History of Asia

Japanese Art and Architecture - History of Japanese Art and Architecture


All works of art made in Japan from the settlement of the first inhabitants, around the 10th millennium BC, to the present day.

Otani Oniji as Eitoku is one of numerous wood engravings made by Toshusai Sharaku between 1794 and 1795, during the Edo period. It represents a kabuki actor painted in the Ukiyo-e (floating world) style. Wood engraving reached its peak in Japanese art in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Historically, Japan has been subject to sudden intrusions of new ideas from abroad, followed by long periods of minimal contact with the outside world. Over time, the Japanese have developed the ability to absorb, imitate and eventually take on elements of foreign culture that served to complement their aesthetic preferences. The oldest artistic manifestations that developed in Japan date back to the 7th and 8th centuries and are related to Buddhism.

The Byodo-in, Amida Buddhist temple in Uji, near Kyoto, was completed in 1053. In it, the Ho-o-do (Phoenix Hall) stands out, which contains a large golden Amida figure in wood, made by the sculptor Jocho. The Ho-o-do was initially an aristocratic country house. In 1053, when the rest of the building was built, it became a monastery.

In the 9th century, Japan began to abandon Chinese influence and to develop its own forms of expression; Gradually, profane art gained importance, which continued to flourish, together with religious art, until the end of the 15th century. As a result of the Onin War (1467-1477), the country entered a period of political, social and economic disorganization, which lasted almost a century. Under the rule of the Tokugawa dynasty (or Edo, 1603-1867), the role of religion in daily life diminished and the arts that survived were basically profane.

Seáhu, artist and Zen Buddhist priest, was one of the most important artists of the Muromachi period (1339-1573). In the 15th century, he painted Falcons and Herons, in which the Chinese influence of the monochromatic style can be observed. His delicate landscape compositions and spontaneous brushwork reflect Seáhu's mastery of the Ma-Xia Chinese style.

The brush is the preferred means of artistic expression for the Japanese, who practice painting and calligraphy both professionally and as a hobby. Until modern times, the brush, not the pen, was always used for writing. For artists, sculpture was a far less effective means of expression; most of it is related to religion and its importance has diminished with the decline of traditional Buddhism. Japanese ceramics are one of the most beautiful in the world and many of the oldest known Japanese objects belong to this artistic modality. As for the architecture, it clearly reveals the Japanese preferences for natural materials, as well as the interaction of the interior space with the exterior.

The main characteristic of Japanese art is its polarity. For example, in the ceramics of prehistoric periods, excessiveness gave way to a disciplined and refined art. In the same way, there are two radically different structures from the 16th century:the Katsura Palace, near Kyoto, is an example of the simplicity of the lines, in which the natural woods and the integration with the surrounding gardens stand out, with which its beauty was achieved almost by accident; in contrast, the Toshogu mausoleum temple-shrine on Mount Nikko is a rigidly symmetrical structure, with colorful reliefs covering the entire visible surface.

Japanese art is valued not only for its simplicity, but also for the exuberance of its color, and it has exerted a considerable influence on Western painting and architecture in the 19th and 20th centuries, respectively.

Jomon and Yayoi art

The first important civilization was that of the Jomon (c. 7000-250 BC), they made small clay figures, called dogu, and vessels decorated with rope-like motifs, which gave rise to its name. Jomon jars, which often have intricate flaming shapes, are the oldest known pieces of pottery in the world.

The wave of immigrants that followed was that of the yayoi. They arrived in Japan in 350 BC, taking their knowledge of rice cultivation through irrigation and their metal techniques for the manufacture of copper weapons (doboko) and bronze bells (dotaku) and ceramic objects with the lathe. and baking in the oven.

Kofun or Great Tombs Art

The third stage of Japanese prehistory is the Kofun period or the great tombs (c. 250 BC-552 of our era), for being of imposing structures with a huge volume. The largest of all, the tomb of Nintoku, is some 460 m wide and over 30 m high.

Asuka and Naka art

During the Asuka and Nara periods, the first important influence of the culture coming from the Asian continent took place in Japan. The introduction of Buddhism in the year 552 or 558 from Korea provided an initial push for contacts between Korea, China and Japan. The Japanese then learned that Chinese culture too had many facets that could be usefully incorporated into theirs, such as a system for expressing ideas and sounds through written symbols, historiography, complex theories of government, a effective bureaucracy and, most importantly for art, advanced technology in the field of construction, advanced methods of casting bronze and new painting techniques and materials.

The first Buddhist buildings, which are still preserved in Japan - and which are the oldest wooden buildings in the Far East - are found in the temple of Horyuji, a religious complex southwest of Nara.

Heian Art

The Heian period spans from 794 to 1185, the year the Gempei Civil War ended. From then on, the period is divided into early Heian and later Heian. As a reaction to the growing power and wealth of organized Buddhism in Nara, the priest Kukai (posthumously called Kobo Daishi) traveled to China to study Xingon, a more rigorous variety of Buddhism, which he introduced to Japan in 806. The basis of the Xingon cult they are the mandala, or diagrams of the spiritual universe; the kongokai, or map of the innumerable worlds of Buddhism; and the taizokai, or pictorial representation of the realms of the Buddhist universe.

The temples of this new sect were erected in the mountains, far from the court and the worldly capital. The temple that best reflects the spirit of early Heian Xingon shrines is Murö-ji (early 9th century), hidden in a grove of cypresses on a mountain southeast of Nara.

Fujiwara art

In the Fujiwara period, he propagated the Pure Land sect, which offered easy salvation through faith in Amida (the Buddha of Western Paradise). Nothing else was needed:no temples, no monasteries, no rituals, no clergy.

The most characteristic example of the Fujiwara era is the Ho-o-do (Hall of the Phoenix, completed in 1053) at Byodoin temple in Uji, southeast of Kyoto.

During the last century of the Heian period, emaki, horizontal scrolls that narrated illustrated stories, also began to stand out. One of the most important examples of Japanese painting is the illustrations of the History of Genjii, made in 1130 for a short story, from the year 1000, by the writer Murasaki Shikibu.

Kamakura Art

In 1180 the Gempei Civil War broke out between two military clans, the Taira and the Minamoto. Five years later, Minamoto no Yorimoto, at the head of his faction, won victory and established his government in the coastal village of Kamakura, where he remained until 1333. With the passing of power from the nobility to the warrior class, art was destined to a new audience:soldiers, men dedicated to the crafts and techniques related to the war, priests charged with spreading Buddhism among the illiterate commoners and, finally, the conservatives, a group in which the nobility and some members of the priesthood were found who lamented the weakened court power. These circumstances influenced the art of the Kamakura period, which was characterized by its mixture of realism, a tendency towards vulgarity and a revival of the classic.

The Kegon Engi Emaki — the illustrated history of the founding of the Kegon sect — is an excellent example of the trend of kamakura painting towards the popular.

Muromachi Art

During the Muromachi period (1338-1573), also called the Ashikaga period, as this is the name of the ruling military clan, a profound change took place in Japanese culture. The clan took charge of the shogunate and returned to install the seat of government in the capital, in the Muromachi district of Kyoto, which meant the end of the popular trends of the Kamakura period and the adoption of more aristocratic and elitist cultural forms of expression.

Zen Buddhism, through the Ch'an sect, which, according to tradition, was founded in China in the 6th century, for the second time settled in Japan, where it took root. Imports of Chinese paintings and art objects increased. These new artistic trends had a profound influence on Japanese artists who worked for Zen temples and the shogunate, not only in terms of themes, but also in the use of color, which went from the brightness of the yamato-e style to the monochromatic tones characteristic of the chinese school.

A typical example of early Muromachi painting is the work of the priest and painter Kao (active in the early 15th century) in which the legendary monk Kensu (Xianzi, in Chinese) is represented at the moment of feeling enlightened.

Another important novelty of the season is the tea ceremony. Its purpose was to spend time with art-loving friends, freeing the mind from the worries of everyday life.

Momoyama art

In the Momoyama period (1573-1603), after almost a century of war, a succession of military leaders tried to bring peace and political stability to Japan. Among them, Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu, founder of the dynasty that bears his name.

Himeji Castle (whose present form was built in 1609), popularly known as the White Crane Castle, is one of the most beautiful buildings of the Momoyama period, with its gracefully curved roofs and three subsidiary towers surrounding the tenshu (tower of homage). ). The Ohiroma of Nijo Castle (17th century) in Tokyo is a classic example of shoin, with its tokonoma (niche), the window that opens onto a well-kept garden and the clearly differentiated zones for the Tokugawa lords and their vassals.

The most important school of painting of the Momoyama period was that of Kano and the greatest innovation of the time, the formula devised by Kano Eitoku to decorate the sliding doors of the interiors of houses with monumental landscapes. Perhaps the best display of his work is the decoration of the main hall, which overlooks the garden, of the Juko-in, in the Daitoku-ji sub-temple (Kyoto Zen temple).

Edo period art

The Tokugawa shogunate of the Edo period was made under undisputed government control in 1603, pledging to give the country peace and economic and political stability, which it largely achieved. One of the dominant features of the Edo period was the repressive policy of the shogunate and the efforts of artists to escape the restrictive measures, which went so far as to prevent the entry of foreigners and their cultures, to enact the isolationist policy of the Lapós (sakotu-rei) in 1639 and to enforce strict codes of behavior.

The Imperial Palace of Katsura, in Kyoto, and the paintings by Sotatsu, a pioneer of the Rimpa school, are from this period, which are fine examples of the Japanese architectural and pictorial style.

The best-known art school in the West is that of Ukiyo-e, of painting and wood engraving, whose themes are women of joyful life, the world of kabuki theater and the brothel district.

The main exponent of the Ukiyo-e style in the 19th century was Hokusai, who dedicated his long life to brilliantly painting and engraving landscapes, figures and all kinds of scenes, highlighting his Wave breaking in Kanagawa, which is part of the Thirty-six Views. of Mount Fuji, one of the best known works of Japanese art.

Art from 1867 on

In the years that followed 1867, after the accession of Emperor Meiji Tenô to the throne, Japan was once again invaded by new cultural forms from abroad. The first reaction of the Japanese to the situation was one of sincere acceptance and, in 1876, the School of Technological Arts was inaugurated, with Italian teachers who taught Western techniques. The second reaction was a rejection of the Western, led by Okakura Kakuzo and the American Ernest Fenollosa, who encouraged Japanese artists to conserve traditional themes and techniques, while creating works more in keeping with contemporary taste.

From these two poles of artistic theory emerged the yo-ga (western-style painting) and nihonga (Japanese painting) styles, which are still in force today. The need to rebuild Japan after World War II was a strong stimulus for Japanese architects, and modern buildings compete with the best in the world in technology (they are earthquake resistant) and formal concept. The best-known post-war first-generation architect is Kenzo Tange. Later figures such as Isozaki Arata and Tadao Ando approached a stronger and more significant Japanese presence in the international architectural landscape.