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Japanese art and architecture, works of art produced in Japan from the beginnings of human habitation there, sometime in the 10th millennium BC, to the present.

Historically, Japan has been subject to sudden invasions of new and alien ideas followed by long periods of minimal contact with the outside world. Over time the Japanese developed the ability to absorb, imitate, and finally assimilate those elements of foreign culture that complemented their aesthetic preferences. The earliest complex art in Japan was produced in the 7th and 8th centuries AD in connection with Buddhism. In the 9th century, as the Japanese began to turn away from China and develop indigenous forms of expression, the secular arts became increasingly important; until the late 15th century, both religious and secular arts flourished. After the Onin War[?] (1467-77) Japan entered a period of political, social, and economic disruption that lasted for nearly a century. In the state that emerged under the leadership of the Tokugawa clan[?], organized religion played a much less important role in people's lives, and the arts that survived were primarily secular.

Painting is the preferred artistic expression in Japan, practiced by amateur and professional alike. Until modern times, the Japanese wrote with a brush[?] rather than a pen, and their familiarity with brush techniques has made them particularly sensitive to painterly values. They found sculpture a much less sympathetic medium for artistic expression; most Japanese sculpture is associated with religion, and the medium's use declined with the lessening importance of traditional Buddhism. Japanese ceramics[?] are among the finest in the world and include the earliest known artifacts of their culture. In architecture, Japanese preferences for natural materials and an interaction of interior and exterior space are clearly expressed.

Japanese art is characterized by unique polarities. In the ceramics of the prehistoric periods, for example, exuberance was followed by disciplined and refined artistry[?]. Another instance is provided by two 16th-century structures that are poles apart: Katsura Palace[?] is an exercise in simplicity, with an emphasis on natural materials, rough and untrimmed, and an affinity for beauty achieved by accident; Toshogu Mausoleum[?] is a rigidly symmetrical structure replete with brightly colored relief carvings covering every visible surface. Japanese art, valued not only for its simplicity but also for its colorful exuberance, has considerably influenced 19th-century Western painting and 20th-century Western architecture[?].

Table of contents

Prehistory

Jomon and Yayoi Art

The first settlers of Japan, the Jomon people (circa 11,000-circa 300 BC), named for the cord markings that decorated the surfaces of their clay vessels, were nomadic hunter-gatherers. They built simple houses of wood and thatch set into shallow earthen pits to provide warmth from the soil, and crafted pottery storage vessels and clay figurines called dogu[?]. The next wave of immigrants was the Yayoi people, named for the district in Tokyo where remnants of their settlements first were found. These people, arriving in Japan about 350 BC, brought their knowledge of wetland rice cultivation, the manufacture of copper weapons and bronze bells (dotaku[?]), and wheel-thrown, kiln-fired ceramics.

Kofun Art: Haniwa

The third stage in Japanese prehistory, the Kofun, or Tumulus[?], period (circa AD 250-552), represents a modification of Yayoi culture, attributable either to internal development or external force. In this period diverse groups of people formed political alliances and coalesced into a nation. Typical artifacts are bronze mirrors, symbols of political alliances, and clay sculptures called haniwa, erected outside tombs.

Asuka and Nara Art During the Asuka and Nara periods, so named because the seat of Japanese government was located in the Asuka Valley[?] from 552 to 710 and in the city of Nara until 784, the first significant invasion by Asian continental culture took place in Japan. The transmission of Buddhism provided the initial impetus for contacts between Korea, China, and Japan, and the Japanese recognized facets of Chinese culture that could profitably be incorporated into their own: a system for converting ideas and sounds into writing; historiography; complex theories of government, such as an effective bureaucracy; and, most important for the arts, advanced technology, new building techniques, more advanced methods of casting in bronze, and new techniques and mediums for painting.

Throughout the 7th and 8th centuries, however, the major focus in contacts between Japan and the Asian continent was the development of Buddhism. Not all scholars agree on the significant dates and the appropriate names to apply to various time periods between 552, the official date of the introduction of Buddhism into Japan, and 784, when the Japanese capital was transferred from Nara. The most common designations are the Suiko period[?], 552-645; the Hakuho period[?], 645-710; and the Tempyo period[?], 710-[784|84]].

The earliest Buddhist structures still extant in Japan, and the oldest wooden buildings in the Far East are found at the Horyu-ji[?] to the southwest of Nara. First built in the early 7th century as the private temple of Crown Prince Shotoku consists of 41 independent buildings; the most important ones, however, the main worship hall, or Kondo (Golden Hall), and Goju-no-to[?] (Five-story Pagoda[?]), stand in the center of an open area surrounded by a roofed cloister. The Kondo, in the style of Chinese worship[?] halls, is a two-story structure of post-and-beam construction, capped by an irimoya, or hipped-gabled roof of ceramic tiles.

Inside the Kondo, on a large rectangular platform, are some of the most important sculptures of the period. The central image is a Shaka Trinity[?] (623), the historical Buddha flanked by two bodhisattvas (Buddhist saints[?]), a sculpture cast in bronze by the sculptor Tori Busshi[?] (flourished early 7th century) in homage to the recently deceased Prince Shotoku. At the four corners of the platform are the Guardian Kings of the Four Directions[?], carved in wood about 650. Also housed at Horyu-ji[?] is the Tamamushi Shrine[?], a wooden replica of a Kondo, which is set on a high wooden base that is decorated with figural paintings executed in a medium of mineral pigments mixed with lacquer.

Temple building in the 8th century was focused around the Todai-ji[?] in Nara. Constructed as the headquarters for a network of temples in each of the provinces, the Todai-ji is the most ambitious religious complex erected in the early centuries of Buddhist worship in Japan. Appropriately, the 16.2-m (53-ft) Buddha (completed 752) enshrined in the main hall, or Daibutsuden[?], is a Rushana Buddha[?], the figure that represents the essence of Buddhahood, just as the Todai-ji represented the center for imperially sponsored Buddhism and its dissemination throughout Japan. Only a few fragments of the original statue survive, and the present hall and central Buddha are reconstructions from the Edo period.

Clustered around the Daibutsuden on a gently sloping hillside are a number of secondary halls: the Hokkedo[?] (Lotus Sutra Hall), with its principal image, the Fukukenjaku Kannon[?] (the most popular bodhisattva), crafted of dry lacquer (cloth dipped in lacquer and shaped over a wooden armature); the Kaidanin[?] (Ordination Hall) with its magnificent clay statues of the Four Guardian Kings[?]; and the storehouse, called the Shosoin[?]. This last structure is of great importance as an art-historical cache, because in it are stored the utensils that were used in the temple's dedication ceremony in 752, the eye-opening ritual for the Rushana image, as well as government documents and many secular objects owned by the imperial family.

Heian

In 794 the capital of Japan was officially transferred to Heiankyo[?] (present-day Kyoto), where it remained until 1868. The term Heian period refers to the years between 794 and 1185, the end of the Gempei civil war[?]. The period is further divided into the early Heian and the late Heian, or Fujiwara era[?], the pivotal date being 894, the year imperial embassies to China were officially discontinued. The next period is named after the Fujiwara family[?], then the most powerful in the country, who ruled as regents for the emperor, becoming, in fact, civil dictators.

Early Heian Art

In reaction to the growing wealth and power of organized Buddhism in Nara, the priest Kukai[?] (posthumous name Kobo Daishi[?], 774-835) journeyed to China to study Shingon[?], a more rigorous form of Buddhism, which he introduced into Japan in 806. At the core of Shingon worship are the mandala, diagrams of the spiritual universe; the Kongokai[?], a chart of the myriad worlds of Buddhism; and the Taizokai[?], a pictorial representation of the realms of the Buddhist universe.

The temples erected for this new sect were built in the mountains, far away from the court and the laity in the capital. The irregular topography of these sites forced Japanese architects to rethink the problems of temple construction, and in so doing to choose more indigenous elements of design. Cypress-bark roofs replaced those of ceramic tile, wood planks were used instead of earthen floors, and a separate worship area for the laity was added in front of the main sanctuary.

The temple that best reflects the spirit of early Heian Shingon temples is the Muro-ji[?] (early 9th century), set deep in a stand of cypress trees on a mountain southeast of Nara. The wooden image of Shaka, the "historic" Buddha (early 9th century), enshrined in a secondary building at the Muro-ji, is typical of the early Heian sculpture, with its ponderous body, covered by thick drapery folds carved in the hompa-shiki[?] (rolling-wave) style, and its austere, withdrawn facial expression.

Fujiwara Art

In the Fujiwara period[?], Pure Land Buddhism, which offered easy salvation through belief in Amida[?] (the Buddha of the Western Paradise), became popular. Concurrently, the Kyoto nobility developed a society devoted to elegant aesthetic pursuits. So secure and beautiful was their world that they could not conceive of Paradise as being much different. The Amida hall, blending the secular with the religious, houses one or more Buddha images within a structure resembling the mansions of the nobility.

The Ho-o-do (Phoenix Hall, completed 1053) of the Byodoin, a temple in Uji to the southeast of Kyoto, is the exemplar of Fujiwara Amida halls. It consists of a main rectangular structure flanked by two L-shaped wing corridors and a tail corridor, set at the edge of a large artificial pond. Inside, a single golden image of Amida (circa 1053) is installed on a high platform. The Amida sculpture was executed by Jocho[?], who used a new canon of proportions and a new technique (yosegi[?]), in which multiple pieces of wood are carved out like shells and joined from the inside. Applied to the walls of the hall are small relief carvings of celestials, the host believed to have accompanied Amida when he descended from the Western Paradise to gather the souls of believers at the moment of death and transport them in lotus blossoms to Paradise. Raigo[?] (Descent of the Amida Buddha) paintings on the wooden doors of the Ho-o-do are an early example of Yamato-e[?], Japanese-style painting, because they contain representations of the scenery around Kyoto.

In the last century of the Heian period, the horizontal, illustrated narrative handscroll, the emaki[?], came to the fore. Dating from about 1130, the illustrated Tale of Genji[?] represents one of the high points of Japanese painting. Written about the year 1000 by Murasaki Shikibu, a lady-in-waiting to the Empress Akiko[?], the novel deals with the life and loves of Prince Genji and the world of the Heian court after his death. The 12th-century artists of the emaki version devised A system of pictorial conventions that convey visually the emotional content of each scene. In the second half of the century, a different, more lively style of continuous narrative illustration became popular. The Ban Dainagon Ekotoba[?] (late 12th century, Sakai Tadahiro Collection), a scroll that deals with an intrigue at court, emphasizes figures in active motion depicted in rapidly executed brush strokes and thin but vibrant colors.

Kamakura Art In 1180 a civil war broke out between two military clans, the Taira and the Minamoto; five years later the Minamoto emerged victorious and established a de facto seat of government at the seaside village of Kamakura, where it remained until 1333. With the of power from the nobility to the warrior class, the arts had to satisfy a new audience: soldiers, men devoted to the skills of warfare; priests committed to making Buddhism available to illiterate commoners; and conservatives, the nobility and some members of the priesthood who regretted the declining power of the court. Thus, realism, a popularizing trend, and a classical revival characterize the art of the Kamakura period.

Sculpture

The Kei school[?] of sculptors, particularly Unkei[?], created a new, more realistic style of sculpture. The two Nio guardian images (1203) in the Great South Gate of the Todai-ji in Nara illustrate Unkei's dynamic suprarealistic style. The images, about 8 m (about 26 ft) tall, were carved of multiple blocks in a period of about three months, a feat indicative of a developed studio system of artisans working under the direction of a master sculptor. Unkei's polychromed wood sculptures (1208, Kofuku-ji[?] Temple, Nara) of two Indian sages, Muchaku[?] and Seshin[?], the legendary founders of the Hosso sect[?], are among the most accomplished realistic works of the period; as rendered by Unkei, they are remarkably individualized and believable images.

Calligraphy and Painting

The Kegon Engi Emaki[?], the illustrated history of the founding of the Kegon sect[?], is an excellent example of the popularizing trend in Kamakura painting. The Kegon sect, one of the most important in the Nara period, fell on hard times during the ascendancy of the Pure Land sects[?]. After the Gempei civil war[?] (1180-85), Priest Myo-e[?] of the Kozanji Temple[?] sought to revive the sect and also to provide a refuge for women widowed by the war. The wives of samurai, even noblewomen, were discouraged from learning more than a syllabary system[?] for transcribing sounds and ideas, and most were incapable of reading texts that employed Chinese ideographs. Thus, the Kegon Engi Emaki[?] combines passages of text, written with a maximum of easily readable syllables, and illustrations that have the dialogue between characters written next to the speakers, a technique comparable to contemporary comic strips. The plot of the emaki, the lives of the two Korean priests who founded the Kegon sect, is swiftly paced and filled with fantastic feats such as a journey to the palace of the Ocean King[?], and a poignant love story. A work in a more conservative vein is the illustrated version of Murasaki Shikibu's diary[?]. Emaki versions of her novel continued to be produced, but the nobility, attuned to the new interest in realism yet nostalgic for past days of wealth and power, revived and illustrated the diary in order to recapture the splendor of the author's times. One of the most beautiful passages illustrates the episode in which Murasaki Shikibu is playfully held prisoner in her room by two young courtiers, while, just outside, moonlight gleams on the mossy banks of a rivulet in the imperial garden.

Muromachi Art During the Muromachi period (1338-1573), also called the Ashikaga period, a profound change took place in Japanese culture. The Ashikaga military clan took control of the shogunate and moved its headquarters back to Kyoto, to the Muromachi district[?] of the city. With the return of government to the capital, the popularizing trends of the Kamakura period came to an end, and cultural expression took on a more aristocratic, elitist character. Zen Buddhism, the Ch'an sect[?] traditionally thought to have been founded in China in the 6th century AD, was introduced for a second time into Japan and took root.

Painting

Because of secular ventures and trading missions to China organized by Zen temples, many Chinese paintings and objects of art were imported into Japan and profoundly influenced Japanese artists working for Zen temples and the shogunate. Not only did these imports change the subject matter of painting, but they also modified the use of color; the bright colors of Yamato-e yielded to the monochromes[?] of painting in the Chinese manner.

Typical of early Muromachi painting is the depiction by the priest-painter Kao[?] (active early 15th century) of the legendary monk Kensu[?] (Hsien-tzu in Chinese) at the moment he achieved enlightenment. This type of painting was executed with quick brush strokes and a minimum of detail. Catching a Catfish with a Gourd (early 15th century, Taizo-in[?], Myoshin-ji[?], Kyoto), by the priest-painter Josetsu[?] (active c. 1400), marks a turning point in Muromachi painting. Executed originally for a low-standing screen, it has been remounted as a hanging scroll with inscriptions by contemporary figures above, one of which refers to the painting as being in the "new style." In the foreground a man is depicted on the bank of a stream holding a small gourd and looking at a large slithery catfish. Mist fills the middle ground, and the background mountains appear to be far in the distance. It is generally assumed that the "new style" of the painting, executed about 1413, refers to a more Chinese sense of deep space within the picture plane.

The foremost artists of the Muromachi period are the priest-painters Shubun[?] and Sesshu[?]. Shubun, a monk at the Kyoto temple of Shokoku-ji[?], has created in the painting Reading in a Bamboo Grove (1446, Tokyo National Museum[?]) a realistic landscape with deep recession into space. Sesshu, unlike most artists of the period, was able to journey to China and study Chinese painting at its source. The Long Handscroll[?] (Mori Collection, Yamaguchi) is one of Sesshu's most accomplished works, depicting a continuing landscape through the four seasons.

Architecture

Another major development of the period was the tea ceremony and the house in which it was held. The purpose of the ceremony is to spend time with friends who enjoy the arts, to cleanse the mind of the concerns of daily life, and to receive a bowl of tea served in a gracious and tasteful manner. The rustic style of the rural cottage was adopted for the tea house[?], emphasizing such natural materials as bark-covered logs and woven straw.

Momoyama Art

In the Momoyama period[?] (1573-1603), a succession of military leaders, such as Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu, attempted to bring peace and political stability to Japan after an era of almost 100 years of warfare. Oda, a minor chieftain, acquired power sufficient to take de facto control of the government in 1568 and, five years later, to oust the last Ashikaga shogun. Hideyoshi took command after Oda's assassination, but his plans to establish a hereditary shogunate were foiled by Ieyasu, who established the Tokugawa shogunate in 1603.

Architecture

Two new forms of architecture were developed in response to the militaristic climate of the times: the castle, a defensive structure built to house a feudal lord and his soldiers in times of trouble; and the shoin, a reception hall and private study area designed to reflect the relationships of lord and vassal within a feudal society. Himeji Castle[?] (built in its present form 1609), popularly known as White Heron Castle, with its gracefully curving roofs and its complex of three subsidiary towers around the main tenshu (or keep), is one of the most beautiful structures of the Momoyama period. The Ohiroma of Nijo Castle[?] (17th century) in Kyoto is one of the classic examples of the shoin, with its tokonoma (alcove), shoin window (overlooking a carefully landscaped garden), and clearly differentiated areas for the Tokugawa lords and their vassals.

Painting

The most important school of painting in the Momoyama period was that of the Kano, and the greatest innovation of the period was the formula, developed by Kano Eitoku for the creation of monumental landscapes on the sliding doors enclosing a room. The decoration of the main room facing the garden of the Juko-in[?], a subtemple of Daitoku-ji[?] (a Zen temple in Kyoto), is perhaps the best extant example of Eitoku's work. A massive plum tree and twin pines are depicted on pairs of sliding screens in diagonally opposite corners, their trunks repeating the verticals of the corner posts and their branches extending to left and right, unifying the adjoining panels. Eitoku's screen, Chinese Lions, also in Kyoto, reveals the bold, brightly colored style of painting preferred by the samurai.

Hasegawa Tohaku, a contemporary of Eitoku[?], developed a somewhat different and more decorative style for large-scale screen paintings. In his Maple Screen[?], now in the temple of Chishaku-in[?], Kyoto, he placed the trunk of the tree in the center and extended the limbs nearly to the edge of the composition, creating a flatter, less architectonic work than Eitoku, but a visually gorgeous painting. His sixfold screen, Pine Wood[?] (Tokyo National Museum), is a masterly rendering in monochrome ink[?] of a grove of trees enveloped in mist.

Art of the Edo period

The Tokugawa shogunate of the Edo period gained undisputed control of the government in 1603 with a commitment to bring peace and economic and political stability to the country; in large measure it was successful. The shogunate survived until 1867, when it was forced to capitulate because of its failure to deal with pressure from Western nations to open the country to foreign trade. One of the dominant themes in the Edo period was the repressive policies of the shogunate and the attempts of artists to escape these strictures. The foremost of these was the closing of the country to foreigners and the accoutrements of their cultures, and the imposition of strict codes of behavior affecting every aspect of life, the clothes one wore, the person one married, and the activities one could or should not pursue.

In the early years of the Edo period, however, the full impact of Tokugawa policies had not yet been felt, and some of Japan's finest expressions in architecture and painting were produced: Katsura Palace in Kyoto and the paintings of Sotatsu[?], pioneer of the Rimpa[?] school.

Architecture

Katsura[?], built in imitation of Prince Genji[?]'s palace, contains a cluster of shoin buildings that combine elements of classic Japanese architecture with innovative restatements. The whole complex is surrounded by a beautiful garden with paths for walking.

Painting

Sotatsu[?] evolved a superb decorative style by re-creating themes from classical literature, using brilliantly colored figures and motifs from the natural world set against gold-leaf backgrounds. One of his finest works is the pair of screens The Waves at Matsushima in the Freer Gallery[?] in Washington, D.C. A century later, Korin reworked Sotatsu's style and created visually gorgeous works uniquely his own. Perhaps his finest are the screen paintings of red and white plum blossoms.

Woodblock Prints

The school of art best known in the West is that of the Ukiyo-e paintings and woodblock prints of the demimonde, the world of the kabuki theater and the brothel district. Ukiyo-e prints began to be produced in the late 17th century, but in 1764 Harunobu produced the first polychrome print. Print designers of the next generation, including Torii Kiyonaga[?] and Utamaro, created elegant and sometimes insightful depictions of courtesans.

In the 19th century the dominant figure was Hiroshige, a creator of romantic and somewhat sentimental landscape prints. The odd angles and shapes through which Hiroshige often viewed landscape, and the work of Kiyonaga[?] and Utamaro, with its emphasis on flat planes and strong linear outlines, had a profound impact on such Western artists as Edgar Degas and Vincent van Gogh.

Another school of painting contemporary with Ukiyo-e was Bunjinga[?], a style based on paintings executed by Chinese scholar-painters. Just as Ukiyo-e artists chose to depict figures from life outside the strictures of the Tokugawa shogunate, Bunjin artists turned to Chinese culture. The exemplars of this style are Ike Taiga, Yosa Buson[?], Tanomura Chikuden[?], and Yamamoto Baiitsu[?].

Art Since 1867

In the years after 1867, when Emperor Meiji ascended the throne, Japan was once again invaded by new and alien forms of culture.

Painting

The first response of the Japanese was open-hearted acceptance, and in 1876 the Technological Art School[?] was opened, employing Italian instructors to teach Western methods. The second response was a pendulum swing in the opposite direction spearheaded by Okakura Kakuzo[?] and the American Ernest Fenollosa[?], who encouraged Japanese artists to retain traditional themes and techniques while creating works more in keeping with contemporary taste. Out of these two poles of artistic theory developed Yoga (Western-style painting) and Nihonga[?] (Japanese painting), categories that remain valid to the present day.

Architecture

The need to rebuild Japan after World War II proved a great stimulus to Japanese architects, and contemporary Japanese buildings rank with the finest in the world in terms of technology and formal conception. The best-known Japanese architect is Kenzo Tange, whose National Gymnasiums[?] (1964) for the Tokyo Olympics[?] emphasizing the contrast and blending of pillars and walls, and with sweeping roofs reminiscent of the tomo-e[?] (an ancient whorl-shaped heraldic symbol) are dramatic statements of form and movement.


This article was originally based on material from WebMuseum Paris - Famous Artworks exhibition [1] (http://www.ibiblio.org/wm/paint/).



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