March 18, 2012

More Loudly They Cry, More Healthy They Grow Up!

"The Second Month Ceremony  (修二会)" is the most exciting one in Nara,  well known as Torch Ceremony or Water Drawing Ceremony. Eleven Buddhist priests are confined to February Hall of Todai-ji Temple and perform strict rituals following precise schedule for two weeks ( March 1st to March 14th). The ceremony has been held since 752 without interruption!  The core of the ceremony is the repentance held in front of  eleven-faced Kannon (十一面観音), Buddhist deity of compassion and mercy . Eleven priests pray to Kannon for peace, happiness, welfare, good health, good weather and harvest on behalf of all the people of the world.
Torch Ceremony is part of Second Month Ceremony.

On March 15th, a lot of children are climbing up the stone steps to February Hall .

On 15th March , one day after the two-week long  second month ceremony was completed, the special event "Cap Dattan-bo, 韃靼帽いただかせ” is held for children in February Hall.  A precious cap called Dattan-bo is symbolically  put on  the head of a child. The caps of the same type were worn by the priests while they were performing the unique ritual. The children who wear Dattan-bo are promised to grow up healthy and strong. Many children start crying  loudly, but do not worry. Because it is said more loudly children cry, more healthy they grow up.  This day, their cry blows like pleasant breeze. Mothers' happily smiling faces make me feel as if I were in comfortable sunshine. Toast to wonderful families!

When my son was a child, I did not know this ceremony. Now it i s too late for him.

Many Cameramothers! From the balcony of February Hall,
the vast view of Nara Basin is enjoyed.

 Around 1pm on the same day, the side door of February Hall is open. Eleven priests who successfully finished hard rituals appear. Now is the time when the elven priests go home. They look covered with aura of contentment and relief. How venerable they are! People join hands and bow to them.

They are climbing down the stone steps.

Quiet footsteps sound.. This is a residential area for the priests.

One by one, saying "Good-bye".

Mischievous spring winds surprise them.
Once the second month ceremony is over, real spring is said to be here in Nara!

This is the approach to Great Buddha's Hall of Todai-ji Temple.  Around South Great Gate, 
 it is always crowded with  visitors and deer. The deer are usually very amicable
and friendly, but on this day  they seem to be terse and fed up with people. 
 Because of two-week ceremony, too many people have visited the temple!

Crimson Ume, Japanese apricot flowers in full bloom.

 my blog about the second month ceremony, written in March, 2011.

March 01, 2012

Hokusai Come Back with Great Wave, Ukiyo-e

"This is a good chance to talk about my icon, " Great Wave", I thought.
The titles in this color are on exhibition.

Commemorating the 250th anniversary of his birth,  Hokusai 北斎 (1760 - 1849) came back home from Hawaii with "Great Wave Off Kanagawa" !   He is an unparallelend artist of  Ukiyo-e  woodblock prints 浮世絵. Thanks to the Honolulu Academy of Arts, the exhibition featuring  massive collection of Hokusai's works has been held in Kyoto Culture Museum. It will end on March 25th. I went to see Hokusai the other day, being excited. 172 best-preserved  works of Hokusai are overwhelming and more than worth seeing!

The Academy is worldly famous for its Eastern Art collection, including about 10,000 Ukiyo-e woodblock prints.  Roughly 5400 of them were donated by Mr. James A. Michener, the author of Tales of the South Pacific which  the musical "South Pacific" was based on.
"Great Wave Off Kanagawa" 神奈川沖浪裏 around 1830 - 1832
from the series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji 富嶽三十六景

This print  is the most well-known and famous Ukiyo-e in the world. For me to meet "Great  Wave" is something like to meet a lover whom I haven't seen for a long time.
Alas, the monster-like waves are going to swallow down people and the boats which are carrying fresh fish to Edo, the old name of Tokyo.  More  blustering the waves are,  more still Mt. Fuji looks! The waves look alive with their will. What can  people do in front of the raging nature? They are just desperately hanging on the boats and praying. Uchida Chizuko says "The Great Wave may be the transformation of a dragon, the deity of the water. "(1)  But, how dynamic the composition is,  and how impressive  blue colours are! 

Hokusai used  indigo dark blue and Prussian blue called Bero-ai ベロ藍. Prussian blue, which was  found accidentally on the process of  making red in Germany, was more transparent, brighter than indigo dark blue, but it was expensive.  By using this pigment and mixing it with indigo, Hokusai created a number of vivid shades of blue.

Inspired by "Great Wave", Claude Debussy composed "La Mer (海)"  in 1905.
The cover design of the score " La Mer ( image taken from wikipedia)

The influence of "Great Wave" can be seen here and there.

Expo '70 was held in Osaka in 1970. The design of Australian Pavilion  was based on "Great Wave. However, many of visitors thought a dinosaur was holding a big roof in its mouth. Later I got to know that the architect had been inspired by Hokusai's "Great Wave". Since then, I have been fascinated with Hokusai and his Great Wave.                                                      The Expo'70  had been the biggest one until Expo2010 Shanghai China broke the record.  

"Great Wave"  is painted on a canvas of 35 jeans. 

Fascinating blue!
"Kajikazawa in Kai Province"甲州石反澤, around 1830 - 1832
from the series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji

 Mt. Fuji has long been an object of worship as the divine.  During Edo Period (1600 - 1867), travelling became popular. People formed the religious groups ( 富士講) and travelled to climb Mt. Fuji. Their dream was to climb Mt. Fuji once in their lifetime. It is said that the series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji served as good travel guidebooks.

the poster for the exhibition
The upper  is "Red Fuji" 凱風快晴 where Mt.Fuji is illuminated
with the light of sunrise and turns pinkish red .
The lower is "Thunderstorm Beneath the Summit"山下白雨
The still summit is interestingly contrasting with roaring  thunder-bolts below clouds.
around 1830 - 1832.
 Both from the series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji
"Groups of Mountain Climbers" 諸人登山,  around 1830 - 1832
from the series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji

The above is an interesting one. Where is Mt.Fuji?   On Mt. Fuji  are worshippers of Mt. Fuji who are walking around the narrow edge of the crater to visit holey grounds along it one by one. A square cave is a rock chamber where people rest themselves and are sheltered from the elements.

Catalogue of the exhibition,
"Viewing Sunset over the Ryougokubashi from the Onmaya Embankment"
御厩川岸より両国橋夕陽見, around 1830 - 1832
from the series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji

This series was so popular that ten more works were added and it made Forty-six Views.

His another masterpiece  is depictiong flowing water. Don't you think water looks sticky?
"Kirifuri Waterfall on Mount Kurokami in Simotsuke Province",
from the series A Tour if Japanese Waterfalls, around 1832 - 1833

The above all Ukiyo-e are  owned by  the Honolulu Academy of Arts.
If powerful"Great Wave" is compared to father, this wave is mother. The forming sprays are magically changing to plovers.
Mount Fuji from the Sea 海上の不二, in 1834
from the series One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji  富嶽百景
in Tokyo Fuji Art Museum,東京富士美術館

 Hokusai's self-portrait at the age of 78 (image taken from wikipedia)

Hokusai was a enigmatic and eccentric genius.  It is said that he moved 93 times and changed his painter name 30 times.   I like this name 画狂老人, meaning Old Man Crazy About Painting. He did not care anything such as clothes, food, money, home and more. He started his career as Ukiyo-e painter at the age of 20. Since then he vigorously continued painting until he died at the age of 90. I am amazed and wonder where  his inexhaustible energy and enthusiasm came from?  He was also an unstoppable challenger who explored many diffrent subjects ranging from beautiful women to ghosts,  changing his styles of drawing. According to one theory, he created about 30,000 works for 70 years. Suddenly,  The name came up to my mind. "Picasso, even if Hokusai had been reborn as Picasso, it would not have been impossible. They have many thing in common." Endless energy, enthusiasm, passion,  the wide range of subjects, changing the styles, 70 years of creative activities, a numerous number of works and so and so. People in Spain, please pardon my imagination.

Both names are on the list of  Life's 100 most important people of the second millennium" (2) who had a major impact on the Second Millennium, ranked in order of importance.  The list has mixed reception, but anyway it is interesting, isn't it?

The belows are quoted from the Top 100 People. Picasso is  the 78th and Hokusaie is the 86th, who is only one Japanese on the list.

78 PABLO PICASSO 1881-1973 
Pablo Picasso dominated 20th century art. He helped create Cubism, pioneered innovations in sculpture and lithography, experimented with new media and captivated imaginations around the world with his powerful personality and boundless energy. The prolific Spaniard, who painted subjects ranging from the women he lived with to the devastating effects of war, had a career that spanned 70 years--and an influence that spans generations and cultures.

86 HOKUSAI 1760-1849 
At the age of 74, Hokusai, one of the greatest artists of the millennium, bemoaned his lack of talent. "Of all I drew prior to the age of 70 there is truly nothing of any great note," he wrote, predicting that "at 100 I shall have become truly marvellous." The master painter, illustrator and print maker of the Japanese Ukiyo-e school of art didn't make it to his century mark, but he did create thousands of treasured images--of landscapes, flora, fauna, historical scenes--including the print series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji. His work influenced the French Impressionists, especially Paul Gauguin.

He continued to say, "At 110, every dot and every stroke will be as though live. May people of longevity witness and prove my words true."

A charming shop in front of Kyoto Culture Museum

Ukiyo-e woodblock painting is a genre of art flourishing during Edo period (1600-1867).  Ukiyo-e was born around the mid-17th century. In the 18th century,  development of multi-colored printing techniques made the mass production possible and ordinary people could afford to buy prints which were quite similar to the today's celebrity photos, newspaper or gossip magazines.  hey were rather disposable. The process of Ukiyo-e was divided into three separate tasks, First, the painter drew the original picture. Then the carver carved the picture on woodblocks. At last the printer printed the copies by using the carved woodblocks. Hokusai was a painter.

Now Ukiyo-e woodblock prints are the highly valued as the best example of art of Edo-period. But, the   artistic value of Ukiyo-e was first  recognised in France and other western countries, not  in Japan. Being wrapped in Ukiyo-e prints, the potteries were exported to the western countries from Japan. There Ukiyo-e was highly appreciated.The influence of Ukiyo-e on impressionists is well known. They are Vincent van Gogh, Cluade Monet, Edgar Degas, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and more.

It is believed that Hokusai Manga, which were called "Hokusai's Sketches" by Western artists, and "Thirty Views of Mount Fujithe" were the first pieces of Ukiyo-e that caught the attention of Western artists and triggered the widespread innovative influence of these Japanese prints. (3)

"Hokusai's Sketches" 
in the Honolulu Academy of Arts

From a history textbook of high school, about Japonism
a painting on right side, by Vincent van Gogh
a left one is original Ukiyo-e by Keisai Eisai

おしをくりはとうつうせんのず around 1806 (4)
in Tokyo National Museum 東京国立博物館

Ukiyo-e inspired western artists, but Hokusai himself was interested in techniques of western paintings. It is obvious that this print shows western influence.  He used the shadow method and perspective, added the printed frame,  and left his signature in cursive writing to look like western alphabet. He studied many styles and the western style was one of them.
The print is considered as the first step to "Great Wave".It took him 25 years to reach "Great Wave". I felt it  interesting, at  first western style techniques influenced  the prototype of "Great Wave" and  later his masterpiece "Great Wave" inspired western artists.

"Male Waves" and "Female Waves"  in 1845 are unique paintings which are interpreted in sveral ways. But I love this one the best. They depict cosmos.  (5)  Countless stardust seems to be swirling and leading to the depth of cosmos.
                                                                Image of cosmos

"Male Waves"  男浪

"Female Waves" 女浪
 in 1845,
paintings on the ceilings of a festival float,
 in Hokusai Museum, Obuse , Nagano
富士越龍 "Dragon Rising Above Mt. Fuji" on silk
This painting is said to be completed 4 months before his death in 1849.
in Hokusai Museum in Obuse, Nagano 北斎館、小布施、長野県

The black dragon is himself. Where is he going? Oh, I am sure he is  passing over Mt. Fuji and aiming at at the end of cosmos!

Hokusai is too great to write about him, and his works are too marvelous and too many to choose my favorite. As a result, I found it difficult to get my blog into shape.

(1) カオスを描いた北斎の謎、 日経ビジネスオンライン、 内田 千鶴子
(3) Catalogue, The 250th Anniversary of Hokusai's Birth"
(4)葛飾北斎 Katsusika Hokusai,  新潮日本美術文庫17、 解説 神谷 浩
(5) ミステリー絵画シリーズ、 「葛飾北斎 怒涛図」、 テレビ東京

浮世絵の歴史、監修 小林 忠、美術出版
宇宙をめざした北斎、内田 千鶴子、日経プレミアム