Saturday, 29 October 2011

Theatre of Japan

Traditional Japanese theatre includes kabuki, noh (and kyōgen) and bunraku.

Traditional form of theater

There are four major forms of traditional Japanese theater that are famous around the world. These are Noh, Kyogen, Kabuki, and Bunraku, or puppet theater.

Noh and Kyogen

The earliest existing Kyogen scripts date from the 14th century. Kyogen was used as an intermission between Noh acts — it linked the theme of the Noh play with the modern world by means of farce and slapstick. The Noh was only performed to the high level class. Unlike Noh, the performers of Kyogen do not wear masks, unless their role calls for physical transformation.
Both men and women were allowed to perform Kyogen until 450.


The most well-known form of Japanese theatre is Kabuki. It was performed by Okunis. Perhaps its fame comes from the wild costumes and swordfights, which used real swords until the 1680s. Kabuki grew out of opposition to Noh — they wanted to shock the audience with more lively and timely stories. The first performance was in 1603.
Like Noh, however, over time Kabuki became not just performing in a new way, but a stylized art to be performed only a certain way.
As a matter of interest, the popular Gekidan Shinkansen, a theatrical troupe based in Tokyo today, insists it follows pure kabuki tradition by performing historical roles in a modern, noisy, and outlandish way — to shock the audience as kabuki intended, if you will. Whether or not they are kabuki, however, remains a matter of debate and personal opinion.
Kabuki is a type of theatre that combines music, drama, and dance.


Puppets and Bunraku were used in Japanese theatre as early as the noh plays. Medieval records record the use of puppets actually in Noh plays. Puppets are 3- to 4-foot-tall (0.91 to 1.2 m) dolls that are manipulated by puppeteers in full view of the audience. The puppeteers controlling the legs and hands are dressed entirely in black, while the head puppeteer is wearing colorful clothing. Music and chanting is a popular convention of bunraku, and the shamisen player is usually considered to be the leader of the production.

Modern theatre

Japanese modern drama in the early 20th century, the 1910s, consisted of Shingeki (experimental Western-style theater), which employed naturalistic acting and contemporary themes in contrast to the stylized conventions of Kabuki and Noh. Hōgetsu Shimamura and Kaoru Osanai were two figures influential in the development of shingeki.
In the postwar period, there was a phenomenal growth in creative new dramatic works, which introduced fresh aesthetic concepts that revolutionized the orthodox modern theater. Challenging the realistic, psychological drama focused on "tragic historical progress" of the Western-derived shingeki, young playwrights broke with such accepted tenets as conventional stage space, placing their action in tents, streets, and open areas and, at the extreme, in scenes played out all over Tokyo.
Plots became increasingly complex, with play-within-a-play sequences, moving rapidly back and forth in time, and intermingling reality with fantasy. Dramatic structure was fragmented, with the focus on the performer, who often used a variety of masks to reflect different personae.
Playwrights returned to common stage devices perfected in Noh and Kabuki to project their ideas, such as employing a narrator, who could also use English for international audiences. Major playwrights in the 1980s were Kara Juro, Shimizu Kunio, and Betsuyaku Minoru, all closely connected to specific companies. In contrast, the fiercely independent Murai Shimako won awards throughout the world for her numerous works focusing on the Hiroshima bombing, which were frequently performed by only one or two actresses. In the 1980s, stagecraft was refined into a more sophisticated, complex format than in the earlier postwar experiments but lacked their bold critical spirit.
Tadashi Suzuki developed a unique method of performer training which integrated avant-garde concepts with classical Noh and Kabuki devices, an approach that became a major creative force in Japanese and international theater in the 1980s. Another highly original East-West fusion occurred in the inspired production Nastasya, taken from Dostoevsky's The Idiot, in which Bando Tamasaburo, a famed Kabuki onnagata (female impersonator), played the roles of both the prince and his fiancée.


The 1980s also encouraged the creation of the Sho-Gekijo, or literally, little theatre. This usually meant amateur theatrical troupes making plays designed to be seen by anyone and everyone — not necessarily as meaningful in nature as they were simply entertaining.
Some of the more philosophical playwrights and directors of that time which are still active today are Noda Hideki, Shōji Kōkami and Keralino Sandorovich (a pen name for a Japanese playwright).
Popular sho-gekijo theatrical troupes include Nylon 100, Gekidan Shinkansen, Tokyo Sunshine Boys, and Halaholo Shangrila.

Western plays in Japan

Many Western plays, from those of the Ancient Greek theatre to William Shakespeare and from those of Fyodor Dostoevsky to Samuel Beckett, are performed in Tokyo. An incredible number of performances, perhaps as many as 3,000, are given each year, making Tokyo one of the world's leading theatrical centers.
The opening of the replica of the Globe Theatre was celebrated by importing an entire British company to perform all of Shakespeare's historical plays, while other Tokyo theaters produced other Shakespearean plays including various new interpretations of Hamlet and King Lear. The Globe Theatre, located in Shin-Ōkubo in Tokyo, now belongs mostly to Johnny's Entertainment and the promotion of pop idols in the acting field.
Yukio Ninagawa is an internationally known Japanese director and playwright who often turns to elements of Shakespeare for inspiration. In 1995 he performed the "Shakespeare Tenpo 12Nen", an interpretation of the wildly popular British theatre Shakespeare Condensed: all of Shakespeare's plays in two hours. Famous actors such as Natsuki Mari and Karawa Toshiaki were involved.

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Japanese sculpture

Sculpture of Japan started from the clay figure. Japanese sculpture received the influence of the Silk Road culture in the 5th century, and received a strong influence from Chinese sculpture afterwards. The influence of the Western world was received since the Meiji era. The sculptures were made at local shops, used for sculpting and painting. Most sculptures were found at areas in front of houses and along walls of important buildings.

Tamonten in Todaiji, Wood, Edo period

Most of the Japanese sculptures derived from the idol worship in Buddhism or animistic rites of Shinto deity. In particular, sculpture among all the arts came to be most firmly centered around Buddhism. Materials traditionally used were metal—especially bronze—and, more commonly, wood, often lacquered, gilded,or brightly painted. By the end of the Tokugawa period, such traditional sculpture - except for miniaturized works - had largely disappeared because of the loss of patronage by Buddhist temples and the nobility.


Primitive arts
Dogu, or statuette in the late Jomon period

Interest in primitive arts is seeing a wide ascendancy and spontaneity and seek to produce a similar artless artistry in their own works. In every instance examples of ancient primitive art have been found to possess characteristics identical to modern arts; and the ancient Japanese clay figures known as dogū (土偶) and haniwa (埴輪) are no exceptions to this rule.
No scholar has been able to determine absolutely just when human life moved over into the Japanese archipelago. It was these early inhabitants who eventually evolved the first crude Japanese native art in rough earthenware and in strange clay figures called dogū, which are probably fetishes of some religious nature. Some may have been used in fertility rites, and some in exorcism or other forms of primitive ritual.
The dogū figures are impressive in their grotesque and mysterious symbolism; and there is a crude sense of primitive force and passion in the strongly engraved lines and swirls with which the figures are decorated.
Legend , as recorded in the Nihon Shoki (Chronicles of Japan) which is an ancient history of Japan compiled in 720, states that the haniwa was ordered at the time of an empress' death by the emperor who regretted the custom of servants and maids of the deceased following their master in death, and ordered that clay figures be molded and placed around the kofun, burial mound instead of the sacrifice of living beings. This well known story, however, is doubted for authenticity by scholars who contend that plain cylindrical clay pipes were the first haniwa forms. and that they were used in the manner of stakes to hold the earth of the burial mound in place. Later these plain cylindrical haniwa came to be decorated and to take various forms, including the shapes of houses and domestic animals as well as human beings. They have been found arranged in a circle around the mound, lending credence to the scholars theory. However, the haniwa figures no doubt came to take on some sort of religious symbolism later, aside from their original very practical purpose as stakes.

Asuka and Hakuhō periods
Shakyamuni Triad in Horyuji by Tori Busshi

Guardian Deity (Kongōrikishi) in Horyuji, clay and wood, 711
Japanese emergence from her period of native primitive arts was instigated mainly by the introduction of Buddhism from the mainland Asian continent about the middle of the 6th century. Together with the new religion, skilled artists and craftsman from China came to Japan to build its temples and sculptic idols, and to pass on artistic techniques to native craftsmen.
Earliest examples of Buddhist art may be seen in accumulated splendor at the seventh century Horyuji temple in Nara, whose buildings themselves, set in a prescribed pattern with main hall, belfy, pagodas, and other buildings enclosed within an encircling roofed corridor, retain an aura of the ancient era, together with the countless art treasures preserved within their halls.
Nara and its vicinity contain the vast majority of the nations treasures of the early period of Buddhist art, known in art history as the Asuka period. The sculpture of this period shows, as do most all subsequent sculpture, the influence of continental art. Noted Asuka sculptor Tori Busshi followed the style of North Wei sculpture and established what has come to be known as the Tori school of sculpture. Notable examples of Tori works are the Sakyamuni Triad which are the main icons of the Golden Hall of Horyuji temple and the kannon Boddhisatva of Yumedono Hall of the same temple, also known as Guze Kannon.
Some of the most important Buddhist sculptures belong to the ensuing Hakuho art period when the sculpture came to show predominantly T'ang influence. The mystic unrealistic air of the earlier Tori style came to be replaced by a soft supple pose and a near sensuous beauty more in the manner of the Maitreya with long narrow slit eyes and gentle effeminate features which in spite of their air of reverie have about them an intimate approachability. The aloofness of the earlier Asuka sculpture is softened into a more native form; and there is to be seen in them a compromise between the divine and the human ideal.
Representative sculptures of this period are the beautiful Sho Kannon of Yakushiji temple, and the Yumatagae Kannon of Horyuji, both showing the fullness of rounded flesh within the conventionalized folds of the garments, reflecting in their artistry features of the Gupta art are transmitted to Japanese through Tang.

Nara period


In 710-793, Japanese sculptors learned high Tang style and produced a style “Tenpyō Sculpture”, which shows realistic face, massive solid volume, natural drapery, and delicate representation of sentiment. Emperor Shōmu ordered the colossal gilt bronze Virocana Buddha in Tōdai-ji temple and completed in 752. Although the statue has been destructed twice and repaired, the minor original part has survived. Among many original works, the Asura in Kōfukuji temple is attractive, which is a dry lacquer statue and show delicate representation of sentiment. The four guardians in Kaidanin: a division of Tōdai-ji temple are masterpiece, which are clay statues. A national official factory ”Zō Tōdai-ji si” (Office to build Tōdai-ji Temple) produced many Buddhism sculptures by division of the work for Tōdai-ji and other official temples and temples for novelties. Gilt bronze, dry lacquer, clay, terracotta, repousee, stone, and silver sculptures were made in the factory. Generally the sculptors are secular and got official status and salary. Some private ateliers offered Buddhist icons to people, and some monks made it themselves.

Heian period

Amida Buddha Byōdō-in by Jōchō

With the moving of the imperial capital from Nara to Kyoto in 794, big temples didn’t move to Kyoto. Government fed new esoteric Buddhism imported from Tang china. The official factory ”Zo Tōdai-ji SI” was closed in 789. Fired sculptors worked under patronage of big temples in Nara, new temples of esoteric sect, the court, and the novelties. Sculptors got temple clergy status whether or not they were members of the order. Wood became the primary medium. On the style, Heian period was divided two: the early Heian period and the later. In the early Heian period (794- about the mid 10th century), statues of esoteric Buddhism flourished. Kūkai, Saichō and other members of Imperial Japanese embassies to China imported the high to later Tang style. The statue bodies were carved from single blocks of wood and appear imposing, massive, and heavy when compared to Nara period works. Their thick limbs and severe, almost brooding facial features imbue them with a sense of dark mystery and inspire awe in the beholder, in keeping with the secrecy of Esoteric Buddhist rites. Heavily carved draperies, in which rounded folds alternate with sharply cut folds are typical of the period. Among esoteric Buddhism deities, Japanese like Acala and have produced enormous Acala images.
In the later Heian period (the mid 10th century to the 12th century), the sophistication of court culture and popularity of Amida Worship gave rise to a new style: gentle, calm, and refined features with more attenuated proportion. Sculptors Japanized faces of images. Pure Land sect(Amida Worship) leader Genshin and his work Ōjōyōshū influenced many sculpture. The masterpiece is the Amida Buddha in Byōdō-in in Uji by the master Jōchō. He established a canon of Buddhist sculpture. He was called the expert of yosegi zukuri technique: sculptors became working with multiple blocks of wood, too. This technique allowed masters atelier production with apprentices. It led the style more repetitious and mediocre after Jōchō. In school, a grandson of Jōchō established an atlier which worked with the Imperial Court in Kyoto. EN school a discipline of Jōchō, also established Sanjyō-Atlier in Kyoto.

Kamakura period

Nio Guardian Todai-ji by Unkei

Amitabha Triad of Jōdo-ji by Kaikei
This Kamakura period is regarded as 'Renaissance era of Japanese sculpture'. Kei school sculptures led this trend, who are descendents of Jōchō. They succeeded the technique "yosegi-zukuri" (Woodblock construction) and represented new sculpture style: Realism, Representation of sentiment, Solidity, and Movement, for which they studied early Nara period masterpieces and Chinese Song dynasty sculptures and paintings. On the other side, Clay, Dry-lacquer, Embossing, Terracotta sculptures didn’t revive. They use mainly wood and sometimes bronze.
Kei school looted in Nara-city, which was former ancient capitol (710-793), and worked in large temples in Nara. In Kamakura period, Kyoto Court and Kamakura shogunate military Government reconstructed large temples fired in late 12th century wars. Many sculptures were repaired and many architecture were rebuilt or repaired. The "renaissance" character reflects the project.
Among sculptors of Kei- school, Unkei is the most famous. Among his works, a pair of Kongō-rikishi colossal in Tōdai-ji is most famous, and the portraiture-like statues of Indian priests in Kōfuku-ji are elaborated masterpieces. Unkei had six sculptor sons and their work is also imbued with the new humanism. Tankei, the eldest son and a brilliant sculptor became the head of the studio. Kōshō, the 4th son produced a remarkable sculpture of the 10th century Japanese Budhist teacher Kuya (903-972). Kaikei was a collaborator of Unkei. He is a devout adherent of Pure Land sect. He worked with priest Chogen (1121-1206) :the director of Tōdai-ji reconstruction project. Many of his figures are more idealized than Unkei and his sons, and are characterized by a beautifully finished surface, richly decorated with pigments and gold. His works have survived more than 40, many of which are signed by himself. His most important work is Amitabha Triad of Ono Jōdo-ji (1195).
Sculptors also worked for Kamakura shogunate and other military clans. They produced Buddhist sculptures for them and the portrait sculptures. The colossal bronze Amidhaba Buddha in Kamakura Kōtoku-in was made in 1252. All class society popular funds made this bronze colossal. Such patronage raised and sometimes replaced former wealthy and powered men's.

Muromachi period and Sengoku period

Noh Mask
The Buddhist sculptures declined in quantities and qualities. New Zen Buddhism slighted Buddha images. Old sect big temples were depressed under civil wars. Portrait sculpture of Zen master was a new genre at that period. The art of carving masks for Noh (Noh-THEATRE) flourished and improved from 15th to 17th century.

Edo period

The reconstruction of Buddhist temples fired in civil wars required the sculptors. The new sculptures were mostly conservative carved from wood and gilt or polychromed. They mostly lack artistic power. However, some Buddhist monk sculptors produced unpainted, roughly hewn images of wood. Enku (1632-1695) and Mokujiki (1718-1810) are representatives. They traveled through Japan and produced enormous works for missionary and ceremonial purpose. Their archaic and spiritual styles were reevaluated in 20th century. The art of carving masks for Noh also continued to produce better works in the 17th century.

Modern arts

Introduction of the Western techniques

The stimulus of Western art forms returned sculpture to the Japanese art scene and introduced the plaster cast, outdoor heroic sculpture, and the school of Paris concept of sculpture as an "art form." Such ideas adapted in Japan during the late 19th century, together with the return of state patronage, rejuvenated sculpture. After World War II, sculptors turned away from the figurative French school of Rodin and Maillol toward aggressive modern and avant-garde forms and materials, sometimes on an enormous scale. A profusion of materials and techniques characterized these new experimental sculptures, which also absorbed the ideas of international "op" (optical illusion) and "pop" (popular motif) art. A number of innovative artists were both sculptors and painters or printmakers, their new theories cutting across material boundaries.

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Japanese calligraphy

Japanese calligraphy , 書道,  is a form of calligraphy, or artistic writing, of the Japanese language. For a long time, the most esteemed calligrapher in Japan had been Wang Xizhi, a Chinese calligrapher in the 4th century but after the invention of Hiragana and Katakana, the Japanese unique syllabaries, the distinctive Japanese writing system developed and calligraphers produced styles intrinsic to Japan.


Japanese calligraphy shares its roots with Chinese calligraphy and many of its principles and techniques are very similar. It is most often written with ink (墨 sumi?) on mulberry paper (和紙 washi?) and it recognizes the same basic writing styles: seal script (篆書 tensho?) (Chinese: 篆書 Chinese: zhuànshū); clerical script (隸書 reisho?) (Chinese: 隸書 Chinese: lìshū); regular script (楷書 kaisho?) (Chinese: 楷書 Chinese: kǎishū); semi-cursive (行書 gyōsho?) (Chinese: 行書 Chinese: xíngshū); and cursive (草書 sōsho?) (Chinese: 草書 Chinese: cǎoshū).

Chinese roots

The Chinese roots of Japanese calligraphy go back to the twenty-eighth century BCE, to a time when pictographs were inscribed on bone for religious purposes. When this writing developed into an instrument of administration for the state, the need for a uniform script was felt and Li Si, prime minister in the Chinese dynasty of Qin, standardized a script and its way of being written. He sanctioned a form of script based on squares of uniform size into which all characters could be written from eight strokes. He also devised rules of composition where horizontal strokes are written first and characters are composed starting from top to bottom, left to right. Because the symbols were inscribed with sharp instruments, the lines were originally angular and in many ways Li Si's achievements were made obsolete by the appearance of brush and ink (see Chinese calligraphy). The ink-wet brush creates a line quite different from a sharp stylus. It affords variation in thickness and curve of line. Calligraphy retained the block form of Li Si and his eight strokes but the writer was free to create characters that emphasized aesthetically pleasing balance and form. The way a character was written gave a message of style.
Calligraphy in the Chinese tradition was thus introduced to Japan about 600 CE. Known as the karayō (唐様) tradition, it has been practiced up to today, rejuvenated continuously through contact with Chinese culture.
The oldest existing calligraphic text in Japan is the inscription on the halo of the Bhaisajyaguru statue in the Hōryū-ji Temple. This Chinese text was written in Shakeitai (写経体) style, prominent in the Chinese Six Dynasties period.

Before the Nara period

Gakki-ron, written by the Empress Komyo in 744. She copied this text from Chinese calligrapher Wang Xizhi's and today this is regarded as one of the most important copies of Wang Xizhi's calligraphy. (see also: File:Gakkiron 2.jpg)
The Hōryū-ji Temple also holds bibliographic notes on the Lotus Sutra: the Hokke Gisho (法華義疏?) was written early in the 7th century and is considered the oldest Japanese text. It is written in Cursive script and illustrates that calligraphy in the Asuka period was already refined to a high degree.
The oldest hand-copied sutra in Japan is the Kongō Jōdaranikyō. Copied by the priest Hōrin in 686 CE, the calligraphy style shows influences from the work of Ouyang Xun.
"Broken Stone in Uji Bridge" (宇治橋断碑 ujibashi danpi?) (mid-7th century) and Stone in Nasu County "Stone in Nasu County" (那須国造碑 nasu kokuzō hi?) are also typical examples from this time. Both inscriptions were influenced by the Northern Wei robust style.
In the 7th century, the Tang Dynasty established hegemony in China. Their second Emperor Taizong esteemed Wang Xizhi's calligraphic texts and this popularity influenced Japanese calligraphers. All of the original texts written by Wang Xizhi have been lost, and copies such as Gakki-ron (楽毅論) written by the Empress Komyo are highly regarded as important sources for Wang Xizhi's style. However Wang's influence can barely be overstated, in particular for the wayō (和様) style unique to Japan: "Even today, there is something about Japanese calligraphy that retains the unchanged flavour of Wang Xizhi's style".

Heian period

Cry for noble Saichō (哭最澄上人), which was written by Emperor Saga for Saichō's death. Saga was a scholar of the Chinese classics. He was also renowned as a skillful calligrapher.
Emperor Kammu moved the capital from Heijō-kyō in Nara, first to Nagaoka-kyō in 784, and then to Heian-kyō, Kyoto in 794. This marks the beginning of the Heian era, Japan's "golden age". Chinese influences in calligraphy were not changed in the early period. For example, under the Emperor Saga's reign, royalty, the aristocracy and even court ladies studied calligraphy by copying Chinese poetry texts in artistic style.
Wang Xizhi's influences remained dominant, which are shown in calligraphies written by Kukai or Saichō. Some other Chinese calligraphers, such as Ouyang Xun and Yan Zhenqing were also highly valued. Their most notable admirers were Emperor Saga and Tachibana no Hayanari respectively.
At the same time, a style of calligraphy unique to Japan emerged. Writing had been popularized and the kana syllabary was devised to deal with elements of pronunciation that could not be written with the borrowed Chinese characters. Japanese calligraphers still fitted the basic characters, called kanji (漢字), into the squares laid out centuries before. Soukou Shujitsu is regarded to be the first text which shows a style unique to Japanese calligraphy. This Tanka (短歌) poem was written in 749 CE and shows some differences from Chinese calligraphy[which?]. Ono no Michikaze (894-966 CE), one of the so-called sanseki (三跡, "Three Brush Traces"), along with Fujiwara no Sukemasa and Fujiwara no Yukinari, is considered the founder of the authentically Japanese wayō (和様) style, or wayoshodo (和様書道). This development resonated with the court: Kūkai said to Emperor Saga, "China is a large country and Japan is relatively small, so I suggest writing in a different way." The "Cry for noble Saichō" (哭最澄上人 koku Saichō shounin?), a poem written by Emperor Saga on the occasion of Saichō's death, was one of the examples of such a transformation. Ono no Michikaze served as an archetype for the Shōren-in school which later became the Oie style of calligraphy. The Oie style was later used for official documents in the Edo period and was the prevailing style taught in the Terakoya (寺子屋) schools of that time.

Kamakura and Muromachi period

The ascension of Minamoto Yoritomo to the title of Shogun, following the Hōgen and Heiji rebellions, and the victory of the Minamoto clan over the Taira, marked the beginning of the Kamakura period (1185–1333 CE), however not yet a return to peace and tranquility. The era is sometimes called "the age of the warriors" and a broad transition from court influences to a leading role of the military establishment pervaded the culture. It is however also a time when exchanges with China of the Song dynasty continued and Buddhism greatly flourished. Zen monks such as Shunjo studied in China and the copybooks that he brought with him are regarded to be highly influential for the karayō (唐様) tradition of the time, expressing a clear kaisho style. But this was not the only example, indeed a succession of Chinese monks was naturalized at that time, encouraged by regent Hojo Tokiyori. Rankei Doryu founded the Kencho-ji temple in Kamakura and many of his works have been preserved. However, with the rise of the Rinzai school of Zen Buddhism a less technical style appeared, representative of Zen attitudes and exemplified in the works of Musō Soseki who wrote in a refined sosho style, or Shūhō Myōcho (1282-1337; better known as Daito Kokushi), the founder of Daitoku-ji in Kyoto, who had not traveled to China to study. In terms of wayō (和様) style, the works of Fujiwara no Shunzei and Fujiwara no Teika are considered outstanding examples of the late Heian and early Kamakura.
Political and military unrest continued throughout the Muromachi period (1336-1537 CE), characterized by tensions between imperial and civil authority and outright periods of civil war. However, as Ashikaga Takauji had ousted Emperor Go-Daigo from Kyoto to establish his own bakufu there, the intermingling of residual members of the imperial court, courtiers, daimyo, samurai, and Zen priests resulted in vibrant cultural impulses. The arts prospered, but are not considered as refined as that of earlier times. Of note is the role of Ikkyū Sōjun, a successor of Shūhō Myōcho at Daitoku-ji; Ikkyū was instrumental in elevating the appreciation of calligraphy to an integral part of the tea ceremony in the 15th century.

Edo period

A fragment from the "100 Poets anthology"; calligraphy by Hon'ami Kōetsu.
Tokugawa Ieyasu centralized power in his shogunate between 1603 and 1615 and this marked the beginning of the Edo period which brought 250 years of relative stability to Japan, lasting until the second half of the 19th century. The period was marked by an emphasis on the values of the bushi (武士) and seclusion from overseas influences with the Sakoku (鎖國 lit. locked country, or chained country?) policy. Calligraphic studies were essentially limited to the study of karayō (唐様) style works, via Ming Dynasty China. Indigenous developments were contributed by Ingen and the Ōbaku sect of Zen buddhism, and the Daishi school of calligraphy. The latter focused on the study of the "eight principles of the character yong" (永字八法 eiji happo?), which go back to Wang Xizhi, and the and 72 types of hissei (lit. "brush energy") expounded by Wang Xizhi's teacher, the Lady Wei. The 1664 reprint of a copybook based on these principles in Kyoto contributed an important theoretical development.[6] Calligraphers such as Hosoi Kotaku, who authored the five-volume Kanga Hyakudan in 1735, further advanced the karayō (唐様) style. Very characteristic for the early Edo period was an innovation by Hon'ami Kōetsu (1558-1637) who had paper made to order and painted a backdrop of decorative patterns, butterflies or floral elements with which his calligraphy established a poetic correspondence. Together with Konoe Nobutada (1565-1614) and Shōkadō Shōjō (1584-1639) - the three Kan'ei Sanpitsu (寛永三筆) - he is considered one of the greatest calligraphers in the wayō (和様) style at the time, creating examples of "a uniquely Japanese calligraphy".
Around 1736 Yoshimune began relaxing Japan's isolation policy and Chinese cultural imports increased, in particular via the port of Nagasaki. Catalogues of imported copybooks testify to a broad appreciation of Chinese calligraphers among the Japanese literati who pursued the karayō style: "traditionalists" studied Wang Xizhi and Wen Zhengming, while "reformists" modeled their work on the soshō style of calligraphers such as Zhang Xu, Huai Su and Mi Fu. In terms of wayō, Konoe Iehiro contributed many fine kana works but generally speaking, wayō style was not as vigorously practised as karayō at that time. Nevertheless some examples have been preserved by scholars of kokugaku (國學 National studies?), or poets and painters such as Kaga no Chiyo, Yosa Buson or Sakai Hoitsu.

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Japanese painting

Japanese painting, 絵画,  is one of the oldest and most highly refined of the Japanese visual arts, arts, encompassing a wide variety of genres and styles. As with the history of Japanese arts in general, the long history of Japanese painting exhibits synthesis and competition between native Japanese aesthetics and adaptation of imported ideas.


The origins of painting in Japan date well back into Japan's prehistoric period. Simple figural representations, as well as botanical, architectural, and geometric designs are found on Jōmon period pottery and Yayoi period (300 BC – 300 AD) dotaku bronze bells. Mural paintings with both geometric and figural designs have been found in numerous tumuli dating to the Kofun period and Asuka period (300-700 AD).
Along with the introduction of the Chinese writing system (kanji), Chinese modes of governmental administration, and Buddhism in the Asuka period, many art works were imported into Japan from China and local copies in similar styles began to be produced.

Nara period (710-794)

With the further establishment of Buddhism in sixth and seventh century Japan, religious painting flourished and was used to adorn numerous temples erected by the aristocracy. However, Nara period Japan is recognized more for important contributions in the art of sculpture than painting.
The earliest surviving paintings from this period include the murals on the interior walls of the Kondō (金堂?) at the temple Hōryūji in Ikaruga, Nara Prefecture. These mural paintings, as well as painted images on the important Tamamushi Shrine (玉虫厨子 Tamamushi zushi?) include narratives such as jataka, episodes from the life of the historical Buddha, Shakyamuni, in addition to iconic images of buddhas, bodhisattvas, and various minor deities. The style is reminiscent of Chinese painting from the Sui dynasty or the late Sixteen Kingdoms period. However, by the mid-Nara period, paintings in the style of the Tang dynasty became very popular. These also include the wall murals in the Takamatsuzuka Tomb, dating from around 700 AD. This style evolved into the (Kara-e) genre, which remained popular through the early Heian period.
As most of the paintings in the Nara period are religious in nature, the vast majority are by anonymous artists. A large collection of Nara period art, Japanese as well as Chinese Tang Dynasty is preserved at the Shosoin, an eighth-century repository formerly owned by Todai-ji and currently administered by the Imperial Household Agency.

Heian period (794-1185)

With the development of the Esoteric Buddhist sects of Shingon and Tendai, painting of the 8th and 9th centuries is characterized by religious imagery, most notably painted Mandala (曼荼羅 mandara?). Numerous versions of mandala, most famously the Diamond Realm Mandala and Womb Realm Mandala at Tōji in Kyoto, were created as hanging scrolls, and also as murals on the walls of temples. A noted early example is at the five-story pagoda of Daigo-ji, a temple south of Kyoto.
With the rising importance of Pure Land sects of Japanese Buddhism in the tenth century, new image-types were developed to satisfy the devotional needs of these sects. These include raigozu (来迎図?), which depict Amida Buddha along with attendant bodhisattvas Kannon and Seishi arriving to welcome the souls of the faithful departed to Amida's Western Paradise. A noted early example dating from 1053 are painted on the interior of the Phoenix Hall of the Byodo-in, a temple in Uji, Kyoto. This is also considered an early example of so-called Yamato-e (大和絵?), or "Japanese-style painting," insofar as it includes landscape elements such as soft rolling hills that seem to reflect something of the actual appearance of the landscape of western Japan. Stylistically, however, this type of painting continues to be informed by Tang Dynasty Chinese "blue and green style" landscape painting traditions. "Yamato-e" is an imprecise term that continues to be debated among historians of Japanese art.

Panel from the Tale of Genji handscroll (detail)

Night Attack on Sanjo Palace
The mid-Heian period is seen as the golden age of Yamato-e, which were initially used primarily for sliding doors (fusuma) and folding screens (byōbu). However, new painting formats also came to the fore, especially towards the end of the Heian period, including emakimono, or long illustrated handscrolls. Varieties of emakimono encompass illustrated novels, such as the Genji Monogatari , historical works, such as the Ban Dainagon Ekotoba , and religious works. In some cases, emaki artists employed pictorial narrative conventions that had been used in Buddhist art since ancient times, while at other times they devised new narrative modes that are believed to convey visually the emotional content of the underlying narrative. Genji Monogatari is organized into discreet episodes, whereas the more lively Ban Dainagon Ekotoba uses a continuous narrative mode in order to emphasize the narrative's forward motion. These two emaki differ stylistically as well, with the rapid brush strokes and light coloring of Ban Dainagon contrasting starkly to the abstracted forms and vibrant mineral pigments of the Genji scrolls. The Siege of the Sanjō Palace is another famous example of this type of painting.
E-maki also serve as some of the earliest and greatest examples of the otoko-e (Men's pictures) and onna-e (Women's pictures) styles of painting. There are many fine differences in the two styles. Although the terms seem to suggest the aesthetic preferences of each gender, historians of Japanese art have long debated the actual meaning of these terms, and they remain unclear. Perhaps most easily noticeable are the differences in subject matter. Onna-e, epitomized by the Tale of Genji handscroll, typically deals with court life and courtly romance while otoko-e, often deal with historical and/or semi-legendary events, particularly battles.

Kamakura period (1185-1333)

These genres continued on through Kamakura period Japan. E-maki of various kinds continued to be produced; however, the Kamakura period was much more strongly characterized by the art of sculpture, rather than painting.
As most of the paintings in the Heian and Kamakura periods are religious in nature, the vast majority are by anonymous artists.

Muromachi period (1333-1573)

Landscape by Sesshu Toyo

During the 14th century, the development of the great Zen monasteries in Kamakura and Kyoto had a major impact on the visual arts. Suibokuga, an austere monochrome style of ink painting introduced from Sung and Yuan dynasty China largely replaced the polychrome scroll paintings of the previous period, although some polychrome portraiture remained – primary in the form of chinso paintings of Zen monks.Typical of such painting is the depiction by the priest-painter Kao 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' (located at Taizo-in, Myoshin-ji, Kyoto), by the priest-painter Josetsu, marks a turning point in Muromachi painting. 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
By the end of the 14th century, monochrome landscape paintings (sansuiga) had found patronage by the ruling Ashikaga family and was the preferred genre among Zen painters, gradually evolving from its Chinese roots to a more Japanese style.
The foremost artists of the Muromachi period are the priest-painters Shūbun and Sesshū. Shūbun, a monk at the Kyoto temple of Shokoku-ji, created in the painting Reading in a Bamboo Grove (1446) a realistic landscape with deep recession into space. Sesshū, unlike most artists of the period, was able to journey to China and study Chinese painting at its source. Landscape of the Four Seasons (Sansui Chokan; c. 1486) is one of Sesshu's most accomplished works, depicting a continuing landscape through the four seasons.
In the late Muromachi period, ink painting had migrated out of the Zen monasteries into the art world in general, as artists from the Kano school and the Ami school adopted the style and themes, but introducing a more plastic and decorative effect that would continue into modern times.
Important artists in the Muromachi period Japan include:
Mokkei (circa 1250)
Mokuan Reien (d.1345)
Kao Ninga (e.14th century)
Mincho (1352-1431)
Josetsu (1405-1423)
Tenshō Shūbun(d.1460)
Sesshū Tōyō (1420-1506)
Kano Masanobu (1434-1530)
Kano Motonobu (1476-1559)

Azuchi-Momoyama period (1573-1603)

In sharp contrast to the previous Muromachi period, the Azuchi Momoyama period was characterized by a grandiose polychrome style, with extensive use of gold and silver foil, and by works on a very large scale. The Kano school, patronized by Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Tokugawa Ieyasu, and their followers and gained tremendously in size and prestige. Kano Eitoku developed a formula for the creation of monumental landscapes on the sliding doors enclosing a room. These huge screens and wall paintings were commissioned to decorate the castles and palaces of the military nobility. This status continued into the subsequent Edo period, as the Tokugawa bakufu continued to promote the works of the Kano school as the officially sanctioned art for the Shogun, daimyo, and Imperial court.
However, non-Kano school artists and currents existed and developed during the Azuchi-Momoyama period as well, adapting Chinese themes to Japanese materials and aesthetics. One important group was the Tosa school, which developed primarily out of the yamato-e tradition, and which was known mostly for small scale works and illustrations of literary classics in book or emaki format.
Important artists in the Azuchi-Momoyama period include:
Kano Eitoku (1543-1590)
Kano Sanraku (1559-1663)
Kano Tanyu (1602-1674)
Hasegawa Tohaku (1539-1610)
Kaiho Yusho (1533-1615)

Edo period (1603-1868)

Wind God by Ogata Korin

Part of the series Dōshoku sai-e, by Ito Jakuchu
Many art historians show the Edo period as a continuation of the Azuchi-Momoyama period. Certainly, during the early Edo period, many of the previous trends in painting continued to be popular; however, a number of new trends also emerged.
One very significant school which arose in the early Edo period was the Rimpa school, which used classical themes, but presented them in a bold, and lavishly decorative format. Sōtatsu in particular evolved a decorative style by re-creating themes from classical literature, using brilliantly colored figures and motifs from the natural world set against gold-leaf backgrounds. A century later, Korin reworked Sōtatsu's style and created visually gorgeous works uniquely his own.
Another important genre which began during Azuchi-Momoyama period, but which reached its full development during the early Edo period was Namban art, both in the depiction of exotic foreigners and in the use of the exotic foreigner style in painting. This genre was centered around the port of Nagasaki, which after the start of the national seclusion policy of the Tokugawa bakufu was the only Japanese port left open to foreign trade, and was thus the conduit by which Chinese and European artistic influences came to Japan. Paintings in this genre include Nagasaki school paintings, and also the Maruyama-Shijo school, which combine Chinese and Western influences with traditional Japanese elements.
A third important trend in the Edo period was the rise of the Bunjinga (literati painting) genre, also known as the Nanga school (Southern Painting school). This genre started as an imitation of the works of Chinese scholar-amateur painters of the Yuan dynasty, whose works and techniques came to Japan in the mid 18th century. Later bunjinga artists considerably modified both the techniques and the subject matter of this genre to create a blending of Japanese and Chinese styles. The exemplars of this style are Ike no Taiga, Uragami Gyokudo, Yosa Buson, Tanomura Chikuden, Tani Buncho, and Yamamoto Baiitsu.
Due to the Tokugawa Shogunate's policies of fiscal and social austerity, the luxurious modes of these genre and styles were largely limited to the upper strata of society, and were unavailable, if not actually forbidden to the lower classes. The common people developed a separate type of art, the fuzokuga, in which painting depicting scenes from common, everyday life, especially that of the common people, kabuki theatre, prostitutes and landscapes were popular. These paintings in the 16th century gave rise to the semi-mass produced woodcut print, or ukiyoe, which was one of the defining media of the mid to late Edo period.

Important artists in the Edo period include:
Tawaraya Sōtatsu (d.1643)
Ogata Korin (1658–1716)
Gion Nankai (1677–1751)
Sakaki Hyakusen (1697–1752)
Yanagisawa Kien (1704–1758)
Yosa Buson (1716–1783)
Ito Jakuchu (1716–1800)
Ike no Taiga (1723–1776)
Maruyama Okyo (1733–1795)
Okada Beisanjin (1744–1820)
Uragami Gyokudo (1745–1820)
Matsumura Goshun (1752–1811)
Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849)
Tani Buncho (1763–1840)
Tanomura Chikuden (1777–1835)
Okada Hanko (1782–1846)
Yamamoto Baiitsu (1783–1856)
Watanabe Kazan (1793–1841)
Utagawa Hiroshige (1797–1858)
Shibata Zeshin (1807–1891)
Tomioka Tessai (1836–1924)

Prewar period (1868-1945)

Yoritomo in a Cave by Maeda Seison
The prewar period was marked by the division of art into competing European styles and traditional indigenous styles.
During the Meiji period, Japan underwent a tremendous political and social change in the course of the Europeanization and modernization campaign organized by the Meiji government. Western style painting (Yōga) was officially promoted by the government, who sent promising young artists abroad for studies, and who hired foreign artists to come to Japan to establish an art curriculum at Japanese schools.
However, after an initial burst for western style art, the pendulum swung in the opposite direction, and led by art critic Okakura Kakuzo and educator Ernest Fenollosa, there was a revival of appreciation for traditional Japanese styles (Nihonga). In the 1880, western style art was banned from official exhibitions and was severely criticized by critics. Supported by Okakura and Fenollosa, the Nihonga style evolved with influences from the European pre-Raphaelite movement and European romanticism.
The Yōga style painters formed the Meiji Bijutsukai (Meiji Fine Arts Society) to hold its own exhibitions and to promote a renewed interest in western art.
In 1907, with the establishment of the Bunten under the aegis of the Ministry of Education, both competing groups found mutual recognition and co-existence, and even began the process towards mutual synthesis.
The Taishō period saw the predominance of Yōga over Nihonga. After long stays in Europe, many artists (including Arishima Ikuma) returned to Japan under reign of Yoshihito, bringing with them the techniques of impressionism and early post-impressionism. The works of Camille Pissarro, Paul Cézanne and Pierre Auguste Renoir influenced early Taishō period paintings. However, yōga artists in the Taishō period also tended towards eclecticism, and there was a profusion of dissident artistic movements. These included the Fusain Society (Fyuzankai) which emphasized styles of post-impressionism, especially fauvism. In 1914, the Nikakai (Second Division Society) emerged to oppose the government-sponsored Bunten Exihibition.
Japanese painting during the Taishō period was only mildly influenced by other contemporary European movements, such as neoclassicism and late post-impressionism.
However, interestingly it was resurgent Nihonga, towards mid-1920s, which adopted certain trends from post-impressionism. The second generation of Nihonga artists formed the Japan Fine Arts Academy (Nihon Bijutsuin) to compete against the government-sponsored Bunten, and although yamato-e traditions remained strong, the increasing use of western perspective, and western concepts of space and light began to blur the distinction between Nihonga and yōga.
Japanese painting in the prewar Shōwa period was largely dominated by Yasui Sotaro and Umehara Ryuzaburo, who introduced the concepts of pure art and abstract painting to the Nihonga tradition, and thus created a more interpretative version of that genre. This trend was further developed by Leonard Foujita and the Nika Society, to encompass surrealism. To promote these trends, the Independent Art Association (Dokuritsu Bijutsu Kyokai) was formed in 1931.
During the World War II, government controls and censorship meant that only patriotic themes could be expressed. Many artists were recruited into the government propaganda effort, and critical non-emotional review of their works is only just beginning.

Postwar period (1945-present)

In the postwar period, the government-sponsored Japan Art Academy (Nihon Geijutsuin) was formed in 1947, containing both nihonga and yōga divisions. Government sponsorship of art exhibitions has ended, but has been replaced by private exhibitions, such as the Nitten, on an even larger scale. Although the Nitten was initially the exhibition of the Japan Art Academy, since 1958 it has been run by a separate private corporation. Participation in the Nitten has become almost a prerequisite for nomination to the Japan Art Academy, which in itself is almost an unofficial prerequisite for nomination to the Order of Culture.
The arts of the Edo and prewar periods (1603-1945) was supported by merchants and urban people. Counter to the Edo and prewar periods, arts of the postwar period became popular. After World War II, painters, calligraphers, and printmakers flourished in the big cities, particularly Tokyo, and became preoccupied with the mechanisms of urban life, reflected in the flickering lights, neon colors, and frenetic pace of their abstractions. All the "isms" of the New York-Paris art world were fervently embraced. After the abstractions of the 1960s, the 1970s saw a return to realism strongly flavored by the "op" and "pop" art movements, embodied in the 1980s in the explosive works of Ushio Shinohara. Many such outstanding avant-garde artists worked both in Japan and abroad, winning international prizes. These artists felt that there was "nothing Japanese" about their works, and indeed they belonged to the international school. By the late 1970s, the search for Japanese qualities and a national style caused many artists to reevaluate their artistic ideology and turn away from what some felt were the empty formulas of the West. Contemporary paintings within the modern idiom began to make conscious use of traditional Japanese art forms, devices, and ideologies. A number of mono-ha artists turned to painting to recapture traditional nuances in spatial arrangements, color harmonies, and lyricism.
Japanese-style painting (nihonga) continues in a prewar fashion, updating traditional expressions while retaining their intrinsic character. Some artists within this style still paint on silk or paper with traditional colors and ink, while others used new materials, such as acrylics.
Many of the older schools of art, most notably those of the Edo and prewar periods, were still practiced. For example, the decorative naturalism of the rimpa school, characterized by brilliant, pure colors and bleeding washes, was reflected in the work of many artists of the postwar period in the 1980s art of Hikosaka Naoyoshi. The realism of Maruyama Ōkyo's school and the calligraphic and spontaneous Japanese style of the gentlemen-scholars were both widely practiced in the 1980s. Sometimes all of these schools, as well as older ones, such as the Kano school ink traditions, were drawn on by contemporary artists in the Japanese style and in the modern idiom. Many Japanese-style painters were honored with awards and prizes as a result of renewed popular demand for Japanese-style art beginning in the 1970s. More and more, the international modern painters also drew on the Japanese schools as they turned away from Western styles in the 1980s. The tendency had been to synthesize East and West. Some artists had already leapt the gap between the two, as did the outstanding painter Shinoda Toko. Her bold sumi ink abstractions were inspired by traditional calligraphy but realized as lyrical expressions of modern abstraction.
There are also a number of contemporary painters in Japan whose work is largely inspired by anime sub-cultures and other aspects of popular and youth culture. Takashi Murakami is perhaps among the most famous and popular of these, along with and the other artists in his Kaikai Kiki studio collective. His work centers on expressing issues and concerns of postwar Japanese society through what are usually seemingly innocuous forms. He draws heavily from anime and related styles, but produces paintings and sculptures in media more traditionally associated with fine arts, intentionally blurring the lines between commercial and popular art and fine arts.
Important artists in the postwar period include:
Ogura Yuki (1895-2000)
Uemura Shoko 1902-2001
Koiso Ryouhei (1903-1988)
Kaii Higashiyama (1908-1999)

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