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Japanese Art

By Shunsen Natori 1886-1960

Thirty-six Kabuki Actors

Thirty-six Kabuki Actors

Japanese art is characterized by unique art forms such as Origami, the art of paper folding or the Japanese Tea Ceremony. For Westerners it seems odd how for instance serving and drinking tea can be considered as an art form.

The early development of Japanese art was influenced by Zen Buddhism and the sophisticated Chinese culture. During the Kamakura Period 1185-1333 and the Muromachi Period 1333-1573 Japanese arts developed into a more independent form of their own.

Traditional Japanese Theater

Traditional Japanese Theater comes in two forms, the popular Kabuki Theater and the more sophisticated and refined Noh Theater.

The Japanese Kabuki theater was founded by Izumo no Okuni, a former temple dancer and her female troupe around 1603 in Kyoto. Kabuki means dance and song. Kabuki was by far the most popular form of Japanese theater for the common people.

Often critical towards the ruling dynasty of the Tokugawa family, the Kabuki theaters were off-limits for aristocrats and members of the samurai class - in theory. Kabuki was so popular that they attended the performances nevertheless - disguised behind masks and in separate expensive boxes.

The origins of Noh Theater go back to the 14th century. Zeami (1363-1443) wrote many plays for the Noh theater and is considered as its founder.

Japanese Porcelain

Japanese porcelain has always been highly appreciated in the West. Even during the Edo period, when Japan was a secluded country that no foreigner was allowed to enter and no Japanese to leave, exports of Japanese porcelain were on a high level. The export business of Japanese ceramics was in the hands of the Dutch East India Company. They had a small trade post on an island close to Nagasaki.

Japanese porcelain making started in Japan in the early 17th century when Japanese war lords had invaded Korea. On their way home they brought Korean artisans with them.

One of them was Ri Sampei, who is considered to be the founder of the porcelain craft in Japan. The center of the Japanese porcelain production is on the island of Kyushu in the South where clay with a high percentage of kaolin is available.

Japanese Tea Ceremony

The Japanese porcelain production got a huge boost when in the 16th century the cult of the tea ceremony had spread from China to Japan. The Japanese tea ceremony is basically a choreographic ritual of preparing, serving and drinking tea. The Japanese founder was Sen no Rikyu (1522 to 1591).

The art of the Japanese tea ceremony is taught in different schools. To become a master of the tea ceremony takes years.

Japanese Art Prints

Japanese art prints, called Ukiyo-e is certainly the art form that has become most popular among Western art lovers. Ukiyo-e started in the 16th century and gained an enormous popularity as an art and artisan form with the introduction of the multi-color woodblock print. This was achieved by using several blocks - one for each color.

Since then, Japanese art prints have seen many different styles and many commercial twists. But they have remained a vibrant, popular and highly appreciated art form until this days.

Dieter WanczuraAuthor: Dieter Wanczura