Hokusai’s life was very active. He moved ninety three times, travelled frequently, was married twice and had a few children. His life’s work consists of thirty thousand pictures, as well as illustrations to more than 500 books. He used more than thirty artistic names. He sometimes used one particular name for a year, two years, or even many years. His works are signed with various signatures. It was Hokusai’s achievements that also gave the landscape in woodcuts the status of an independent genre. The originality of his works resulted from his use of perspective, his way of applying lines and the specific combination of colours used. The composition’s theme and components were invariably well thought-out.
In spite of the development of new trends and technologies in this artistic field, the instruments used in calligraphy have hardly changed since the technique was invented. They were, and still are, similar to those that were formerly used by art painters. They used to be called ”the four treasures” or ”the four valuables”. These were: washi − Japanese paper of high quality and high hygroscopicity, made from mulberry paper, brushes (thin and thick − sometimes very thick, as it can be seen in Rikō Takahashi's calligraphy) made of animal hair planted in a bamboo or wooden handle, ink cubes mixed with water on an ongoing basis, a stone used for pounding the ink, and a water dispenser.
Rikō Takahashi is an outstanding Japanese calligraphy artist operating in the Avant-garde style. Thanks to her exceptional creativity and freedom in expressing ideas, she makes works that go beyond common trends, though she does not cut herself off from the rich tradition of Japanese calligraphy. In general, she creates her works with black ink on white paper, as in the case of traditional calligraphy, but she also often uses coloured paints mixed with ink. Along with the austere, two-colour (black and white) aesthetics of calligraphies, it produces a remarkable effect.
In One hundred views of Mount Fuji, Hokusai brilliantly displayed his virtuosity in drawing and creating an unusually slick and innovative composition by using mere outlines, which were often very delicate, and flat patches of greys of various shades. The artist depicted the elegant and simple shape of Fuji in numerous well-thought-out contexts, taking into consideration all possible points of view: different times of a day (at dawn, sunset, dusk), in various weather conditions (in beautiful weather, stormy weather, bright sunlight and mist), from different sides, both from near and far. The mountain frequently consists of a dominant feature, but in other cases it is reduced to a small patch in the distance and one needs to look closely for it among other details.
The history of Japanese calligraphy dates back to about the 6th century AD, when the Chinese system of writing was introduced to the islands. Although, at first, the Japanese used the Chinese language in writing, soon they started writing in their own language using the Chinese signs kanji (Jap.), sometimes modifying them. On the basis of the Chinese ideographs, various Japanese forms of syllabic writing evolved that enabled people to write in their own language.
In Japan, suiseki stones are regarded as works of art which are to be admired. These stones are formed by the forces of nature, and take the shapes of mountains, islands, waterfalls, and other landscape features (such as country cottages). They are also embedded and displayed on special trays and carved bases.
Mount Fuji is a major symbol of Japan and is placed even on banknotes. It is a holy mountain, the place where, according to beliefs, the protective gods of the country live. An expedition to its peak is like an entrance to a heavenly land bathed in golden light through a thick layer of clouds.
A Hanaire [花入], which is a flower vase used during the tea ceremony, can have many forms — standing, hanging, with a broad spout, or imitating a thin bamboo stem. Hanaire creators are not limited in terms of materials they can use, either. In tea rooms, one can encounter vases made of wicker, hollow calabash, and every kind of ceramic. Those lighter materials are used during summer gatherings; while heavier ones are chosen in winter.
Have you ever touched a beautiful object made of lacquer? Sensuality would be the best word to convey its smooth texture. The same word can be applied to the minimalist works of Aliska Lahusen, which evoke a sensual feeling. They have been created using lacquer — one of the most sophisticated Japanese materials. It was deliberately used by the artist and it gives her sculptures a mystical character.
According to the legend of the beginnings of nō, the Okina mask fell from the sky, which confirms its extra-terrestrial origin (it is assumed that the nō theatre has its origins in secret ceremonies, to which only men were admitted). The stone, which marks the spot where it fell to earth — called the grave of the mask — today stands in the village of Kawanishi.
Toshūsai Sharaku is one of the most enigmatic Japanese artists. The woodcuts signed with his name come from the period between May 1794 and January 1795. A total of about 150 Sharaku card images depict actors from the Kabuki theatre; these are projects with a completely different new form of expression, often close to a caricature.
Beautiful women of the oiran offered an attractive subject for artists dealing with Japanese wood engravings; it peaked in the Edo epoch (1603–1868). Elusiveness and passing, so strongly featured in the philosophy of this period, made people seize the current moment and celebrate the joy stemming from watching flowers or admiring the Moon.
What do a cobalt vase and a Japanese emperor have in common? This vase is a gift from the Japanese court donated to the Manggha Museum during the visit of the Japanese emperor, Akihito, and his wife, Michiko, on 11 July 2002. This porcelain vase with a wooden base is ornamented with the imperial chrysanthemum – an emblem representing the imperial title in Japan.
Ikebana is the art of arranging flowers which involves the creation of linear harmony and asymmetrical composition while keeping unity among the shapes, rhythms and colours of the material used. Elements used in compositions include branches, leaves, grass, and flowers, as well as vessels, and each of these elements has its own symbolic meaning.
On 10 November 1987, Andrzej Wajda received the Kyoto Prize for his lifetime achievements in the field of the arts. During a few days spent in Kyoto, the former capital city of Japan, he sketched more than a dozen drawings depicting the places he had visited. They included two views of Kinkakuji (Jap. “Golden Pavillon”), one of the most exquisite places of the city. The name of the building is derived from the decoration of the walls which are covered with petals of gold.
A kimono is one of the first things that comes to mind when we think of Japan. We always see those traditional dresses exquisitely decorated with painted or embroidered designs. Each of them is decorated with the most beautiful and elegant patterns. However, there are also everyday kimonos with repeating, small patterns of flowers, birds, fans and other motifs. They are made using stencils such as the Ise-katagami, which the Japanese have been creating for centuries.
In Japan, carps are a symbol identified with boys, who wish to become as strong and persistent as those fish. Each year, during Japanese Children's Day, which formerly was solely Boys' Day, parents hang kites on flagpoles located near their houses resembling wind socks that indicate the strength and direction of the wind. They are in the shape of carps, and the colour of each carp is related to the person it symbolises: the black carp is for the father, the red one — for mother, other colours are for children. According to old beliefs, flags are hung high in order to attract the attention of protective gods that are high in the sky.
In Kyoto, the former imperial capital city, you can find Kiyomizu–dera (清水寺), a complex of Buddhist shrines whose name derives from the waterfall of the river flowing on the hillside of Mount Higashiyama. The main pavilion of the shrine is dedicated to Goddess Kannon (a bodhisattva personifying compassion), and it is one of the most popular tourist attractions, famous for its vantage point based on a six-storey structure. Crowds of visitors come to this place both in spring, when the cherry trees are in bloom, and in autumn, when the maple leaves turn red.
The process of producing vessels of white porcelain is regarded as being exceptionally difficult, since, as it is baked in a furnace, small particles can easily permeate inside, and they can dye the porcelain forms, thus disrupting the whole process. One of the most outstanding contemporary hakuji artist is Manji Inoue (born 1929), the Japanese creator who was awarded, in 1995, with the honourable title of “The Living National Treasure” (Ningen Kokuhō).
From the dawn of history, the Japanese have observed nature carefully. The elements of nature, including various flowers with their symbolic meaning, became frequent motifs used in art and ornamentation. To this day, these natural phenomena are reflected in Japanese customs and traditions. An old custom hanami (in Japanese “watching flowers”) is still hugely popular when, in spring, whole families have picnics under blossoming cherry trees.