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Japanese Buddhist Art at the National Museum of Korea in Seoul (Now until Feb 19, 2012)

Japanese Buddhist Art at the National Museum of Korea in Seoul (Now until Feb 19, 2012)

Michel Lebon and Lee Jay Walker  

Modern Tokyo Times

The(http://www.museum.go.kr/main/index/index002.jsp)National Museum of Korea (NMK) is currently holding a stunning exhibition of Japanese Buddhist art and the exhibition runs until February 19, 2012. According to information on the NMK website this museum was the ninth most visited museum in the world in 2010 and with stylish exhibitions like Japanese Buddhist art it is clear why. Therefore, Koreans, other nationalities in South Korea and tourists to this beautiful country have a great opportunity to view this exhibition and other exhibitions which highlight the richness of Korean culture.

Japanese Buddhist art and wisdom is famous in places like Kamakura, Kyoto, Nara, Koyasan, and throughout Japan and clearly Korea and China enabled Buddhism to reach the land of the rising sun. The exhibition held at the NMK focuses on art from the Lake Biwa area and the spiritual connection between Korea and Japan is also highlighted.

Ryu Seung-jin who is the curator of Asian Art at the NMK comments that“Many Koreans may not be so familiar with the Lake Biwa district….But the region carries a lot of significance in Korea-Japan history, as it was the area where Buddhism was introduced by Baekje migrants, and where the official travelling routes for goodwill missions from Joseon (1392-1910), whenever they made diplomatic visits to Japan, took place.”

Therefore, the exhibition isn’t just highlighting the natural beauty of Japanese Buddhist art and the richness of culture in the Lake Biwa area of Japan. More important, the exhibition is highlighting a common thread which runs throughout northeast Asia and this applies to Buddhism and past interaction between different ethnic groups.

In this period of history some of the finest scholars and religious teachers of the entire region would travel or interact through Buddhist thought patterns and cultural exchanges were normal. Therefore, when we look at petty issues re-surfacing time after time in modern northeast Asia it makes you wonder what happened to “modernity” and “progress.” Given this, the Japanese art exhibition in Seoul at the NMK is a welcome reminder about the shared humanity of history, ideas, culture, and so forth, of the entire region.

Of course, unique internal traits in each respective nation alongside strong regional traits which are not nation based remain strong. However, the role of Buddhism was meant to highlight the common humanity of all just like Christianity and other world faiths. Therefore, by viewing the exhibition it becomes apparent that Buddhism and Confucianism impacted deeply on the entire region and this also applies to architectural design in Japan in this period.

The exhibition is extremely rich in culture and this applies to showing 4 National Treasure items from Japan and highlighting a further 31 items of Important Cultural Property according to Japan which designated these titles. Also, other amazing art items belong to this stunning exhibition and clearly this will appeal to all individuals who love art, culture, history, and religion.

If you view the website of the NMK it states the following about the Lake Biwa region because it is stated that“Buddhism was brought from Baekje to this area earlier than elsewhere in Japan and flourished there. The temple where Tiantai Buddhism was founded and famous Buddhist retreats nestle in mountains and hills surrounding Lake Biwako, and these places abound in Buddhist sculptures and paintings.”

“This exhibition showcases Buddhist art items in the collection, or in the custody, of the Shiga Prefectural Lake Biwako Museum in Otsu, along with items in the collections of the Nara and Kyoto National Museums and those housed in temples in Shiga Prefecture.” 

If(http://www.museum.go.kr/main/index/index002.jsp)you visit this link then more in depth information will be supplied about this stunning art exhibition at the NMK which is located in Seoul. Therefore, please check this link and note other exhibitions and other details about this exquisite museum.

http://www.museum.go.kr/main/index/index002.jsp

leejay@moderntokyotimes.com

http://moderntokyotimes.com

The image was taken from the National Museum of Korea website which highlights this stunning exhibition. 

 
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Posted by on January 6, 2012 in ASIA, Japan

 

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Murasaki Shikibu and The Tale of Genji: a female writer who broke the chains

Murasaki Shikibu and The Tale of Genji: a female writer who broke the chains

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

Murasaki Shikibu (Lady Murasaki) is the most famous Japanese lady in history and many artists have depicted her because of her wisdom and knowledge. Not surprisingly, her prominence remains so strong because very few ladies in Japanese history have come to the fore because of conservative aspects of culture. Obviously, this conservatism doesn’t solely apply to Japan because in history it appears that female emancipation wasn’t on the radar in the majority of cultures. Therefore, ukiyo-e artists in Japan had little option but to focus on Murasaki Shikibu when it came to depicting a powerful lady in Japanese history.

It is known that she was born in 973 but her death is disputed because some people claim that she died in 1014 and others state 1025. However, given the discrepancy then obviously much is down to guess work and is open to many interpretations. The same applies to her final years on this earth because information is patchy but given this period of history then this isn’t so surprising.

What is known is that Murasaki Shikibu was blessed with many talents and she obtained great knowledge of Chinese classics. Yet, how she obtained this knowledge is also open to interpretation. This applies to historians claiming different things because some state that her father allowed her to study with her brother. However, others dispute this and claim that she was forbidden to study with her brother but because of her inquisitive nature and natural ability, she was able to learn by listening tentatively by the door.

Whatever the truth, it is clear that gender norms in this period meant that she faced an uphill struggle to overcome the obstacles in her way. Also, given the fact that somehow she overcame these obstacles then clearly her output would have been even greater if she had been given freedom to write.  Sadly, even in the modern period it is clear that females in many nations suffer because of gender discrimination throughout the world.

Therefore, it is abundantly clear that many female writers, artists, historians, politicians, and so forth, have suffered “a cultural female genocide” because of male dominance and elitism which deprived women of equality. This reality adds to the power of Murasaki Shikibu because so many others went silently to their grave despite having so much to give throughout the world.

Turning back to Murasaki Shikibu then even her real name is disputed because in a diary which was written in 1007 the name Fujiwara Takako was mentioned. This, according to some individuals, is the real name of Murasaki Shikibu but again nothing is conclusive. Therefore, the most famous lady in Japanese history is based on the legacy that she left and other areas will always remain in doubt unless a hidden manuscript is found – and this appears most unlikely.

What isn’t in doubt is that The Tale of Genji was written by a lady in this period and either her real name survives or a nom de plume was chosen because of cultural factors. However, because of no real clarity then it is best to stay loyal to the name Murasaki Shikibu.

The Tale of Genji is internationally famous and a rich treasure in Japan. Also, this classic highlights the importance of Chinese culture in this period of Japan and this theme remains constant before the events of the late nineteenth century. This classic was written in the Heian period and the richness of style left a lasting impression. Without a shred of doubt Murasaki Shikibu was an extremely gifted individual despite all the negative realities that she faced.

In an earlier article I stated that “Murasaki Shikibu was no normal lady because she desired to express many things and given her stature in society then clearly she had the opportunity to do so.  This lady of letters was a poet, novelist and being in the Imperial court she had certain obligations, therefore, she was a lady-in-waiting.” 

“Her novel called The Tale of Genji left a lasting legacy based on the quality of her writing and the passion that it oozes. Platitudes abound in Japan and throughout the international community and it is a major source of pride for women in Japan and for Japanese culture which is enriched by The Tale of Genji.”

“Ukiyo-e artists have depicted Murasaki Shikibu during the height of this art form in Japan and the art highlights a noble and refined lady.  The art work is based on wisdom, serenity, sophistication, and a lady who had a special aura. Therefore, ukiyo-e artists have transcended Murasaki Shikibu and entered her into a new dimensional world where certainty and an aura of inner-beauty and knowledge are rolled into this remarkable individual.”

The Tale of Genji itself leaves many questions regarding the role of women in Japan. This applies to why did this classic survive and remain unhindered? After all, if females were not allowed to write and study Chinese classics openly, then why wasn’t the book banned? Or does it signify the importance of her background and that she escaped censorship based on her status and knowing high officials? If so, then why didn’t other female writers in high positions leave a lasting legacy in Japan and the same applies to women who knew powerful individuals – therefore, why Murasaki Shikibu and not scores of other female writers?

Murasaki Shikibu entered the imperial court after her husband passed away and during this time she observed and learnt many things. The Tale of Genji became respected in a very short time and again this would indicate that you had few constraints against Japanese female writers. However, history would point in the other direction because you don’t find many famous female writers in Japan in this period.

The earliest manuscript was lost but scrolls in the 12th century were found and clearly The Tale of Genji enriches Japanese culture and highlights many aspects of high society in this period. Therefore, while many aspects of the life of Murasaki Shikibu remain unknown the same doesn’t apply to her legacy because this classic is deemed to be a national treasure.

The last years of her life are also shrouded in mystery because her work appears to cease but again the reasons remain in doubt. Could it be that she was censored after writing this classic?  Or did Murasaki Shikibu retire after achieving what she had always dreamt about?

Again, this is open to many interpretations and for this reason it is unsure about when she died. However, it would appear that her remaining years were relatively tranquil and irrespective of all the uncertainties about her life, it is abundantly clear that The Tale of Genji left a deep impression. Therefore, the legacy of Murasaki Shikibu is very powerful.

In another article I comment that “Murasaki Shikibu also wrote a volume of poetry called The Diary of Lady Murasaki and Japanese artists illuminated this lady of letters to wider society. The art work of ukiyo-e artists in the Edo period and throughout the Meiji period maintained the rich aura of Murasaki Shikibu and her novel The Tale of Genji is a classic within Japanese literature and international literature.”

However, given the lack of female writers, artists, and people in power in Japanese history, then how did Murasaki Shikibu break the chains? Also, if she was allowed to break the chains then why didn’t others follow?

IMAGE ONE: Tosa Mitsuoki

IMAGE TWO: Hiroshige (ukiyo-e)

IMAGE THREE: Kunisada (ukiyo-e)

IMAGE FOUR: Edo period illustration

IMAGE FIVE: Harunobu (ukiyo-e)

http://www.taleofgenji.org/   The Tale of Genji

http://webworld.unesco.org/genji/en/index.shtml  The Tale of Genji

http://www.womeninworldhistory.com/heroine9.html 

http://harvardmagazine.com/2002/05/murasaki-shikibu.html 

http://moderntokyotimes.com 

 
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Posted by on December 22, 2011 in Japan

 

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Murasaki Shikibu and ukiyo-e: the rich legacy of a female writer in history

Murasaki Shikibu and ukiyo-e: the rich legacy of a female writer in history

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

The most famous lady in Japanese history is Murasaki Shikibu (Lady Murasaki) and many ukiyo-e artists depicted this lady of knowledge and wisdom.  It is difficult to get the real truth about Murasaki Shikibu because of documentation.  Therefore, while it is stated that she was born in 973 the year of her death is disputed, some stating possibly 1014 and others 1025.

Also, how she obtained her knowledge of Chinese is debated because some claimed that she listened tentatively by the door and was not allowed to study with her brother. However, others claim that her father allowed her to study with her brother and learn some Chinese classics.

The same applies to her death and her real name because it is speculated that she was called Fujiwara Takako because this name is mentioned in a diary in 1007 but this is not conclusive.  Also, sometimes her death is reported to be in 1014 based on the silence of her pen but this again is too sketchy.  Therefore, others state 1025 and base this on her retiring from court and seeking seclusion in the later period of her life.

Yet clearly much is pure guess work because little is known about the real “Fujiwara Takako” and to be on more solid ground it is best to stick to Murasaki Shikibu.  However, what is clear is that this lady was extremely intelligent and she wrote the classic called The Tale of Genji during the Heian period.

Murasaki Shikibu was no normal lady because she desired to express many things and given her stature in society then clearly she had the opportunity to do so.  This lady of letters was a poet, novelist and being in the Imperial court she had certain obligations, therefore, she was a lady-in-waiting. 

Her novel called The Tale of Genji left a lasting legacy based on the quality of her writing and the passion that it oozes. Platitudes abound in Japan and throughout the international community and it is a major source of pride for women in Japan and for Japanese culture which is enriched by The Tale of Genji.

Ukiyo-e artists have depicted Murasaki Shikibu during the height of this art form in Japan and the art highlights a noble and refined lady.  The art work is based on wisdom, serenity, sophistication, and a lady who had a special aura. Therefore, ukiyo-e artists have transcended Murasaki Shikibu and entered her into a new dimensional world where certainty and an aura of inner-beauty and knowledge are rolled into this remarkable individual.

It is reported that Murasaki Shikibu was extremely bright when a child and her father lamented that “If only you were a boy, how happy I should be!” However, this comment did not prevent her father from understanding and nurturing her talent because he went against the grain and allowed his daughter to study Chinese classics. 

The death of her husband brought Murasaki Shikibu into the imperial court and while she was a lady-in-waiting she observed many things. The Tale of Genji became popular in a relatively short time and while the earliest manuscript was lost the manuscript scrolls were found in the 12th century.

Near the end of her life even less is known and it could be that she died in 1014 because her work does cease.  However, this is pure speculation and it could be that she just retired and spent her remaining years by reading, praying and escaping from this world and for this reason some state that she died in 1025.

Therefore, the jigsaw about the life of Murasaki Shikibu is very difficult to put together but the one legacy which is certain is The Tale of Genji.

Murasaki Shikibu also wrote a volume of poetry called The Diary of Lady Murasaki and Japanese artists illuminated this lady of letters to wider society. The art work of ukiyo-e artists in the Edo period and throughout the Meiji period maintained the rich aura of Murasaki Shikibu and her novel The Tale of Genji is a classic within Japanese literature and international literature.

 

 

IMAGE ONE: Yoshitoshi (ukiyo-e)

IMAGE TWO: Tosa Mitsuoki

IMAGE THREE: Hiroshige (ukiyo-e)

IMAGE FOUR: Kunisada (ukiyo-e)

IMAGE FIVE: Edo period illustration

IMAGE SIX: Harunobu (ukiyo-e)

http://www.taleofgenji.org/  The Tale of Genji

http://webworld.unesco.org/genji/en/index.shtml The Tale of Genji

http://www.womeninworldhistory.com/heroine9.html

http://harvardmagazine.com/2002/05/murasaki-shikibu.html

http://moderntokyotimes.com

 
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Posted by on September 29, 2011 in Japan

 

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Ogata Gekko and ukiyo-e: Japanese ladies and historical issues in his lifetime

Ogata Gekko and ukiyo-e: Japanese ladies and historical issues in his lifetime

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

Ogata Gekko was a very individualistic artist and he had a rich style which was based on his upbringing.  This applies to mainly being self-taught but this can be over-played because his free spirit was from within and times were changing very quickly during his lifetime.

This article is based on images of Japanese women during a rapidly changing Japan and in the images that I focus on he clearly shows the refinement of ladies. This applies to showing nice details related to color schemes, background and the fashion and style of the day.

Ogata Gekko witnessed the changing nature of Japan because he was born in 1859 and died in 1920.  Therefore, Ogata Gekko was a small child of the Edo period and then witnessed modernization during the Meiji period from 1868 to 1912 and finally the Taisho period began in the same year of 1912.

This must have impacted greatly on Ogata Gekko and other artists because outside influence and inward Japanese identity was changing and alongside this was new technology which was changing the art world in Japan. 

Elements of rigidity during the Edo period would soon wane in his childhood and a new creative world and frightening world for many would lead to many internal convulsions. These internal issues also led to conflicts throughout Northeast Asia and it must be remembered that geography is complex when describing this region.

After all, while Japan is deemed to be firmly in Asia it must be remembered that Japan’s closest neighbor is the Russian Federation. In many ways, Japan’s political elite and dress sense in the Meiji period and Taisho period resembled a Western imperial power. Therefore, the “sleeping Japan” of the Edo period was now an expanding power and China, which had been the backbone of Japanese cultural influence, was now seen negatively and open to exploitation.

This meant that China now viewed Japan to be hostile and was one of many imperial powers which had designs on China’s wealth. The others being European powers and America may not belong to the traditional imperial club but this nation also desired a foothold in China.

Artists were also caught between tradition and modernization alongside rapidly changing cultural influences from Europe.  The interaction was not one way because Japanese artists also influenced European artists but for artists like Ogata Gekko they were bound to be influenced by all this confusion.

Natsume Kinnosuke, who lived between 1867 and 1916, sums up the cultural reality of Japan during this period of Japanese history. This applies to the fact that this important Japanese novelist was a composer of haiku, Chinese-style poetry and a deep scholar of British literature.

Kobayashi Kiyochika who was born in 1847 was firmly within the traditional ukiyo-e orbit but this individual who died in 1915 changed alongside the changing nature of Japan.  He, like Ogata Gekko, understood the need to adapt while still preserving the best of Japanese traditions. 

Richard Lane stated in Images from the Floating World, The Japanese Print, on page 193, that Kobayashi Kiyochika was “…the last important ukiyo-e master and the first noteworthy print artist of modern Japan… [or, perhaps] an anachronistic survival from an earlier age, a minor hero whose best efforts to adapt ukiyo-e to the new world of Meiji Japan were not quite enough.”

Ogata Gekko was part of this changing world and he would express this reality through his art.  Therefore, Ogata Gekko provides a glimpse into aspects of cultural change in Japan.

In his images of Japanese women related to this article it is clear that you get a sense of ambition, identity and continuity alongside cultural changes.  The images show Japanese women looking elegant, refined and clearly the embroidery and color schemes show a stunning richness.

Of course these images will mean different things to each individual and my own interpretation is that it shows a confident Japan and women coming out from the shadows. 

The onrushing of change is clearly happening but at the same time the exquisite nature of the past is being preserved.  Ogata Gekko is expressing the richness of design, fashion in this period, embroidery, and females in his images show confidence and a zest for life, amidst natural simplicity which is continuing despite all the social upheavals.

In many ways life is a mirage because what is important now does not last and all energy and power becomes lost in time.  However, irrespective if these images show a mirage of women in Japan it is not a complete mirage because high society and social status is being expressed.

The real power in these images, I believe, applies to simplicity and how space, time, cultural richness and modern Japanese women were being portrayed. Indeed, the ideal image in a sense can still be seen in modern Japan when ladies dress in traditional styles. This can be seen clearly because a lot of thought, high quality materials, color schemes and other important areas are connecting with the images which Ogata Gekko is showing. 

The cultural context is very different alongside the huge time difference but while these images may not focus on the political and working reality of Japan in the Meiji and Taisho period.  They do show a culture which is confident, stylish but within the traditions of Japan.

If you think about Coming of Age Day for Japanese ladies in modern Japan then all the symbolic images of tradition can be seen by stunning clothes which show the richness of Japanese tradition.

Therefore, just like the images by Ogata Gekko, you can see an ideal beauty within the Japanese psyche and while this form of dress is preserved for special occasions in modern Japan, you can still feel the connection of the past and how tradition is important.

Ogata Gekko expresses this elegantly and with a passion.

http://www.ogatagekko.net/

http://www.ogatagekko.net/BMA.html – Stunning images from this website

http://www.ogatagekko.net/FFZ.html – Fantastic set of images which show the grace of Ogata Gekko

http://shogungallery.com/index.php?cPath=21_24_153  

http://woodblockprint.com.au/44.html  

http://moderntokyotimes.com (please visit)

 
 
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Posted by on August 3, 2011 in Japan

 

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