Art 11 2757H
November 17, 2009
Japan: Evolution of Art
Feudal Japan was a time marked by great civil wars and was a time that brought great innovations and adaptations to Japanese culture and art. These time periods spanning from 6th century Japan up to the late 19th century were marked by their ruling class called shoguns and aspects of their Samurai culture. My research will cover different evolutions of Japanese culture including their adaptations of Chinese artistic styles as well as the ritualized consumption of tea, ink monochrome paintings, garden design, and calligraphy. All were considered artistic and of high importance to maintaining balance and order in the Japanese and samurai way of life.
Buddhist art, introduced from Korea and China in 552, flourished in various art forms, including sculpture, metalwork, and embroidered silk banners (Addiss 21). In 552 at the beginning of the Asuka period, Buddhism was brought to Japan which had a decisive impact on the development of the Japanese arts. It brought the influence of the advanced Chinese culture and new techniques in arts and architecture to Japan. In 604 the first Japanese constitution was introduced and it reflected the idea of the centralized rule exercised in China and by the 7th century Buddhism was fully integrated into Japanese culture.
In 710 the city of Nara in the province of Yamato became the capital of Japan. During the Nara period, under the influence of Buddhism, Japan assimilated the style of the Chinese Tang dynasty and many Buddhist temples were constructed, which were focused around the area of Nara. Asuka and Nara periods Art of the Asuka period (552–646), and Nara period (646–794), was influenced not only by the arrival of Buddhism, but also an influx of immigrant crafts workers from Korea and China. Painters' guilds were formed in the Asuka period and the immigrant crafts people worked most notably under Prince Umayado. Who was a convert to Buddhism and whose court saw a rapid advance in Japanese civilization in the second half of the 6th century (Baker 34).
Religious and portrait sculptures made of bronze, clay, or lacquer flourished during this time. Painted scrolls, screens, murals, and narrative painting also survive from the Nara period. Some paintings illustrated the Jataka, collections of Buddhist legends concerning the incarnations of Buddha and elements of Buddhist philosophy. Textiles were decorated with embroidery, batik, tie-dye, stencils, and brocade. Heian period (794–1185) Japanese national identity grew rapidly during this period and Heian Kyo was founded as the new capital. Also a new Buddhism was adopted that incorporated Shinto practices, which was the indigenous religion of Japan (Addiss 33).
Buddhism was increasingly adopted by the wider population, not just the rich and educated, although Shintoism continued to co-exist. Buddhist statues became more formalized and were usually made of wood and some workshops even went into the mass-production of Buddhist sculpture. Shinto images also appeared for the first time and until the Heian period, Japanese art had been heavily influenced by the traditions of other countries. This began to disintegrate as Japan began to create its own secular style. Kana writing, a distinct Japanese calligraphic form, developed and yamato-e, a type of secular painting appeared (Addiss 52).
Yamato-e were landscape paintings of well-known scenic spots and majestic mountains, featuring favored details such as rivers, hills of pine trees, and thatched roofs of cottages. The paintings were often used to decorate screens, as the colors were applied in flat layers, and were particularly employed in the illustration of emaki-mono, which were narrative hand scrolls. Lacquerware also became more decoratively stylized (Baker 79).
In 1180 a fierce war broke out between the powerful clans of the Minamato and the Taira (Baker 107). After achieving final victory in the naval battle of Dannoura, the Minamato established a new government in Kamakura and in 1192, Yoritomo became the first shogun. The Kamakura shogunate represented the real power in the country up until the resignation of the last shogun in 1867. The imperial court in Kyoto, or modern day Tokyo, was downgraded to a purely ostensible power. The shift of power from the nobility to the class of samurai warriors had its influence on the Japanese arts (Addiss 81). During the Kamakura period more realistic and popularized art forms emerged and the Japanese calligraphy and Japanese tea ceremony had begun to reach high importance.
Kamakura period (1185–1392) Sculpture and painting became vigorously realistic (Baker 109). Portraits were intended not only to mirror physical appearance, but also to give the subject a spiritual likeness so that their character could be recognized. Dark crystals were used for the first time to give life to the eyes (Baker 110). Landscape, religious, and narrative painting continued to find favor, and humorous picture scrolls grew in popularity.
The Muromachi period is also called the Ashikaga period after the military clan that took control of the shogunate and their residence was moved back to Kyoto, to the Muromachi district of the city. The history of Japanese art was marked by a move backwards to a more aristocratic character and Zen Buddhism continued to achieve popularity in Japan and influenced Japanese artists and artisans (Baker 114). Many orders were placed for the construction and decoration of Zen temples. The third shogun, Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, built the Kinkakuji temple (called the Golden Pavilion) and its gardens. During the Muromachi period, the art of intricate gardening and ikebana reached a high level of refinement in the history of Japanese arts (Addiss 109).
Ashikaga or Muromachi period (1392–1568), although Zen Buddhism was adopted in the Kamakura period, it did not influence Japanese art until the Ashikaga period. Zen Buddhism, with its emphasis on intense meditation and discipline, was favored by the majority of the military who sought to break away from the ornately ceremonial nature of previous military rule (Baker 119). The code of the Samurai warriors, famed for their prowess and strength in the martial arts, matched the concepts of Zen Buddhism. Through the discipline of martial arts training in sword, bow, and spear, warriors could adapt spiritual enlightenment.
The strokes of the Samurai sword had to be spontaneous and immediate, and the same qualities influenced the rapid ink line sketches introduced by Zen priests from China in this period. The subjects of these paintings were drawn from the landscape and required the observer to be sensitive to nature and to draw in black ink, very directly and spontaneously. The Kano school of painting developed these ink line sketches into a softer, more decorative style.
Towards the end of the era, the concept of Zen became less highly esteemed, and the tea ceremony (cha-no-yu), originally practiced by Buddhist monks, attracted favor, spurring growth in the production of pottery and decorated vessels and cups (Addiss 128). Masks and costumes were made for Nō theatre, which developed from the 14th to 16th centuries. As the tea ceremony continued to grow in strength, the Japanese were attracted to Korean pottery which was simple, easy to produce, and therefore very suitable for the teahouse. New ceramic styles were introduced, including thick glazes, and an interest arose in recreating the ‘accidental’ effects of imperfections that could occur during firing (Addiss 116).
During the end of the 15th century, the Ashikaga shogunate had lost control over the country and powerful feudal lords had ravaged Japan in a series of civil wars that lasted for nearly 100 years. It came to an end, when Oda Nobunaga, broke the power of the feudal lords and of the monasteries (Baker 141). His successor, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who came to power in 1582, succeeded in uniting Japan by 1590. The third unifier, Ieayasu Tokugawa, finally brought long-lasting peace to a war embracing Japan (Addiss 131). Trade relations with Europe expanded rapidly and a new wealthy class of merchants emerged. Like in the European Renaissance period, this new class contributed and influenced the development of arts and Screen painting and the art of ceramic objects flourished.
Momoyama period (1568–1615) Artists produced beautiful screens, sliding doors, and murals to decorate palaces and castles. Their sumptuous designs included flowers, landscapes, and figures on gold foil (Baker 143). European contact was also established during this period,
firstly with an influx of Christian missionaries and then European traders; their arrival affected both Japanese art and culture. Christianity grew despite persecution and Western art began to break into Japanese traditions. Perspective drawing and life sketches of the environment were established. Oil painting, which began with the copying of Christian icons, was also practiced (Baker 166).
The Edo period is also called the Tokugawa period after the name of the shogunate that ruled over Japan for 256 years. The Tokugawa brought peace and stability to the country, but at the costs of a repressive political style. During the Tokugawa reign, contacts with the outside world were completely stopped in 1624. Nagasaki was the only port open for commercial contacts with the outside world (Addiss 137). Edo (today Tokyo) and Osaka were the economic and cultural centers of the Edo period. A wealthy new urban class gained influence.
The arts moved away from the aristocratic background and showed scenes from the life of common people. People amused themselves in theaters and in the amusement quarters. Best known for the artistic achievements of the Edo period, are ukiyo-e, Japanese woodblock prints. The first ukiyo-e in black and white were produced in the late 17th century. Around 1764 Harunobu was the first, or at least the first popular artist, who introduced polychrome printing. The dominant master in the late 18th century was undoubtedly Utamaro, famous for his sensitive depictions of courtesans from the amusement quarters. The best known name in the first half of the 19th century is Hiroshige with his landscape prints.
In 1854 a US naval fleet under the command of Commodore Perry forced Japan to open its harbors to the outside world. In the aftermath of this show of force, it came to anti-foreign unrests. The opponents of the Tokugawa shogunate rallied around the emperor and in 1867 the last Shogun, Tokugawa Yoshinobu was forced to resign (Baker 194).
Tokugawa or Edo period (1615–1867), The ukiyo-e print, depicting everyday life, originated during this period. They were originally painted onto screens and hanging scrolls, but the style was later taken up by woodblock printers and used to illustrate novels (Baker 196). Ukiyo-e depicting celebrated beauties from the brothels, kabuki actors, and teahouse women were particularly popular. With the invention of the multi-block true color print in 1765, images took on a wider range of subject matter although they usually incorporated stylized, beautiful women. Ukiyo-e artists include Utamaro, Hiroshige, and Hokusai. Lacquer techniques developed and, along with textiles, became more sumptuous. Tiny carved figures (netsuke) were mostly made from ivory or wood (Addiss 139).
Although Japan had isolated itself in the 18th century, by the mid-19th century the Japanese felt that they were falling behind the rest of the world, and from 1867 they began to pursue a policy of Westernization and modernization: This period is also called the Meiji restoration, because the emperor regained the power as actual head of state after hundreds of years of the shogunate. Emperor Mutsushito took the name Meiji, meaning enlightened government. In the following years, Japan started an enormous and systematic campaign to acquire Western skills in all fields of technology, legislation and science. By the end of the century and the Sino-Japanese war of 1894-1895 and the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-1905 Japan had risen to the most powerful nation in the Asian hemisphere.
Just like all other fields of society, the arts were hit by the full impact of the opening to the Western culture. Western-style methods in painting, print-making, carving and architecture made their way. New art schools were founded and art teachers from countries like Italy were invited into the country. But it was more than just an adoption of Western art.
New art movements, such as shin-hanga or the sosaku hanga created a unique form of its own, combining old traditional skills with modern styles. The Meiji period (1868–1912), artists copied Western painting styles, particularly Impressionism, which was gaining popularity at the time.
The Nihonga art style attempted to maintain a distinct Japanese style by combining traditional expressive Japanese lines with the more realistic western approach and a broader range of colors. This now brings me to the conclusion of my discussion on the evolution of the Japanese art forms and its influences spanning over thirteen centurys from the Asuka period and the beginning of Buddhist influence through the Meiji period marked by increasing western influence and style.
Addiss, Stephen. Groemer, Gerald. Rimer, J. Thomas. Eds. Traditional Japanese Arts and
Culture. Hawaii: U of Hawaii Press, 2006. Print
Baker, Stanley. Japanese Art. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2000. Print.