Swanica explores Japan

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Last Saturday, we went to the Zojoji temple in Tokyo to watch the Noh theater.

This is the Main Gate "Sangedatsumon". It is majestic and magnificent and remains the only architectural reminder of the early days of the Edo Period, 17-18-19th century, when the original Zojoji was constructed on a prodigious scale.

Zojoji was founded in 1393 as an orthodox and fundamental seminary for Jodo shu in the Kanto (east Japan) region. In 1590 the shogun Ieyasu Tokugawa relocated it to Tokyo to establish his government and Zojoji became the family temple of the Tokugawa family. It continued to be the center to govern the religious studies and activities of Jodo shu, as it is still today. In those days, its precincts covered an area of 826,000 square meters with the big cathedral temple and 48 smaller ones, about 150 grammar schools, and 3000 priests and novices resided here. Zojoji was profoundly affected by the anti-Buddhist movement and World War II in the 20st century, but the cathedral and some temples and buildings have been rebuilt.

The cathedral temple.

The Amida Buddha statue inside the Zojoji.

One of the small shrines to pray for children.

All the statues wear knitted hats and bibs with colorful fans.

The open air theater from the back. In the back of the picture is the big front gate.

A view from the other side shows the big cathedral temple.

Tokyo Tower at night with the Cathedral.

Monday, May 28, 2007

The Noh theater played on the grounds in the open air of the Zojoji temple in Tokyo.

The early origins of Noh theater were mostly folk-type forms of rustic entertainment.
In 1375, Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, the powerful dynastic shogun and ruler of all Japan, experienced an early form of Noh performed by Kanami Kiyotsugu and his twelve year old son Zeami Motokiyo. It is due to Yoshimitsu's patronage and interest in early Noh that this dramatic form was able to develop into the highly refined, serene theater.
Zeami, a dramatist, is the prime figure in Noh, having written 100 of the 204 plays, many of which are still regularly performed to this day. He also wrote a very famous treatise in 1423 on the skills and methods necessary for a Noh actor, and that document is still valid study for young actors. What Zeami, inspired by his father, managed to create, was a theater of the Muromachi period (1336-1573), written in the upper-class language of the fourteenth century, but which looked back to the supposed Golden Age of the Heian Period (794-1185), by basing plays on people, events and even poetry of that era creating texts of astonishing richness and opacity. Noh exists today in a form almost unchanged since Zeami's day.

One of the blessings before and for the Noh plays.
The blessings were half an hour long.

Three priests accompanied the blessings on their instruments: very interesting sounds.

One of the most striking aspects of the Noh is that the shite, the main actor, may wear a mask, as may his companions, or tsure. This occurs when the main character is an old man, a youth, a woman, or a supernatural character. Tsure accompany the shite in certain plays, and if they represent one of these groups, they will also be masked, but the shite will not wear a mask if his character is an adult male.

Masks are carved from wood, often cedar, which is then painted, and include some of the most moving works of sculptural art in Japan, The masks are carved in a subtle way, so that with small changes of inclination they appear to show different emotions.

This is the mask from Yo-Kihi "Yang Kuei-fei".
The emperor is mourning her dead and a magician brings proof of her being on a magic island by a bejewelled hair ornament and then the magician/Yo-Kihi dances for the emperor.

The bejewelled hair ornament.

The magician/Yo-Kihi dances.

The other ubiquitous prop is the fan, which in a symbolic theater such as Noh, can represent all manner of other objects, such as bottles, swords, pipes, letters walking sticks and so on.

The costumes are adaptations of those of the 15th century. Some, particularly those of characters representing the nobility, are sumptuous, with gold and silver thread

The play will be performed on a stage open on three sides, and a pine tree behind. A sort of walkway, called the hashigakari leads onto the stage right position from an entrance doorway at right angles to the backboard. Along the hashigakari are three small pine trees, and these define areas where the actor may pause to deliver lines, before arriving on the main roofed stage, which is about six metres square.

One of the small pine trees.

Ranged along in front of the back is a group of musicians whose instruments include a flute, a shoulder drum, a hip drum and sometimes a stick drum. The musicians are responsible for the otherworldly, strange music which accompanies dance and recitation alike. At the right angles to the back, there is the chorus of eight to twelve chanters arranged in two rows and it is their job to take over the narration of the story, or the lines of the main character if he is engaged in a dance. These elements all contribute to a cohesive whole which creates a richly textured background against which the play is enacted, and since no scenery, few props and only a small cast appears, the imagination of the audience is left to roam freely.

In general, Japanese Noh plays are not very dramatic, although they are beautiful, since the text is full of poetical allusions and the dances, though slow, are extremely elegant. It is this very beauty which makes Noh a living art form still, over six hundred years after it developed.

This represents a magical lion in the last play, who dances among peony flowers before a stone bridge, which leads to a paradise.

Unfortunately, I was not allowed to take pictures during the performance. Those are photos from a brochure.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Because I walk every where,I found another fire fighter cover in a sidewalk near the Zojoji temple in Tokyo.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Today, I hang a new found scroll on the wall in our living room. I call it the "Mystical Morning" summer scroll: a beautiful Sumie brush painting on paper.

This is a close-up. And by clicking on it, you can enlarge it.

This scroll we have hanging, when you come up the stairs to the living room: delicately painted "Coy" or "Koi" fish on silk.

According to Japanese legend if a Koi (or carp) succeeded in climbing the falls at a point called Dragon Gate on the Yellow River it would be transformed into a dragon. Based on that legend, it became a symbol of worldly aspiration and advancement, the ability to attain high goals and courage.

Also, in the Buddhist Religion, the Koi Fish is symbolic for courage. Humans 'swim' through the 'ocean of suffering' without fear, just like a fish swims through water.

Owning Koi has been a pleasure to pond keepers and water gardeners for hundreds of years. Known as “Living Jewels” by the Japanese, these colourful carp are highly sought after. Hardy enough to live through all but the worst winters, they are the favourite choice of pond dweller in many different climates.

In general, Koi are associated with good fortune, luck and happiness.
(Click for enlargement)

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Last week, from May 15 - May 20, the Tokyo Nippon Tougei Club had their major show in the Mitsukoshi Nihonbashi store.
This was their 40st anniversity charity event for all kind of good causes in and outside Japan to help needy people.

Two pieces of mine were accepted and sold right away the first day!

A "Horsehair" Vase and
a "Feather, Horsehair" Vase.
(Click on the picture for enlargement).

Nine "Ningen Kokuho", Living National Treasures, like Shimaoka Tatsuo were asked to participate: a beautiful Sake set with his rope impressed design.

And special Japanese Award winner, Imaizumi Imaemon.
A beautiful decorated porcelain vase.

Some other work:

Some plates with a gold leaf flower design.

A beautiful little Chalice.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Elephants in Thailand hold a revered place in society, because of their symbolic importance to monarchs, religion, and the nation as a whole.

A ceramic sculptured elephant.

Thai tradition abounds with examples of the elephant playing an important role in the workings of the Kingdom. Most significant of all, perhaps, is the white elephant, prized because it is a rare animal judged fit only for royal duties.

A ceramic glazed elephant.

According to ancient royal Thai traditions, a white elephant is a noble beast of special importance, exemplifying a king's honor and glory. Known in Thai as Chang Samkhan, a white elephant is a gift fit for a king and to acquire one during his reign, will bring about prosperity and happiness throughout the kingdom.

A terra cotta clay elephant.

Elephants are of immense importance in Thailand. They are smart land mammals and hard-working beasts, providing transportation for mankind. At times of war, elephants played an indispensable role in the war machine of Thailand and other Asian countries.

A wooden carved elephant.

Commanders fighting duels on elephant back, documented throughout Thai history, required strategic planning and great skills to lead armies to win wars. Elephants in battle played a sterling part in maintaining the sovereignty of Thailand in past war periods.

A stone carved elephant.

The elephant appears in many Thai proverbs and sayings and is an emblem on regalia of national importance such as prior national flags of Thailand, royal emblems, and royal decorations. Undoubtedly, the elephant holds pride of place as the national symbol of the Kingdom of Thailand.

A wooden elephant.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

I saw some beautiful pottery in some museums and in temples.
Especially, the Suan Pakkad Palace Museum and the Jim Thompson house in Bangkok had some wonderful pieces. But also, often you were not allowed of course to take pictures. So, I got some pictures from catalogues.

This is Banchiang Prehistoric pottery. It is iron oxide painted. They also had beautiful cord marked pots.

This is a prehistoric artifact from China probably from the Sung period.

A beautiful Chinese porcelain tea set with all Kanji signs. H.M.King Rama IV+V were very impressed by their ceramic ware that they even named gardens, canals, gates and roads after ancient Chinese ceramics.

A pentachromatic, 5 color, porcelain bowl, called Bencharong. It was made in China but decorated with Thai designs.

A Bencharong porcelain box I saw in a hotel.

Some other beautiful plate and little box.
I think it is also made in China.

On our way back to Japan, we made a stopover in Thailand.

It is unbelievable what a human can make!
Here is just a tiny small example of what we saw. It is all so beautiful and so intricately made.
The colored pieces are almost all ceramic used as tiles and little pieces of ceramics for flowers. They use crystals and mirrors/glass in their mosaics and when the sun shines on it, it blinds your eyes. Very tricky!

This is the Grand Royal Palace in Bangkok.
Click on the picture for enlargement. Garuda birds are sitting on the top and corners of the roof.

Those are pagodas completely covered with ceramics tiles and ceramic little pieces to make a mozaic.

This is the roof top of the Marble temple "Wat Benchamabophit": nice ceramic roof tiles.
On the top and corners of the roof you see the Garuda bird. In the Buddhist mythology, the Garudas are enormous predatory birds with intelligence and social organization. They combine the characteristics of animals and divine beings.

Roof decoration with little Buddhas.

The reclining Buddha in the "Wat Po" temple. He is 30 meters long and all the walls in this temple are completely painted with all stories and scenes from their mythology. It is amazing!

Like this painting. But this one is in the Grand Royal Palace and is being renovated with gold paint and is on the surrounding wall off the palace and may be is a mile long. And all with those paintings 2 meters high.

This is a small Buddha in one of the temples I visited with a beautiful ceramic porcelain vase next to it with Lotus flowers.

Another beautiful porcelain vase.

In one of the temples a beautiful pot with waterlilies in it and a big dragon on it.