Posts in: 11月, 2015

    2015/11/29
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joururi

bunraku; puppet play

As written in the previous post, Japan kept national isolation policy for more than 250 years. It refrained from developing the democracy and helped to keep feudal system with strict social classes. On the other hand, the long period without large wars helped make the society stable and increase the national population from approximately 12million to 30million during that period.

During Edo period, Japan developed many unique crafts and culture which are now regarded as “traditional”. Art pieces such as ukiyoe (woodblock prints), chrysanthemum doll, variety of potteries and art performances such as kabuki (a traditional stage drama performed exclusively by men with songs and music), bunraku (a classical puppet play performed with narrative ballads) and Read More

    2015/11/28
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IMG_4801

During the Edo period, Japan closed its country border and did not trade with foreign nations except for China, Korea and the Netherlands. All ships from overseas had to stay in Nagasaki and all non-Japanese had to live in a small island dedicated to only foreigners. Japanese were banned from visiting foreign countries and local feudal lords were not allowed to build ships. Only boats were allowed to be made for domestic transportation.

In the 16th century, Spanish and Portuguese ships with Catholic priests were sent to Japan to spread Christianity. Some local warriors allowed the spread of Christianity because the trading with western countries accompanied with Christianity brought them a lot of profit. However, rulers gradually began to realize that the Read More

    2015/11/27
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kurashiki

As mentioned in the previous post, people were living separately based on their social class. Many of the traditional old towns that we can visit today date back to Edo period and each has different character based on which class of people were living.

Hagi in Yamaguchi prefecture, Kakunodate in Akita prefecture, and Tsuwano in Shimane are famous as old samurai towns and well reserve atmosphere of at that time. Those are the town where middle to high class samurai were living.

Kawagoe in Saitama prefecture and Sawara in Chiba prefecture are relatively close from Tokyo and were developed as towns of merchants. Murakami in Niigata prefecture still keeps Read More

    2015/11/25
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Tokugawa dynasty developed social class system which was composed with warriors/feudal lords (samurai), farming peasants, crafts professionals and merchants. Nobilities, Buddhist monks, Shinto priests were out of this hierarchy system. During Edo period, people did not have freedom to choose their social class and place to live. Social class was hereditary and place of living was precisely separated by classes. Farming peasants were living in village whereas people of other three classes were living in castle town. Inside the castle town, each class was divided by blocks and living separately.

The lives of people were constrained by various rules, not only where to live but also fashion, hair style, and accessories. People were easily identified the class they belong by their looks. Samurai or feudal lords were given special status and Read More

    2015/11/24
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edo castle

When you come to Japan, you would find many interesting seasonal events or way of thinking which are related with Shinto and Buddhism. In addition to those two religions, some historical knowledge would help you understand Japanese culture and habits today. The key periods to understand Japanese society are Edo period (1603-1868), Muromachi period (1338-1573) and Heian period (794-1185). In 1603, the capital of Japan was transferred to Edo (Tokyo today, literally means “East capital”) from Kyoto which has been center of Japan since 794. Edo period is important to understand Tokyo and Muromachi and Heian period are closely related to the culture of Kyoto. Let’s review the characteristic of each Read More

    2015/11/22
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john with clay

His visit proved fruitful. A chance exchange with the owner of Tokyo ware shop led to the owner asking Kaneshige to take an apprentice. Expressing his heartfelt desire to learn the art of Bizen yaki (Bizen ware), John was accepted as a disciple of the illustrious master. Two years had passed since he first wrote to the master.

The apprenticeship was not easy. For the first year, he was not allowed to make any wares but to carry out miscellaneous tasks. His master was not there to teach him so he had to ‘steal’ his master’s techniques and try making is own wares at night after work. In the middle of winter, he would have Read More

    2015/11/21
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Inside the factory of John

Inside the factory of John

John was born in the US and lived there until settling in Japan 30 years ago. He is a Bizen yaki (Bizen ware) expert who apprenticed to Japanese Bizen master Michiaki Kaneshige, a Living Prefectural Treasure and first son of Living National Treasure Toyo Kaneshige. John currently lives in Bizen City, Japan, where he operates his own kiln.

Bizen City, the mecca of Bizen yaki, is a small town surrounded by mountains and rice fields approximately 2.5 hours away from Kyoto by train. It is surprising to find a foreigner living in such a place. What is more surprising, he is a pottery master who speaks perfect Japanese and has a Read More

    2015/11/20
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bizen ware2
The beauty of Bizen ware, or Bizen yaki, is strongly related to its rough texture and sober color. Its beauty was discovered at the end of the 16th century as the Japanese established their world-renowned tea ceremony. When the tea ceremony began to embrace ultimate simplicity, tea masters gradually favored Bizen yaki. They preferred Bizen yaki because of the simplicity. The aesthetics of beauty in simplicity and incompleteness, which was developed during the evolution of the tea ceremony, is called sabi. (Sabi will be described further in a subsequent post.)

John, a pottery artist who was apprenticed to a renowned Japanese Bizen yaki master Michiaki Kaneshige in the early 1980s says the beauty of Bizen yaki is something you extract Read More

    2015/11/19
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bizen ware

At first glance, you may be confused as to why Japanese people consider Bizen-style pottery very beautiful and one of their most valued cultural arts. Because its color does not seem to be something special, the shape looks ordinary. You could pick up a Bizen-style pottery by the roadside without realizing its beauty. But if you were to take it home and display it in a tokonoma alcove, you will appreciate its beauty.

Bizen yaki, or Bizen ware is said to have originated in the 5th century, as sueki (or sue ware). It was then used by upper-class people. Only around the beginning of the 14th century did Bizen yaki become popular nationwide due to its robustness. The name is derived Read More

    2015/11/18
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bonsai

Bonsai is a miniature tree in a small container, but more than that. Bonsai is an art to create majestic scenery inside the container. Unlike pictures or sculptures, it is a living art and the time plays an important role. You’d easily find more than 80 years old but only 40 cm high bonsai in a garden. Time plays important role to make beautiful shape as the bonsai owner intend. In Japan, Bonsai is regarded a hobby for elderly men, however, it is better to start as early as possible if you are looking for your own idealistic bonsai.

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