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The earliest Japanese buildings were the pit-dwellings of the early Jomon period (c. 3000 BC). These buildings were surrounded by a bank of earth and roofed with straw and wood. Later, in the Yayoi period, the development of edged tools resulted in more complex structures, notably the elevated storehouse, the style of which resembles strongly the honden (main building) of the Great Shrine of Ise today. By a process of constant rebuilding with complete fidelity to the ancient style, the Yayoi style has been preserved for well over 2,000 years.
By contrast, Buddhist architecture in Japan has undergone many developments since the introduction of Buddhism to Japan in the 6th century and therefore Japanese temples, though infinitely less ancient in style than Shinto shrines, contain the more sophisticated architectural heritage. The cities of Nara and Kyoto, in particular, contain some of the best-preserved and most awe-inspiring wooden buildings in the world, as well as small pavilions and teahouses of incomparable elegance. It is a mark of their international importance that in the Second World War the American Government decreed that neither Kyoto nor Nara should be subjected to bombing.
Since 1871, the Japanese Government has had a system for honouring and preserving Japan's artistic legacy in which objects of national importance are designated either National Treasure (kokuho) or Important Cultural Property (juyobunkazai). To date, 8,867 objects have been designated Important Cultural Properties and 818 objects have been designated National Treasures, including 150 paintings, 115 works of sculpture, 249 applied arts and crafts, 269 works of calligraphy and books, 35 archaeological remains.
It was originally intended that 120 National Treasures should be represented in the capsule according to a list drawn up by the Selection Committee. However, at the time of the selection process, The Mainichi Newspapers published a fine volume of photographs of selected National Treasures called "Kokuho" and a three-volume series, each called [50 National Treasures], covering architecture, sculpture and paintings. It was decided to use the latter series as the core of the collection for the capsule, supplemented by additional photographs from "Kokuho"; in total,178 photographs were included in the capsule.
Item A-2-4 in this section refers to Intangible Cultural Properties: this award is an extension of the National Treasures system initiated under the Cultural Assets Protection Law in 1950. Recipients of this award, who are sometimes called Living National Treasures, are nominated periodically by the Ministry of Education. They include artist/craftsmen, musicians, dancers and actors; in 1968, their numbers included 19 members of the performing arts and 33 craftsmen.
Among the most interesting features of Japanese religious sculpture is the extraordinary complexity of Buddhist iconography, brought about by centuries of adaptation to Japanese taste and, above all, by the intermingling of pure Buddhism, Shinto and shamanistic folk beliefs. The earliest works, represented by the sculpture of Horyuji in Nara, clearly show their Indo-European derivation; the iconography is directly drawn from that of Buddhism in Korea and China during the 6th and 7th centuries.
By the 12th century, however, and the beginning of the Kamakura period (1185-1336) there had evolved a religious sculpture which was conspicuously Japanese; the portrait sculpture of this time – the statue of the patriarch Mujaku in Kofukuji being one example – is remarkable for its naturalism and spiritual power. Some of the finest examples of Shinto sculpture also date from this period. The intermingling of Buddhism and Shinto can be seen in the beautiful seated figure of the Shinto god Hachiman in the guise of a Buddhist monk. It was sculpted in wood and painted by Kaikei. This artist and his mentor, Unkei – the creator of the image of Mujaku mentioned above – were the supreme masters of Kamakura period sculpture.
Unlike Western calligraphy, which emphasizes technique, Japanese calligraphy is rooted in expression. In fact, it could be called expressionistic art. It is practiced by many Japanese people, particularly the wayo style, which is somewhat feminine in character. As discussed in S-23-1-4 (this section) Japanese calligraphy has been subject to several streams of development and it is strongly linked with Buddhism. The most prized surviving examples of early calligraphy were not necessarily created as works of art; in many cases they are merely the handwriting of persons of achievement who, by virtue of their training and sensitivity, produced masterful calligraphy.
In the English language and, by inference, in Western thought, craft is a result of skill and art is a result of a higher level of inspiration. In Japan, however, it is difficult to draw a clear distinction between craft and art. Although there are examples of humble craftworks – such as folk toymaking, homespun weaving and so on – many activities which would be described as crafts elsewhere have been raised to the level of art; inspiration is an important factor in the making even of an iron kettle or a pottery bowl for tea.
The examples included here range from works of ancient origin to the 16th and 17th centuries. Those who made the early pieces are unknown, but the later pieces were made by Japan's most illustrious artists, some of whom, like Korin and Koetsu, worked in several media; painting, pottery decoration, Iacquerwork and calligraphy. Even today, Japan has many craftsmen/artists and the greatest of them are called "Intangible Cultural Properties." (See A-2-1 National Treasures of Japan).
Japanese painting can be divided broadly into two main categories : the manga schools, which drew their original inspiration from the art of China, and the Japanese schools, which were either a blending of Chinese and Japanese styles (Kano school) or purely Japanese (Yamatoe, Tosa and Korin ).
The very earliest Japanese painting was Buddhist in inspiration and, as in the case of Japanese sculpture, the images were Chinese or Korean with Indo-European influence. Yamatoe, a purely Japanese style of painting, did not develop until the age of the Fujiwara regents (10th and 11th centuries); it flourished into the 15th and 16th centuries, having merged into the Tosa school, and then faded somewhat due to the changing taste of the times. Chinese painting returned to popularity in the wake of a profound movement towards Zen Buddhism among the then dominant military class.
The Kano school was founded in the early 16th century by a professional painter, Kano Masanobu (1434-1530). The first Kano paintings were Buddhistic in theme and somewhat restrained, but within two generations, under the patronage of the dynamic and unrestrained military leaders of the Momoyama period, the Kano style had developed into one of great splendour and massive scale . During the early part of the Edo period, the Kano family were official court painters but, before the end of the 17th century, their style again changed, reverting back to the severity of the 16th century, and their influence waned. At the same time the Tosa school, though surviving, was not producing works of major influence or importance.
From this rather stagnant situation rose the brilliant school of Korin, Founded by Tawaraya Sotatsu, the school – or rather the movement – included a trio of great artists: Honami Koetsu, Ogata Kenzan and his brother Ogata Korin. All three worked in a variety of media, creating a uniquely bold, yet tasteful, decorative style.
After the Meiji restoration, the techniques of Western painting were rapidly assimilated into Japanese art, either in part or wholly. The effect of this on Japanese traditional painters was seen in subtle changes of technique and the enhancement of realism ; this movement is represented by the schools of Maruyama and Shijo.
Wajima nuri is a typical example of Japanese craft-work. It is made in the district of Wajima, at the northern end of the Noto Peninsula facing the Japan Sea. Since ancient times, Iacquer has been used in Japan for the protection and decoration of wooden articles (also, at certain periods, on pottery, metal and leather), mainly articles receiving light use, such as domestic utensils, tables, boxes and hair ornaments.
Lacquer (urushi) is made from the sap of the lacquer tree. Among the methods of applying it are nuritate, which involves mixing the sap with oil and, in many cases, pigments such as vermilion and ink, and roire, in which the sap is applied in a crude state and the object is later polished with oil. In either case, the lacquered object is then "dried" in a damp atmosphere; ideally, lacquerwares should be stored in a humid atmosphere to prevent peeling and cracking. The moro sophisticated pieces of lacquerware are decorated with coloured designs (eurushi) in lacquer, or with applied designs (makie) using gold and silver dusts, gold leaf, mother-of-pearl, ivory, etc. Japan's National Treasures include many lacquered objects of great beauty and refinement.
Both of these pieces were woven by Tatsumura Heizo, a master weaver and expert on ancient textiles. Saireimon nishiki is a brocade which has its origins in the Kamakura period. The design, drawn by Suga Tatehiko, depicts people wearing hats adorned with flowers walking along a Kyoto street. Tatsumura Heizo completed the sash – 4.3m in length and 70cm wide – in 100 days using 120 different coloured threads. The second piece, htgilrashimon makie nishiki, was inspired by a lacquer design. It took 40 days to complete the piece, using 50 colours as well as gold and silver and twisting the threads to give bulk to the design. These are the very finest examples of the Japanese brocade weaver's art.
The contents of this site are excerpted from THE OFFICIAL RECORD OF TIME CAPSULE EXPO'70(March 1975). Please note that company and organization names may differ from those of the current ones.
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