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Japanese art and Keisai Eisen: Reality and unreality and the View of Shogetsu Pond

Japanese art and Keisai Eisen: Reality and unreality and the View of Shogetsu Pond

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

If one views the stunning image of the View of Shogetsu Pond by Keisai Eisen, then only images of tranquility, order and a nation at peace comes to mind. It appears that nature, order and a majestic rural life fits smoothly together. Therefore, one can easily depict an image of idealism whereby nature and humanity blend together.

Likewise, if we take this image by itself and try to analyze the artist from such a scenic piece of art, then it would appear that the artist was at peace with himself. After all, buildings are in the background and the natural towering strength of the mountains in the distance seems to imply order and control. Also, the individuals in this piece of art seem in a natural order and the same applies to the pond, trees and every single aspect of the View of Shogetsu Pond.

However, looks can easily be deceiving because the artist Keisai Eisen faced many demons related to drink and owning a brothel. This reality seems a million miles away from the delightful scenery of the View of Shogetsu Pond.

Yet, Keisai Eisen was also known for wit and one never really knows how deep his drinking was. Likewise, was the brothel the “real deal” or something that the artist played up in order to generate rumors and whispers? In this sense, just like the image of the View of Shogetsu Pond, it is clear that many things are a mirage in life but often people change mirages and believe that they are true.

Or, it could just be that Keisai Eisen was disillusioned with the trappings of life. Therefore, this piece of art represents a distant desire within his soul. Yet, of course this is nothing more than pure speculation. In saying that, it is speculation which the artist would appreciate because he was blessed with so many talents related to art and writing.

Keisai Eisen once stated that he was “…a hard-drinking, rather dissolute artist.” This statement is clearly a mirage to reality. After all, Keisai Eisen was blessed with so many skills in the field of art and writing. He clearly knew that many individuals thought highly about his skills and this statement suits the wit of this amazing artist.

Turning back to the brothel comment then it is factual that this type of business did exist in Nezu, Tokyo. Yet, the reasons related to the usage and the role of Keisai Eisen remains debatable. Many individuals have stated various statements about the reality of this brothel. However, these comments are often conflicting. Therefore, speculation remains the order of the day with regards to the true nature of his role in this brothel.

It also could be that the View of Shogetsu Pond by Keisai Eisen lacked any real meaning to the artist. Yet, if you view this one majestic piece of art by itself, then it is nice to dream and think deeply. In this sense, the image and nature of Keisai Eisen represent the mirages of life whereby individuals try to understand the bigger picture. However, in the distance of time, then does the bigger picture mean anything?

http://www.viewingjapaneseprints.net/texts/ukiyoetexts/ukiyoe_pages/eisen3.html 

http://www.artelino.com/articles/keisai-eisen.asp 

leejay@moderntokyotimes.com 

http://moderntokyotimes.com 

 

 
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Posted by on November 6, 2012 in Japan

 

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Japanese art and history: Kano Eitoku and cultural impact of Oda Nobunaga

Japanese art and history: Kano Eitoku and cultural impact of Oda Nobunaga

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

In modern Japan the importance of Oda Nobunaga (1534-1582) and his legacy remains extremely strong even today. After all, he laid the foundation stone for the future centralized Japan despite certain limitations during the Tokugawa period. However, often the more dynamic side of Oda Nobunaga is neglected and instead the focus is on his military prowess and cruelty. Therefore, the linkage of Kano Eitoku with Nobunaga is most illuminating.

Eitoku was one of the most prominent and highly respected artists of the sixteenth century in Japan. He was born in 1543 and died eight years after Nobunaga in 1590. Yet the linkage between the artistic mastery of Eitoku with Nobunaga provides a different angle and one which may have been hidden for political and religious reasons.

Nobunaga was an innovator but sadly his inquisitiveness and openness to international influence would be crushed by following leaders. In time the Tokugawa period (1603-1868) would condemn all converts to Christianity to death and isolate Japan from the world despite some “windows” staying open. The power of Buddhism would be utilized by the state and Confucian order would lead to greater stratification.

This was a far cry from Nobunaga who lifted major economic restrictions on the peasantry, had favorable relations with Christian preachers, modernized the military, and introduced other favorable reforms in the realm of economics. The political intrigues of Buddhist elites who desired to preserve their power concentration were alarmed by Nobunaga. This notably applies to his favorable policies towards the peasants and Christian missionaries. Indeed, Nobunaga is reported to have had little time for stratification and practices which held back progress. He remained to be an atheist but his brother converted to Christianity. Not surprisingly, this alarmed Buddhist elites which feared that their wealth may be challenged by peasant reforms and a competing religion.

If you click on http://www.buddhanet.net/nippon/nippon_partI.html this website the most notable feature is the anti-Christian and anti-Nobunaga bias. It is stated by Buddhanet and Japan Buddhist Foundation that“When Oda Nobunaga overthrew the military government of Ashikaga in 1573, he actively suppressed Buddhist institutions because he feared the increased power of the leading temples and monasteries which sided with his enemies. He favored the newly introduced foreign cult of Christianity for purely political reasons.”

Note that the usage of “foreign cult” could also be stated about Buddhism because this faith wasn’t born in Japan. Also, for the non-religious then all religions could be deemed to be “cults.” However, the most important point is that for hundreds of years you have had massive negative opinions about Nobunaga in certain quarters. Therefore, much of his openness and innovation was hidden by elites who feared the policies of Nobunaga. After all, his fresh thinking alarmed many traditional elites whose only desire was to maintain their power concentration.

In the field of the arts the role of Nobunaga was very important and it is in this area where the connection with Eitoku materializes. This applies to Eitoku being a patron of Nobunaga and other powerful leaders. Even before Nobunaga amassed power and wealth he was always interested in the arts.

Therefore, during the period of Nobunaga a cultural renaissance was also beginning to take shape. This applies to major gardens of stunning beauty being built along with castles which were blessed with rich architectural designs. Indeed, the Azuchi Castle which is located on the shores of the famous Lake Biwa is deemed to be one of the most beautiful castles ever built. Inside, this castle it was adorned with stunning ceiling paintings by Eitoku and other major areas of art related to high quality statues.

Nobunaga also used his innovation in relationship with the Japanese tea ceremony.  Also, the usage of the Japanese tea ceremony during talks about business, trade, and politics were firmly established under Nobunaga and reached a new dimension within the body politic of Japan. Therefore, Sen no Rikyu who was a famous tea master under his rule had an important cultural part to play in developing greater refinement. At the same time Nobunaga was also intrigued by aspects of European culture therefore he collected Western art and studied other areas.

The first Christian church to be built in Kyoto in 1576 was because of Nobunaga’s patronage. While the first steps of modern kabuki began to materialize under his leadership and during the Tokugawa period this important cultural symbol would flourish. Alongside all these innovations Nobunaga had hoped to install a rational political system which moved away from superstition and stratification. This can be seen by his openness to outside ideas and economic policies which enabled trade to flourish, for peasants to have greater freedom and the same applies to artisans. However, his period in power could not fully implement all the reforms that he had desired. Therefore, in time you had a counter-revolution in the realm of ideas which persecuted Christianity, isolated Japan, infringed on the rights of peasants, and whereby traditional power mechanisms once more stifled many areas of life.

In an earlier article about Eitoku and Nobunaga by Modern Tokyo Times it was stated that “Eitoku was born in Kyoto and clearly he belonged to a prestigious family because he was the grandson of Kano Motonobu (1476-1559). Therefore, with the guidance of his grandfather and with being blessed with such talent, which had been recognized when Eitoku was a very young child, he soon came to prominence and patrons like Nobunaga loved the richness of his style.”

“The influence of Chinese painting styles was clear and this was only natural for the day and clearly Motonobu was very proud of his grandson. Eitoku maintained the pre-eminence of the Kano school which was founded by Kano Masanobu (1434-1530?).

Eitoku is a reminder that despite all the carnage during the period of Nobunaga, the cultural realm remained strong and art was highly valued. Therefore, despite the passages of time Eitoku stills remains potent in modern day Japan because he produced many stunning art pieces.”

Eitoku like Nobunaga left a lasting legacy despite the reasons being very different. However, without the patronage of Nobunaga then the amazing skills of Eitoku would have been hindered on a national scale. The relationship between both individuals highlights the sophistication of Nobunaga and the mastery of Eitoku and his stunning pieces of art.

Nobunaga was much more than just a warlord because he helped many aspects of Japanese society to flourish. In the field of culture and art his legacy is extremely rich. Therefore, the artwork of Eitoku provides a glimpse into the world of Nobunaga and his unbelievable free spirit.

 

http://www.kyohaku.go.jp/eng/tokubetsu/071016/tokubetsu.html  Kyoto National Museum

http://www.all-art.org/asia/japanese_prints/japan_art2.html 

leejay@moderntokyotimes.com 

http://moderntokyotimes.com 

 
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Posted by on June 24, 2012 in Japan

 

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Japanese art and Yuzo Saeki: the “outsider” who died in a distant land in an insane asylum

Japanese art and Yuzo Saeki: the “outsider” who died in a distant land in an insane asylum

Lee Jay Walker 

Modern Tokyo Times

The artist Yuzo Saeki gave much to the Japanese art world despite dying at the age of 30. Yuzo Saeki was born in 1898 and passed away in 1928. However, despite his time on this earth being brief he did much and left an intriguing legacy which also applies to areas outside of art. This applies to the way he was “thrown to the wolves” while feeling entrapped by health problems, cultural factors, and being abandoned by a culture which did not love him back.

In many ways, Yuzo Saeki represents the “outsider” which resides in all nations throughout the world, and within nations where the marginalized are unloved. Also, he highlights the complexity of culture and how individuals may adore aspects of a new culture – but this “new culture” isn’t able to respond in kind. Therefore, the society that abandoned him was the French culture that he admired and desired to belong. However, he always remained to be the “outsider” in a country which inspired him and pulled away at his tormented soul.

Yuzo Saeki provides a genuine glimpse into the “real separation” of “a love affair” which refused to acknowledge his deep love of Paris and France. This applies to many art pieces whereby the distance from his vantage point is noticeable by the confused lettering of certain places he depicted. Also, the manic and confused lines within some of his art may denote all the inner-confusions and utter desperation that he felt at times. Despite this, and being in extremely poor health, he could not pull himself away from a culture which inspired him to create stunning pieces of art.

Yuzo Saeki was born in the vibrant city of Osaka and from a very early age he fell in love with art. The Buddhist faith ran through his veins when a child because his father was a Buddhist priest. On top of this was the changing nature of Japanese society which also swept away many traditions and depleted many rich trades. In this sense, modernization in both France and Japan was ripping many lives apart. Yet, on the other hand both societies were providing new opportunities.

The Meiji and Taisho periods in Japan were full of mass contradictions because on the one hand a new modern dynamic was part and parcel of the “new” Japan. Opposite to this, was a new nationalist period whereby Japan would join “the Western club” and “Islamic club” of colonialism. Amidst all these contradictions was a very talented artist called Yuzo Saeki who meant no negative things towards anyone. Instead, he just wanted to focus on the vocation that he adored. Sadly, life is never that simple for some individuals and ultimately his vocation also created great suffering for Yuzo Saeki.

Western art in Japan was provided with a small “window” in Nagasaki by the Dutch during the Edo period. However, in the period of Yuzo Saeki no other city was more vibrant than Paris when it came to new art movements. The old world of influence from China and Korea was on the wane for many artists and the same applies to the rich traditions of Japanese art. Therefore, the pull of Western art was extremely strong for Yuzo Saeki and in time Paris and France would become “a love affair” with “a poison chalice.”

It must be stated that many other Japanese artists didn’t suffer the same fate in France. Given this, it is clear that the deep passion within Yuzo Saeki was extremely unique but what tipped everything in the wrong direction near the end, applies to the tragic circumstances of his life. This notably applies to poor health; poverty; alienation in a country he adored; mental exhaustion because he could feel “the gates of death beckoning;” isolation; and trapped by his own “love affair” with a culture which was alien to him despite being familiar with France.

In an earlier article I state that all “…these negatives conspired together because at the age of 30 Yuzo Saeki died in destitution in a mental hospital in France. The culmination of tuberculosis, a nervous breakdown brought on by overwork, limited means to survive, still painting outside despite worsening health conditions and other factors; all led to a very sad ending of what should have been a bright future.”

It is easy to imagine Yuzo Saeki eating inadequately based on poverty while at the same time coughing up blood because of tuberculosis. Near the end he manically painted new pieces of art because he felt “the gates of death.” Therefore, even when the weather was negative he continued to paint while bringing up blood would have interrupted him from time to time.

This meant that the reality of different thought-patterns, diverse movements within the respective art scenes of both France and Japan, and other complex factors, could easily “swallow up” individuals who were beset by various issues. Given this, when Yuzo Saeki needed guidance and support he had nobody to help him in a distant land. His “moment in time” was very different to the norms of the art scene in Paris and different cultural factors meant that he was isolated internally.

The final year alone in France was a far cry from 1924 when he moved to this nation with his wife and young daughter. Then he at least had the home comforts to placate the other “love affair” which didn’t love him back.

Michael Brenson commented in the New York Times that “When European art began to question its own traditions, however, as it did increasingly during and after World War I, there was a potential for trouble. Artists could find themselves with neither a European tradition to learn from nor a Japanese tradition to hold onto. When Saeki Yuzo, who is perceived in his country as a tragic hero, the Japanese van Gogh, died at the age of 30 in an insane asylum in Paris in 1928 – perhaps a suicide – he had been trying to paint in this void. Saeki continues to be an example to Japanese artists abroad of the difficulties in reconciling East and West…His paintings reflect his isolation. His cafe windows and stores are filled with signs, some illegible. In his “Snowy Landscape,” figures are on the verge of illegibility. His signs seem like scars of an internal pressure to resolve a conflict between the independence and picturesque subject matter of Paris and a dependence upon his native calligraphic and woodcut tradition.”

The comments made by Michael Brenson are extremely illuminating because it paints a picture of an artist who is trapped by the cultural realities of both nations. At the same time, he appears to notice his isolation and withdraws from a distance whereby the signs are often illegible. However, it is not only the signs which sometimes become illegible because also the human form enters a dark and sinister world where the scars of life are all too real.

Yuzo Saeki also highlights the “outsider” who never can belong despite his love of the host nation. This shared experience can be felt by individuals throughout the world who often feel the same pressure and isolation. Often, it may not always be the host nation because much can depend on cultural differences and certain “norms” which clash strongly in some cultures.

However, with the visible signs of tuberculosis, the mental strains of creating more art pieces because of the knowledge that death was getting nearer, and the grind of daily poverty pulling away at him; it is clear that nobody stepped in . Therefore, not one single individual in Paris cared enough to help Yuzo Saeki to the full. This culminated in the sad reality that his passionate “love affair” was one way because in his “time of need” he was abandoned to the ravages that befell him.

In the end Yuzo Saeki sacrificed his life and his family because he died based on the factors that entrapped him and took away his life. This applies to tuberculosis, poverty, and suffering from a mental breakdown. Michael Brenson also hints that he may have committed suicide in the end. However, the fact that this is debatable highlights the reality that Yuzo Saeki had been “thrown to the wolves.” Therefore, near the end he was just “another number” who was unloved and who died in an insane asylum in a distant land.

 

http://www.art.com/gallery/id–a228566/yuzo-saeki-posters.htm

http://www.nytimes.com/1987/12/25/arts/when-japan-s-art-opened-to-western-winds.html

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/text/fa20070301a1.html

leejay@moderntokyotimes.com

http://moderntokyotimes.com

 

 
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Posted by on May 27, 2012 in EUROPE, Japan

 

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Japanese art and Keisai Eisen: the early life of this acclaimed ukiyo-e artist

Japanese art and Keisai Eisen: the early life of this acclaimed ukiyo-e artist

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

Keisai Eisen (1790-1848) learnt to be independent from an early age and he chose a path which was fraught with economic danger. In a sense, Keisai Eisen represents aspects of “the real Edo period” for individuals who resided in big cities in this period of history. This applies to many deaths within his family, poverty, uncertainty, and amidst all this chaos you had natural raw energy which manifested itself through the arts.

It is difficult for people in the modern world to connect with the reality of the old world. After all, infant mortality in Tokyo, Paris, Manchester, and all important cities in this period of history, was deplorable. Therefore, with the average lifespan being much shorter and the central state providing little in the way of cushions to help, then individuals had no time to dwell.

Of course, in all societies you always had “a small minority” who could enjoy the material comforts of this world. However, for individuals like Keisai Eisen, then the real world was about death, hardship, and seeing the world for what it is. Yet this didn’t mean “weakness” or “pity,” on the contrary, for Keisai Eisen this led to him being independent because he refused economic help from family relatives when he was a young man.

Keisai Eisen was born in the district of Hoshigaoka in Tokyo and today this applies to the Nagatacho area which is part of the Chiyoda district. His father, Ikeda Masabe Shigeharu, was a very interesting character. He was a low ranking warrior who enjoyed the finer parts of culture. This applies to enjoying poetry, tea ceremonies, reading, poetry, and writing. Therefore, this must have rubbed off on Keisai Eisen and indeed it was through his father’s friend that he apprenticed under Namiki Gohei.

Namiki Gohei was a kabuki/kyogen writer and when Keisai Eisen was a young adult he had hoped to become a professional kyogen writer. Kyogen applies to a form of traditional theatre in Japan. However, once more death within his family would impact on his dream and after this he focused on becoming independent and turned to the world of ukiyo-e and other means to survive.

Turning the clock back to when Keisai Eisen was a child then at the age of six he was adopted by his stepmother following the death of his mother. Therefore, when he was thinking of becoming a kyogen writer events turned against him because of death once more. This applies to the death of his father and stepmother in the same year when he had turned twenty years of age.

Given the circumstances of his reality and with having three sisters, then Keisai Eisen abandoned his dream of becoming a kyogen writer. Also, he bravely refused financial support from relatives who had wanted to help him. This indicates strongly that he was tenacious, independent, extremely determined, and pragmatic. After all, he had been dealt a difficult “deck of cards” but despite this he refused “any aces” which may help him in order that he could support himself.

Keisai Eisen distinguished himself in the field of ukiyo-e but his literature is also highly regarded. Indeed, some individuals believe that he was a ghostwriter for Tamenaga Shunsui and Yoshimi. These two writers of ninjou-bon (stories focused on ordinary people) were popular during their time but this theory is still openly debated. However, it highlights the quality of his writing to be linked with these two individuals irrespective of 100 per cent certainty.

Irrespective of what happened in the later years of his life it is clear that events during his young adulthood impacted greatly on Keisai Eisen. Also, the choices he picked when he was twenty years old, despite enormous adversity, were very admirable.

His artistic legacy is abundantly clear because he created many stunning pieces of art.

http://www.toshidama-japanese-prints.com/item_171/Eisen-Young-Woman-Walking-Under-an-Umbrella.htm

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

http://toshidama.blogspot.com/

http://www.artelino.com/articles/keisai-eisen.asp

 
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Posted by on March 8, 2012 in Japan

 

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Japanese art: Yuzo Saeki and “At Eternity’s Gate” by Van Gogh

Japanese art: Yuzo Saeki and “At Eternity’s Gate” by Van Gogh

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

Shortly before Van Gogh died he painted “At Eternity’s Gate” in 1890 after doing the same image as a lithograph eight years before. The image is extremely powerful and the meaning can be transformed to mean many things. However, the initial impression during the first few moments of seeing this image conjures up thoughts related to despair, alienation, abandonment, and a person who is at the end of their rope.

This reality connects the tragic end of Yuzo Saeki but perhaps without an “Eternity’s Gate?” After all, Yuzo Saeki died in a strange land, isolated, confused, and with his mind wandering from the desire to paint more before “the gates of death” would take him from this world.

Yuzo Saeki, just like Van Gogh during his lifetime, experienced severe mental health problems during his final months on this earth. Therefore, this gifted artist from Japan died at the age of 30 because of multiple factors. This applies to having a nervous breakdown, tuberculosis which was eating away at his health, massive overwork, poverty, alienation from reality, and other factors which took away his life.

In this sense, “At Eternity’s Gate” by Van Gogh connects these two extremely gifted individuals because if you replace the image with a 30 year old man, in a room more sinister and frightening and coughing up blood; then an image into the last moments of Yuzo Saeki can be seen. However, even more disturbing is that Yuzo Saeki died in France where cultural differences in this period were enormous and when institutions were “more dark and foreboding.”

Therefore, Yuzo Saeki gradually slipped away from this world by being isolated, alienated, in destitution, and with little care from others in Paris if he died or lived. At home, he had a family which was deeply concerned but his reality in the last few months must have been like Dante’s hell.

Van Gogh died at the age of 37 in 1890 while Yuzo Saeki was born eight years later in 1898. If “a tortured soul of a genius” could migrate and transcend itself into an equally “troubled soul” in the final year of his life, then it certainly entered Yuzo Saeki. Of course, many individuals reject heaven and hell and the transmigration of the soul. However, the utter despair of Yuzo Saeki during his remaining period on this earth in 1928 does mirror aspects of the painting “At Eternity’s Gate” by Van Gogh. The same also applies to the troubled mind of Van Gogh when “the demons of life” entered his world.

Michael Brenson stated in the New York Times in an article called “When Japan’s Art Opened to Western Winds,” that “When European art began to question its own traditions, however, as it did increasingly during and after World War I, there was a potential for trouble. Artists could find themselves with neither a European tradition to learn from nor a Japanese tradition to hold onto. When Saeki Yuzo, who is perceived in his country as a tragic hero, the Japanese van Gogh, died at the age of 30 in an insane asylum in Paris in 1928 – perhaps a suicide – he had been trying to paint in this void. Saeki continues to be an example to Japanese artists abroad of the difficulties in reconciling East and West.”

Further down in the same article Michael Brenson comments that “His cafe windows and stores are filled with signs, some illegible. In his “Snowy Landscape,” figures are on the verge of illegibility. His signs seem like scars of an internal pressure to resolve a conflict between the independence and picturesque subject matter of Paris and a dependence upon his native calligraphic and woodcut tradition.”

Striking aspects of the comments by Michael Brenson applies to “died at the age of 30 in an insane asylum in Paris – perhaps a suicide,” “his café windows and stores are filled with signs, some illegible” and“His signs seem like scars of an internal pressure.”

Therefore, according to Michael Brenson not even the death of Yuzo Saeki is one hundred per cent known and this applies to what caused his death or if he killed himself. This fact brings back the image of “At Eternity’s Gate” by Van Gogh but with the backdrop being more sinister and perhaps with Yuzo Saeki being shriveled up in the corner of a cold and dark room. After all, it appears that nobody in Paris really cared about how he died in the final moments of his life – and this is indeed sad.

Also, the image of “At Eternity’s Gate” shows an individual in despair and Yuzo Saeki certainly felt the same pains and abandonment. Not only this, were the signs illegible in some of the art work by Yuzo Saeki because he felt alienated, rejected, and because he feared about upsetting local people?  Or was it a natural sign that he felt trapped between two worlds, a natural aspect of his art, the fact that he could feel “the gates of death,” or did it signify his growing inward feeling that he didn’t belong?

In an earlier article I wrote about Yuzo Saeki I comment that “…despite all the artistic, political and cultural convulsions which befell Yuzo Saeki, along with suffering from tuberculosis, he still produced some truly amazing art. Therefore, the real tragedy of the life of Yuzo Saeki is that he didn’t have enough time to escape the trappings of two cultures which were pulling away at his artistic soul.”

Van Gogh also had an intense struggle between religion and rejection in several areas of his life which led to emotional instability. Given this, Van Gogh and Yuzo Saeki share internal convulsions because of different factors and both fully understood poverty, feeling of alienation, rejection, and the darkness of asylum institutions.

Therefore, the image of “At Eternity’s Gate” by Van Gogh enables people to enter “a small glimpse” into the world of two extremely talented individuals.

 http://www.art.com/gallery/id–a228566/yuzo-saeki-posters.htm

http://www.nytimes.com/1987/12/25/arts/when-japan-s-art-opened-to-western-winds.html

http://moderntokyotimes.com/2012/01/24/japanese-art-and-yuzo-saeki-a-stunning-flower-which-died-too-young/ Yuzo Saeki

http://www.artelino.com/articles/van_gogh_japonisme.asp

leejay@moderntokyotimes.com

http://moderntokyotimes.com

 
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Posted by on February 18, 2012 in EUROPE, 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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Japanese art and Yuzo Saeki: a stunning flower which died too young

Japanese art and Yuzo Saeki: a stunning flower which died too young

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

Yuzo Saeki was born in 1898 and died in 1928 at the tender age of 30 but despite his short time on this earth he left a rich legacy. He was born in Osaka which is a vibrant city in Japan and from an early age he was besotted by art. His father was a Buddhist priest and with all the changes taking place in Japan during the Meiji and Taisho era then this was a great time to experiment with different art styles.

In the Edo period the rich traditions of art from China and Korea maintained its vitality despite major restrictions being imposed on the people of Japan during this period of history. However, influences from other nations did creep into Japan and this notably applies to art from Holland because of “a window” which was kept open in Nagasaki. Therefore, before the Meiji Restoration of 1868 many artists in Japan had been influenced by artists from Western nations and in time many European artists would become influenced by Japanese art.

Another great artist called Ito Shinsui (1898-1972) was also born in 1898 like Yuzo Saeki and both artists produced stunning art. Ironically, while poverty led to the start of a bright career for Ito Shinsui after his father became bankrupt, the other side of the coin would beset the final years of Yuzo Saeki.

Ito Shinsui had been forced to abandon school at an early age because of monetary problems but this led to his talent being unearthed after taking up an apprenticeship at a printshop. However, while poverty opened up a new world for Ito Shinsui the opposite would engulf Yuzo Saeki during a period of terrible health. Therefore, these negatives conspired together and at the age of 30 Yuzo Saeki died in destitution in a mental hospital in France. The culmination of tuberculosis, a nervous breakdown brought on by overwork, limited means to survive, still painting outside despite worsening health conditions and other factors; all led to a very sad ending of what should have been a bright future.

Yuzo Saeki died in terrible circumstances in 1928 and this was a far cry from 1917 when he moved to Tokyo and all seemed calm in his life. He had been influenced greatly in his early years by Kuroda Seiki and studied under Takeji Fujishima in the capital of Japan. Within a few years of living in Tokyo he would get married in 1921 to Yoneko Ikeda who also was a fellow artist. Therefore, this period of his life was on an upward curve and in 1924 he moved to France to further his career with his wife and young daughter.

However, while the move to France was an all too familiar path for many international artists in this period, it also could be a pitfall given the cultural differences and thought patterns of Japan and France.  Michael Brenson commented in the New York Times that “When European art began to question its own traditions, however, as it did increasingly during and after World War I, there was a potential for trouble. Artists could find themselves with neither a European tradition to learn from nor a Japanese tradition to hold onto. When Saeki Yuzo, who is perceived in his country as a tragic hero, the Japanese van Gogh, died at the age of 30 in an insane asylum in Paris in 1928 – perhaps a suicide – he had been trying to paint in this void. Saeki continues to be an example to Japanese artists abroad of the difficulties in reconciling East and West.”

Further down in the same article by Michael Brenson called “When Japan’s Art Opened to Western Winds,” he comments that “Saeki Yuzo went to Paris with his family in 1924. His paintings reflect his isolation. His cafe windows and stores are filled with signs, some illegible. In his ”Snowy Landscape,” figures are on the verge of illegibility. His signs seem like scars of an internal pressure to resolve a conflict between the independence and picturesque subject matter of Paris and a dependence upon his native calligraphic and woodcut tradition.”

These words by Michael Brenson highlight the major problems facing artists like Yuzo Saeki in this period of history. Also, given the climatic reality of worsening his tuberculosis, suffering from a mental breakdown and dying destitute in a mental hospital; then it would appear that his ultimate demise was part self-induced, part-tragedy, and fused with huge cultural differences and heavy demands which took its toll on both his body and mind.

Of course many bright moments must have happened in France because he couldn’t wait to return. However, ultimately many factors would conspire and his life would be cut short and people can only guess about what his real legacy would have been if the cards had fallen kindly.

Matthew Larking in The Japan Times comments in his final paragraph that “In France, Saeki was a progeny; in Japan, an innovator. Modernism was generally at the mercy of the culture looking at it. Saeki’s essential contribution, while very short-lived, was to usher in a period in Japanese Modernism that overthrew the pre-existing reliance on the Impressionist model and encouraged freer Fauvist Expressionism.”

However, despite all the artistic, political and cultural convulsions which befell Yuzo Saeki, along with suffering from tuberculosis, he still produced some truly amazing art. Therefore, the real tragedy of the life of Yuzo Saeki is that he didn’t have enough time to escape the trappings of two cultures which were pulling away at his artistic soul.

http://www.art.com/gallery/id–a228566/yuzo-saeki-posters.htm

http://www.nytimes.com/1987/12/25/arts/when-japan-s-art-opened-to-western-winds.html

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/text/fa20070301a1.html

leejay@moderntokyotimes.com

http://moderntokyotimes.com

 
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Posted by on January 25, 2012 in Japan

 

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