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Arts and Crafts
Haiku Poetry
Tea Ceremony
Traditional Theatre

Calligraphy - known in Japan as shodo  - literally ’the way of writing’ arrived in Japan from China in the 5th Century alongside the Chinese writing system. It is still one of the country’s most highly-valued arts and is still studied by Japanese schoolchildren today in the form of shuji. During the Heian Period a distinctively Japanese style developed known as wayo  - an altogether more fluid style in comaprison to the orginal karayo Chinese style.

Japanese calligraphy attempts to bring words to life, and endow them with character. Styles are highly individualistic, differing from person to person. The work is completed in a matter of seconds so the uninitiated can find it hard to appreciate the degree of difficulty involved. However, bear in mind that the characters must be written only once. There is no altering, touching up, or adding to them afterward

Traditional writing implements include a brush, ink, inkstone and a water vessel. The three styles of shodo are Kaisho - or block script; Gyosho - ’running hand’ - where the style is more fluid and Sosho or ’grass hand’ which is altogether more decorative and cursive, linking characters together to create a flowing, graceful effect on the page.


Painting in Japan first started to break from its Chinese origins towards the end of the Heian period when religious themes began to give way to the style of painting known as yamato-e - a general term which describes the Japanese style. 

 Suibokuga is the term for painting in black ink. It was adopted from China and strongly influenced by Zen Buddhism. During the 15th century ink painting gained a more Japanese style of its own.

Various styles and schools developed over the folowing centuries - the Kano school used bright colors and introduced daring compositions with large flat areas that later should dominate the ukiyo-e (woodblock) designs while the Tosa-ha was a painting school which specialized on small miniature formats in book illustrations. The nanga painting style was strong at the beginning of the 19th century during the bunka and bunsai era. The advocates of this style painted idealized landscapes and natural subjects like birds and flowers for a cultural elite. (See above- taken from Hiroshige’s ’36 Views of Fuji’)
The shijo school was a split in the 18th century from the official Kano school. The shijo style is characterized by subjects taken from people’s everyday life - a kind of realism with sometimes satirical elements. Various media have been used to paint on but interestingly only since the 19th Century has framed canvas been popular.


Ceramics  The production of earthenware in Japan goes back to the neolithic Jomon period (from 10,000 to 300 B.C.). But the beginning of Japanese porcelain as Westerners know it today, started in the early seventeenth century. Japanese feudal lords had invaded Korea and brought with them skilled Korean artisans. They again, had learned from the Chinese how to produce fine porcelain. One of the Korean porcelain makers was Ri Sampei. He is considered as the "father" of Japanese porcelain, having built Japan’s first porcelain kiln at Arita in Kyushu.  In the late sixteenth century the cult of the tea ceremony had spread from China to Japan and promoted the development of porcelain manufacturing. Today Hagi is particularly renowned for as a centre for stoneware or use in the tea ceremony (’Hagi-yaki’).

Although Japanese porcelain production has found to its own style, the influence of Chinese and Korean porcelain manufacturing has always remained important. Today over 100 pottery centres exist in Japan, the most famous styles include Satsuma-yaki from Kagoshima in Kyushu (see image above), Karatsu-yaki, Mashiki-yaki and Kiyomizu-yaki - a style specific to the approach road of the temple of Kiyomizu-dera in Kyoto.


Textiles have always played an important role in Japanese society and have a complex and fascinating history, often reflecting the times. Cotton is a relatively recent import to Japan and prior to the 16th century most Japanese textiles were of silk. Intricate embroidery has always been highly prized and regarded but laws during the Edo period prohibited merchant classes from wearing them. The result was a rapid growth in the technique of Yuzen-dyeing which cleverly evaded these laws and allowed the merchants to continue wearing intricately-patterened cloth. Indigo blue (’ai’) has always been one of Japan’s most distinctive colours - the method of aizome (dyeing of cloth in large vats of indigo plant dye)was traditionally used in the manufacture of work-clothing and its legacy of bright, bold colours can still be seen in many of today’s modern textiles. A section on traditional dress explores the use of these textiles in more detail.


Lacquerware has been used in Japan for many centuries to enhance and protect wood. Known as shikki or nurimono, lacquerware uses the sap from the urushi tree which hardens to an exceptionally durable material. Many complex methods are used to enhance the appearance and designs with possibly the most famous being maki-e.  Often gold and silver is included within layers of lacquer producing complext patterns before the finished article is burnished to a smooth finish.                                     



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