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Yoshitoshi Daruma

27 February, 2008 (05:00) | japan, modern, paintings | By: xensen

daruma by yoshitoshi

Moving on with our Daruma week, here is an image by the great 19th-century printmaker Yoshitoshi. Yoshitoshi produced this woodblock print in 1887.

Yoshitoshi is famous for his images of ghosts, gruesome images, and battle scenes. As a result, like his near contemporaries Baudelaire and Poe, he has been dismissed as an artist of the macabre. In fact, he was a great artist who witnessed and chronicled the painful transition of Japan from a feudal to a modern society.

His Daruma is a somewhat rough-looking, battle-scarred fellow; there is a degree of weariness in his meditative post under the full moon.

Daruma Sushi

26 February, 2008 (05:00) | contemporary, japan | By: xensen

daruma sushi

While we’re on the subject of Daruma, here’s a clever use of a Daruma image as a logo or brand mark. Ordinarily you would might not think kindly of using Daruma in a commercial context, but how can you not love this charming fellow?

The photo is from Orion’s photostream. This Daruma Sushi seems to be in Helsinki, but a web search suggests that it is an international chain, or at least that there are sushi places with this same name in New York, Rome, and many other places. Hope the food is good!

Seikou Hirata Daruma

25 February, 2008 (05:00) | contemporary, japan, paintings | By: xensen

daruma image by seikou hirata

This painting by Seikou Daruma, chief priest of Temryuji, is easily recognizable as a Daruma image. Japanese Daruma images typically use a minimum of brushwork and exaggerate what are thought of as Indian facial features. The quality of the figure’s expression is key. This one is a little unusual because most often Bodhidarma is depicted in profile or three-quarter view.

Photo by hira3, some rights reserved.

Smoke on the Water

5 February, 2008 (05:00) | contemporary, japan, literature/performance/film/music | By: xensen

On Thursday I showed a Japanese song performed on a Western instrument (the ukulele). Here now is Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water” performed on traditional Japanese instruments.

This has got to be seen to be believed.


via Book of Joe


Happy fun snow creatures

4 February, 2008 (05:00) | japan | By: xensen

That’s the title of a post at Pink Tentacle, which presents some fantastic creatures indeed. Such as the ones in this sample.

japanese snowmen

Sakura for Ukulele

31 January, 2008 (05:00) | japan, literature/performance/film/music | By: xensen

The ukulele began as a Portuguese instrument, which was taken up and modified in Hawaii. Now its popularity has spread worldwide. Outside Hawaii, nowhere is it more popular than in Japan. So I suppose it was inevitable that traditional Japanese songs would begin to be performed on ukes.

The Samurai are coming

24 January, 2008 (05:00) | japan, medieval | By: xensen

medieval samurair armor (yoroi) from the metropolitan museum, new york

2008-2009 is shaping up as the year of the Samurai in U.S. museums. The Met will show the first comprehensive exhibition devoted to the arts of the samurai from October 21, 2008, through January 11, 2009. The exhibition is being co-organized with the Agency for Cultural Affairs, Japan.

Then, in June, on the left coast, the Asian Art Museum will host its own Samurai show. This show will feature objects drawn from the collections of the Hosokawa family, including works from the Eisei-Bunko Museum in Tokyo, the Kumamoto Municipal Museum, and the Kumamoto Castle in Kyushu.

Companion books will accompany both shows. It will be interesting to see how the two exhibitions complement each other.


Shown: Armor (yoroi), early 14th century. Japan, Late Kamakura period. Lacquered iron and leather, silk, stenciled leather, gilt copper; H. (as mounted) 37 1/2 in. (95.25 cm) W. 22 in. (55.88 cm). Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Bashford Dean, 1914 (14.100.121b–e)



Tezuka Osamu self-portrait

10 January, 2008 (06:00) | 20th c, japan, literature/performance/film/music | By: xensen

Here’s a ten-second self-portrait by anime pioneer Tezuka Osamu.


The Shimmering of Heated Air

8 January, 2008 (05:00) | 20th c, japan | By: xensen

shimmering of heated air, japanese bamboo basket by shono shounsai

That’s the title of this famous bamboo flower basket by Shono Shounsai.

Flower Basket, Shimmering of Heated Air, approx. 1969, by Shono Shounsai (1904-1974, named Living National Treasure in 1967, Kyushu: active in Shiraki, Oita Prefecture). Bamboo (madake), rattan, and copper alloy. Thousand-line construction. H. 13 3/4 in x Diam. 14 in. Asian Art Museum, Lloyd Cotsen Japanese Bamboo Basket Collection, 2006.3.836 (B-1095). Photograph by Kaz Tsuruta.

From the catalogue Masters of Bamboo. This book is out of stock as I write but will be reprinted soon.

Tatsuzo Shimaoka, 1919-2007

3 January, 2008 (05:00) | ceramics/metal/stone, contemporary, japan, modern | By: xensen

tatsuzo shimaoka

Japanese ceramics artist Tatsuzo Shimaoka died a few weeks ago of a stroke. He was a proponent of utilitarian pieces, or mingei (a term derived from minshuteki kogei, “craft of the people”). He was designated a “living national treasure” by the Japanese government in 1996.

In an article in Clay Times (November 2001), Richard Busch reports Shimaoka’s recollections of his developing interest in mingei and the apprenticeship process.

One day, at the age of 19 and a freshman at the Tokyo Industrial College, he wandered into the Nihon Mingeikan (Japanese Folk Crafts Museum), which had been started by Soetsu Yanagi and several friends, including potters Kanjiro Kawai, and Shoji Hamada, and was struck by the simple, unpretentious pots and other historical items that had been made by anonymous craftspeople for everyday use. It was a turning point in his life.

“Yanagi called these items the people’s craft or Mingei,” explains Shimaoka, “and he believed that they represent what is truly beautiful — not the highly refined work made by top artisans only for the wealthy few. He claimed that good craft must be convenient and comfortable to use because they are necessary every day. Mingei works must be durable, made in quantity, and affordable. Materials used must be natural and indigenous. At the basis of the Mingei philosophy lies the supposition that the craftsperson lives a healthy life, has a healthy mind, and is always sincere in the pursuit of utility.”

The philosophy hit the young Shimaoka hard. “When I was lost at what to do in the future,” he recalls, “Yanagi’s theory was like fertile rain on barren soil. With my mind decided, I went to Mashiko to visit Hamada, an alumnus of my college, and he agreed to accept me as an apprentice after I graduated. He told me that the basis of ceramics is the wheel, and advised me to learn how to throw pots on the wheel while in school. I did as I was told.”

After graduating from college, and following a stint in the Army during World War II (during which he spent time as a prisoner of war), he apprenticed with Hamada for three years. “In retrospect, those years studying under a great teacher were the basis for my career as a potter,” he says. “He would tell us apprentices to leave aside all that we had studied — as he had done when he left school — and to start with a new slate. Handmade work, he explained, is not to be learned by intellect, but with the body. Technique is not to be taught, but to ambitiously acquire.

“This is the traditional way master artisans always treated their apprentices, and how apprentices gained good craftmanship. I now understand that that was the most effective method for acquiring potting techniques. Today I always have a few apprentices in my house, including students from abroad. I teach them just the way Hamada tought me.”

The image is the main page from one of the artist’s exhibitions at Galerie Besson in London’s West End.

  • Left: Pot, 2005, stoneware with rope-inlay pattern 22.7 cm (h) x 18 cm x 13.9 cm
  • Right: Pot, 2005, stoneware with rope-inlay pattern, 26.4 (h) x 23.3 x 22.5 cm


Patterned Feathers, Piercing Eyes

3 December, 2007 (05:00) | japan, modern, paintings | By: xensen

jakachu tiger

That’s the unfortunate and desperate-seeming title of an exhibition at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. From that title, would you guess that the exhibition was a collection of Japanese paintings from the Edo period (1615–1868)? But in fact the display features paintings from the Etsuko and Joe Price Collection, one of the leading collections of Edo paintings. The title apparently alludes to the representations of birds and animals that are a frequent theme in the paintings.

A good example of the latter is this image of a tiger by Ito Jakuchu (1716-1800). Jakuchu was the son of a greengrocer. After his father’s death he ran the business for some 15 years before turning it over to a brother. He took the name Jakachu after a phrase in the Daode jing meaning “like the void.” He became associated with a Kyoto Buddhist temple, and this painting, produced in the summer of 1755 when Jakachu abandoned the greengrocer business, has Buddhist overtones. According to the exhibition website

The choice of subject is deeply informative of the artist’s state of mind. Jakuch? was thoroughly imbued in the practice of Zen Buddhism, and his most important works were commissions for major temples. In Zen thinking, the tiger represents a natural power that can be controlled through enlightenment seeking discipline. In the act of grooming, the tiger suggests a self-intention to move beyond a conflicted mental state and toward a focus of energy.


29 November, 2007 (05:00) | contemporary, japan, paintings, sculpture | By: xensen

takashi murakami, And Then, and Then and Then and Then and Then

The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, (MOCA) is hosting a major exhibition of the work of Takashi Murakami through February 11 (the show opens October 29). Murakami is much influenced by anime and manga.

Murakami tends to work with flat planes of color. His often oversized work evokes otaku culture. He combines high and low art, slyly critiquing consumerist culture while being complicit in it. Like manga pioneer Tezuka Osamu, he has made his art a big business, mass producing items for sale in many types of venues. Sales of Louis Vuitton handbags are a prominent feature of the MOCA show.

The MOCA show website features 11 different videos, 8 of which make up an exhibition tour. Which is fine, but there is a dearth of text content to accompany the videos. This makes it difficult for the casual visitor to get a quick sense of the show. But maybe a video-only approach works in L.A.


Image: And Then, and Then and Then and Then and Then, 1996-97. Acrylic on canvas mounted on board (2 sections), 110 1/4 x 118 1/8 inches (overall). Image from the Marianne Boesky Gallery.

Philadelphia deer mandala

27 November, 2007 (05:00) | japan, modern, paintings | By: xensen

deer mandalaAmong the recent acquisitions of Japanese art currently on view at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (through fall 2008, in galleries 241, 242, and 243 on the second floor) is this lovely deer mandala. The deer was regarded as a sacred animal messenger of the Shinto deities. I suppose that the background depicts Mt. Mikasa, the sanctuary of Kasuga Shinto shrine; deer were visual embodiments of the shrine, and conical mountains were sometimes regarded as sanctuaries for deities.

Shintoism (literally, “the way of the gods”) is the indigenous religion of Japan. Its core premise is that deities inhabit all natural things. A scroll such as this would probably have been commissioned by priests for a temple, and used as an aid to meditation.

Deer Mandala, 17th century. Japan, Edo Period (1615-1868). Colors on silk; mounted as a hanging scroll, 35 7/8 x 15 3/8 inches (91.2 x 39 cm) Mount: 62 13/16 x 20 1/8 inches (159.5 x 51.1 cm). Purchased with the Hollis Fund for East Asian Art Acquisitions, the J. Stogdell Stokes Fund, and the George W.B. Taylor Fund, 2005-145-1.

Roger Shimomura’s internment camp memories

26 November, 2007 (05:00) | contemporary, japan, paintings | By: xensen

roger shimomura, justified internment

An exhibition of Roger Shimomura’s paintings that recall his experiences as a young boy in a Japanese internment camp, called Minidoka on My Mind, is at the Greg Kucera Gallery, 212 Third Ave. S., Seattle, through Dec. 22. Shimomura’s images are effective because he does not appear to editorialize but presents his recollections in an almost noncommital mode. He blends elements of ukiyo-e Japanese prints with an American pop art tradition (he is, of course, an American of Japanese descent). As Regina Hackett notes, compared to Masami Teraoka, Shimomura prefers harder and flatter forms.

The image is from the Kucera Gallery site. I think it is called “Justified Internment,” but I was not able to locate information about it on the site.

Monet’s Japanese print collection

23 November, 2007 (23:07) | early modern, japan, prints/photographs | By: xensen

cranes, by KorinN Ogata

Claude Monet was an avid collector of Japanese prints, constructing a collection that eventually totaled 231 prints. He acquired most of his prints through dealers in the Netherlands, favoring the artists Hokusai, Hiroshige, and Utamaro. He preferred landscapes , animals, and women engaged in daily activites. He showed little interest in flowers, scenes from the theater, and erotic art.

Monet was not a great traveler, and he never visited Japan. On one occasion he did travel to Norway, and wrote with enthusiasm of its resemblance to the Japan he knew from prints. Many of his prints were well chosen, such as this image of cranes by the artist Korin Ogata (1658-1716).

Monet’s collection can be viewed at the Musée Marmottan Monet in Paris. There is more information on his collection here.