http://welcome.city.matsumoto.nagano.jp/contents03+index.id+7.htm

http://welcome.city.matsumoto.nagano.jp/

http://moderntokyotimes.com please visit

 

 

 
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Posted by on August 14, 2011 in Japan

 

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