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Japanese Art and Ukiyo-e: Ghost of Koheiji by Konishi Hirosada and Evil Akuba

Japanese Art and Ukiyo-e: Ghost of Koheiji by Konishi Hirosada and Evil Akuba

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

The power of the Shinto faith runs deep throughout the fabric of Japanese religion, folklore, culture and other important aspects of society. Buddhism which emanated from outside of Japan would also greatly impact itself within the fabric of society. Modern Japan in major cities may look a million miles away from the richness of Japanese folklore but remnants remain. In the countryside the old world survives much more easily but throughout the veins of Japanese tradition major festivals keep aspects of old Japan alive within major cities even if diluted.

Of course, you will have many living religious places of worship throughout major cities in Japan but the mystery can be felt stronger in the “still night” of the countryside whereby local shrines have so much power. Not surprisingly, with the two dominant faiths having so much richness then ghosts, demons and the underworld played a powerful role in Japanese folklore.

This in turn expressed itself through Japanese art, plays and literature. In the world of ukiyo-e many amazing artists depicted ghosts, demons and the underworld. Also, the power of Japanese culture and the indigenous Shinto faith impacted greatly on Buddhism. This means that many fusions have crossed over between the faiths of Shinto and Buddhism. Indeed, the mystery of the Shinto faith is its openness, diversity, blending naturally within nature and the richness of local traditions which vary from place to place.

Konishi Hirosada (Gosotei Hirosada) produces a stunning image of the ghost of Koheiji (top image in the article) which seeks revenge towards his wife Otowa and her devious lover. Koheiji is brutally tortured and murdered by Otowa with the hands of her lover to blame within many realms. This applies to psychology and a very twisted crime of passion induced by strong emotions between both scheming individuals. The pain of the torture and betrayal was brutally shocking and clearly Koheiji couldn’t enter the next world because his spirit was restless for revenge.

The Toshidama Gallery comments about the print by Konishi Hirosada that “This is a very fine and rare print by the Osaka artists Konishi Hirosada. It depicts the ghost of Kohata Koheiji who, having been tortured and drowned by his unfaithful wife Otowa and her scheming lover, takes revenge upon them from beyond the grave. Koheiji is played by the kabuki actor Arashi Rikaku II. Revenge plays of this sort were hugely popular and often depicted evil women called akuba. This play, A Mysterious Tale of Revenge at Asaka Marsh, was so popular with audiences that a sequel was commissioned.”

Toshidama Gallery further comments that “A strange twist, given the subject of this role, is that the actor portrayed here, Arashi Rikaku II, was the adoptive father of Arashi Rikaku III, himself imprisoned for his part in the poisoning (of) his lover’s mistress. His lover, Yoarashi Okinu, was what audiences would refer to as an akuba. She administered the poison after becoming pregnant by Rikaku. She was eventually arrested in May 1871 and decapitated in 1872.”

Clearly Koheiji was unlucky to have married an akuba lady because these ladies would do anything for the people they love. Extortion and murder, and other acts of betrayal, were part and parcel of being an akubalady. However, the spirit of Koheiji was too strong because he desired vengeance from the underworld and refused to enter either heaven or hell until he fulfilled this.

The power of ghost stories in the Edo and Meiji periods of Japanese history were cherished because of the strong connection of faith and the power of the stories that were portrayed. At the same time amazing ukiyo-e artists could depict the vastness of this world.

 

http://www.toshidama-japanese-prints.com/item_352/Hirosada-Arashi-Rikaku-II-as-the-ghost-of-Koheiji.htm

http://www.toshidama-japanese-prints.com/item_261/Hirosada-The-Ghost-of-Togoros-Wife.htm

http://www.toshidama-japanese-prints.com/item_177/Hirosada-Kasa-Ippon-ashi-One-Legged-Umbrella-Demon.htm

http://www.toshidama-japanese-prints.com/

http://toshidama.wordpress.com/

leejay@moderntokyotimes.com

http://moderntokyotimes.com

 
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Posted by on September 5, 2012 in Japan

 

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Japanese art and culture: Yoshu Chikanobu provides a rich glimpse into Japan

Japanese art and culture: Yoshu Chikanobu provides a rich glimpse into Japan

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

Yoshu Chikanobu (Toyohara Chikanobu) lived between 1838 and 1912 and much of his art highlights the changing nature of Japan. The opening up of Japan after the Meiji Restoration provided many new dreams for Japanese citizens but it also was the start of the death knell for many artisans. This applies to the technological changes taking place and the changing values and thinking during this period of history.

Chikanobu, like other ukiyo-e artists in the Meiji era, understood the need to adapt because many new art forms were altering the artistic landscape in Japan. Western art especially impacted on the new generation of artists and political elites wanted to encourage modernism. Therefore, the new crème de la crème of young artists mainly adopted concepts outside of the powerful ukiyo-e art form which was so potent during the Edo period.

At the same time, technological advancements and photography were impacting greatly on ukiyo-e from a virtually negative point of view. The old ways which nurtured art in the Edo period, along with other forms of art, were being challenged by many new art movements. Also, photography would eat away at the need for ukiyo-e because it could not compete on a technological level playing field.

Chikanobu highlights an array of subjects in his art and this applies to the power of the past to the changing nature of Japanese society. He also depicted powerful historical figures in Japanese history to highlighting the nationalist side of the Meiji period which applies to war. Also, when you view Chikanobu’s art you can visually witness the imperial aspects of Western powers, which were being replicated in dress styles when it applied to elites.

Cultural wise, Chikanobu also painted many adorable themes. This applies to the Japanese tea ceremony, ikebana, kabuki, fashion in the changing Japan, and a plethora of other subjects. In this sense, Chikanobu opens up many aspects of Japan related to many themes. These themes also apply to the “old world” and “new world.”

The Toshidama Gallery (http://toshidama.wordpress.comcomments that “Chikanobu is one of the giants of the Meiji era of Japanese Woodblock prints. With Kunichika and Yoshitoshi, Chikanobu distinguished the turmoil of Japanese culture as it came to terms with the new age. Like them his life and career were inextricably linked to the upheavals in Japanese history and the near civil wars that characterized the time.”

Chikanobu and the series titled A Mirror of the Ages is also a classic because of the rich cultural themes related to women and fashion throughout the changing times. The Toshidama Gallery highlights this series strongly by stating that “This whole series is one of the outstanding achievements of late nineteenth century Japanese art. One of his best series, A Mirror of the Ages showed women by fashion and hair style throughout history. There is of course the longing for the past and yet these prints are unmistakably modern and of their time….The quality of printing is outstanding, especially in Chikanobu’s use of white for the rendering of the powdered faces. It is often forgotten by art historians that this was the period about all others when the technique of woodblock printing achieved its zenith whilst at the same time there were artists of stature to execute it.”

Other adorable print series include “Chiyoda no Ooku” (Court Ladies of the Chiyoda Palace) and “Shin Bijin” (True Beauties). Of course, Chikanobu produced many amazing pieces of art but both the above named series relate to genuine aspects of female beauty in Japan. This is highlighted by traditional clothes, for example the kimono, to the changing nature of the time which applies to Western dress styles.

In a past article about Chikanobu I comment that “Chikanobu not only witnessed the new revolutionary period and how elites looked to the West but by the late 1880s and early 1890s nostalgia also returned.  Obviously for the masses they were outside both themes and the only important thing was survival and adapting.”

The art of Chikanobu stands out dramatically and this not only applies to the exquisite skills that he was blessed with, but also to the themes that Chikanobu highlights. He certainly provides many glimpses into Japan which relate to the “old world,” cultural aspects of Japan, and the modernization of the Meiji period.

Overall, Chikanobu is one of the greats of the ukiyo-e art movement and given the plethora of fantastic ukiyo-e artists, this highlights his richness to the full. Therefore, if you adore Japanese art, culture, and history, then Chikanobu will appeal greatly because of the broad themes he depicted in his art.

 

http://www.toshidama-japanese-prints.com/item_216/Chikanobu-A-Mirror-of-the-Ages.htm

Please visit http://toshidama.wordpress.com for more articles and information.

Please visit http://toshidama-japanese-prints.com/ -   On our 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 19thcenturies) are beautiful, collectible and a sound financial investment

http://www.depauw.edu/news/index.asp?id=20942

http://moderntokyotimes.com

leejay@moderntokyotimes.com

 
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Posted by on June 2, 2012 in Japan

 

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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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