In the relatively short time since World War II, Japan has been a nation of self-re-invention. Historically, exposure to the outside world and outside cultures was extremely limited. Aside from the Chinese, influences from the outside world did not begin to impact Japanese culture until the late 20th century (Wojtan.) This means that Japanese culture, identity, and artistic aesthetic was shaped largely from within. It also means that all sources for sustaining the population, including food and materials utilized in Japanese imagery, arts, and crafts, were developed from natural resources native to the island.
How did the relative isolation of Japan shape its culture and aesthetic? What customs and traditions shape its present culture and aesthetic? Is manga the logical outgrowth of traditional woodblock printing techniques? What makes certain objects specifically Japanese in the present day? Has the Japanese color palette remained constant or has it evolved?
The color analysis below shows a breakdown of the traditional Japanese color palette (Nagasaki.) Will these same color preferences be manifested in contemporary Japan’s art, craft and design?
(Color chart omitted for preview. Available via download)
The goal of the proposed itinerary is to view a variety of exhibits and sites that represent both Japan’s history and its present day. Because Kyoto is the most historic city on the tour, the intention is to devote as much time as possible towards gathering images and impressions about traditional Japanese culture, arts and crafts, and design. Because Kyoto is the best-preserved historical city in Japan and served as the capital city for over 1,000 years, the priority in Kyoto will be to visit places that reflect historic Japan with the intention of observing artistic composition, color, and materials (Takahashi.) The goal is to define and establish a list of qualities that are manifested in Japanese arts, crafts, and fashion. This will include visits to the following places (Goss:)
• Gion District – Referred to as the “pleasure quarters” of the city, Gion retains the atmosphere of old Japan, complete with Geishas. Observations would include traditional costumes, textiles, ceremonies, and architecture.
• Nijo-jo Castle – This castle is an excellent example of traditional samurai architecture. The buildings and grounds date back to the Edo era (1603-1867) and are designated a national treasure. Research would include garden and architectural styles, color analysis, and building materials inventory.
• Ginkaku-ji Temple – Founded by the Zen Rinzai-shu sect, this temple represents a Wabi Sabi culture. Studies here would serve to deepen understanding of the wabi sabi concept and applications in both daily Japanese routines and ceremonies.
• Royan-ji Temple – This Zen temple is world-famous for its enigmatic rock garden and would apply to the research by offering another viewpoint on the Japanese aesthetic.
• Kyoto International Manga Museum – Manga has been defined as a key art field in Japan. This unique cartoon art is beloved around the world but retains a distinctive Japanese look and feel. Research here will focus on design elements and color palettes that reflect traditional Japanese design and color choices (Kyoto International Manga Museum.)
• Aoi Ryoken – Unique to Japan, ryoken are accommodations similar to traditional Japanese inns from 100 years ago. The emphasis is on serenity, beautiful views, and peaceful surroundings. The intention would be to compare the experience with the typical hotel stay.
While in Tokyo and Osaka, the goal of this student would be to observe and experience as much of the contemporary Japanese experience as possible in an effort to compare traditional Japan with contemporary Japan. The city is described as a study in contrasts with traces of old Japan, stone shrines and lanterns, scattered among the modern buildings and skyscrapers. Plans would include a visit to Yoyogi Park, Shinjuku National Garden, and the Tsukiji Fish Market while in Tokyo (Buechner.) The balance of time would be unstructured to allow time to observe everyday life by visiting stores, mass transit stations, and restaurants. By exploring both historical Japan and present-day Japanese culture and trends in architecture, arts and crafts, design elements and styles, we can increase our understanding of how art forms evolve and are shaped by exposure to outside influences while retaining their cultural roots. Additionally, we see how Japanese artistic, cultural, and societal influences make their mark in other cultures as well.
Buechner, Maryanne Murray. “Tokyo: 10 Things to Do.” Time. December 2011
Goss, Rob. “Kyoto: 10 Things to Do.” Time. February 2011.
Kyoto International Manga Museum. “Current situation of manga culture.” Web. Copyright 2006-2013.
Nagasaki, Seiki. Nihon no dentoshoku: sono shikimei to shikicho, Seigensha, 2001.
Takahashi, Yoshifumi. “Traditional Craft industries: Present Status & Moves to Activate Them.” Economy, Culture & History Japan Spotlight bimonthly. May/June2009, Vol. 28 Issue 3, p48-49.
Wojtan, Linda S. “RICE: It’s More Than Just a Food.” Japan Digest. November 1993. 1
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