Japanese art has a certain ultimate simplification being shriven of all excesses. It seems immune to the fluctuations of transient vogues and at times approaches pure symbolism with its immaculate gestures. Designs have resilience and restraint, a fluent delicacy of contour and composition. Pose never trespasses on purpose. In Japanese art there is a strong nature element, marked by an august austerity. The motifs represent a wide range of subjects taken from all phases of Japanese life, from dancing crabs to demonic dragons, from billowy waves to willowy bamboo. This collection of Japanese family crests, once more made available to occidental artists, has long been regarded as a fundamental source of basic motifs. The prevailing opinion is that crests made their first appearance during the Heian period (794-1185) as heraldic devices borne hereditarily by the nobility of the Imperial court.
Virtually every type of technique was utilized in the blazoning of these designs. Some were embellished with color or lacquer, or worked with mother-of-pearl, while others were made of porcelain, also dyed or woven into the texture of cloth, as well as being worked into metals and carved in wood. During the Edo period (1600-1867) the crest attained the height of its development and application. The crest gradually took on the nature of decoration, losing its original function of representing family names. They were sometimes imprinted all over a garment as a decorative motif. At other times, their designs were changed so as to impart a more decorative quality to them. In extreme cases, some people went to the length of adopting entirely new crests of beautiful designs for their clothes. Japanese crests are formed of simple or symmetrical devices and as a rule represent a motif in natural shape or in harmonious combinations with something closely associated with it. The crest is often found in some inseparable relations between natural phenomena, as in rock and bamboo grass.
One is constantly impressed by the boundless scope of the variations achieved, their gradations and graduations, their convolutions and involutions. The nicety of proportions, the precision of values, the sensitive linear inter-relations, the subtle transmigration of symbols, the compact observance of these factors forms an art education all by itself. Furthermore, the adroitness in fitting stylized motifs into symmetrical borders, the power of securing so much compression and at the same time so much air in a limited area, is an accomplishment of no small order. Japanese artists were masters in the technique of modulated modification, which they effected through the devices of addition, reconstruction, and repetition.
Many of the subjects used had definite symbolical connotations. The pine denoted stability of character and unflinching purpose; the bamboo, constancy and fidelity; the tree peony, wealth; the crane and tortoise, longevity. Each one of these crests has remarkable visual vitality and definition of character. Exposure to these pages promises a prolonged optical treat, an initiation in awareness of design potentials. A book such as this is singularly serviceable to broad groups of artists.
Ike Gyokuran, Akashi Bay
The study of Japanese fan paintings provides a glimpse into the creative experiences of Japanese artists through the centuries since fan paintings reflect the prevalent artistic currents of the times in which they were created. These small-scaled works of art often represented pinnacles of expression by many of the major and minor artists of the Edo period (1615-1868), Japan’s greatest era of widespread artistic creativity. The intent of this publication is to present the distinctive beauty of this art form, and to allow broader public exposure and enjoyment of these objects.
Nakabayashi Chikuto, Lofty Recluse Amidst Streams and Mountains
During the Edo period, Japan was closed to outside foreign influence and trade and a 260 year hiatus of relative peace endured. Japanese society underwent dramatic changes in structure. The warrior class of samurai declined in significance, while the emerging merchant class, who congregated in Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka, prospered. Under the rule of the Tokugawa Shoguns, the capital of Japan was moved to Edo (now Tokyo), where the population rapidly grew to more than one million. Cultural appreciation of art, music, theatre and poetry became more widespread, particularly among the large number of city dwellers and the increasingly important mercantile community. The combination of peace, prosperity, lack of foreign influence, and changes in cultural and economic conditions produced an aesthetic environment which allowed Japanese painters the freedom to express themselves.
Suzuki Kiitsu, Futami Bay
In Japan, fans were probably originally purely utilitarian, used for cooling in the summer; later they were used also for ceremonial functions. The first fans were made of wood and not painted. Later, fans were made of paper and enhanced with calligraphy and/or painting. The term ogie describes fan painting. The union of function with beauty, a hallmark of Japanese aesthetics, is particularly noteworthy in the production of fans. Since fans were functional as practical items, they became consumable objects and were either worn out or destroyed in time. Thus, relatively few survived, especially from the 7-13th centuries.
Shibata Zeshin, Pine Trees in the Gorge
Fan painting formats differ from the horizontal picture planes of handscrolls and the vertical shapes of hanging scrolls, requiring creative design solutions. The most important consideration is a compositional problem: how can a skillful painting be made to respond to the unique shape of the fan? The important elements unique to the horizontal fan format are its curved and arched upper and lower borders, plus the fan’s radiance. The latter term is used to explain the fan structure, whereby radiating lines, formed by the wooden ribs, originate from a focal point below the fan surface, and divide the fan into numerous, narrow sections. The final consideration in the horizontal fan is the visual impact the viewer experiences when opening the fan from right to left. These three qualities of curvature, radiation, and movement are the characteristic compositional elements of the horizontal fan.