21/02/2018

Aesthetics of Tea


Respect is shown and respect is given.  Everything is in its place and all of our senses are tenderly touched in a way we will never forget.Jin Kitamura Bill Tingey Photo © Copyright
Dedication and devotion
Most people will have a complete understanding of the maxim “art for art’s sake”.  But what about “craft for craft’s sake”?  Is the meaning more or less the same?  I would say that in both cases a degree of indulgence is suggested on the part of the artist or craftsperson.

In the case of art the notion is one of a pure “art”.

A pure “craft” is, perhaps more than anything else, something extolling the skills necessary to make an object.  This may result in it becoming something to be admired rather than used, although that is not always the case.

Far less commonly heard is “art for life’s sake”.  In this case something of the purity of a work is compromised for a purpose—this could be political, decorative, or simply to enhance the experience of life in some way.

A “craft for life’s sake” is much easier to define as the function is clear and its aesthetic qualities are an added extra to enhance the enjoyment of life.  This, of course, is also true of a good piece of industrial design, itself a kind of craft. (See blog Japanese Industrial Art 22/12/2017)

As twilight deepens guests arrive at the bidding of the host.  The path is lit and anticipation is nurtured.
Jin Kitamura Bill Tingey Photo © Copyright
 In a collection of writings on aesthetics, Shuichi Kato (加藤周一1919-2008) uses these two maxims—“art for art’s sake” and “art for life’s sake”—as a way of trying to better understand the aesthetics of Tea in Japan.

He feels that neither of these maxims fully describes the artistic qualities and overall approach to be found in the culture of Tea.  Instead he attempts to describe Tea as “life for art’s sake”.

Kato maintains that when the practices of Tea were being refined in Japan before the fifteenth-century, the guiding maxim was “art for art’s sake”.  By the eighteenth-century, it was an “art for life’s sake”.  But in its heyday during the fifteenth-, sixteenth- and seventeenth-centuries it was, as he puts it, “life for art’s sake”.

This could perhaps be interpreted as being an example of a complete and utter dedication to the art and skill of tea ceremony, in which, incidentally, craftwork plays an important part.

The skill which is exercised in the making of the paraphernalia used in a tea ceremony is phenomenal.  And rightly so.  It needs to match the precision and care with which the host and guests move, behave and play a part in the whole ceremony, itself so natural and yet so programmed as to be an expression of “life for art’s sake”.

The dedication with which true lacquerware is made and decorated is staggering.  But not unique.  There is an envious commitment by the Japanese to the presentation of food, for example.  In modern life the Japanese can sometimes be totally focused on doing something “in the RIGHT way”.  I see nothing wrong in this.  Although I would have to admit that it may sometimes inhibit creative development.

The strict ritualisation of a tea ceremony can be off-putting.  However, in the hands of a skilled, sympathetic host and equally sympathetic guests, the whole experience is elevating, meditative and touches all of our senses tenderly and yet permanently.

Nevertheless, who would dare to completely pooh-pooh a maxim designed to foster perfection.  Long live “life for art’s sake”.  And “life for craft’s sake” too.

A tray or platter to match the stringent needs of a tea ceremony.  Made by Wakashima Senior.
Bill Tingey Photo © Copyright

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03/01/2018

2018 Happy New Year



あけましておめでとございます

Woof woof…
2018 is the year of the Dog, inu in Japanese.  In a general sense the dog is seen by the Japanese as the protector of little children.  It is also regarded as an amiable creature in literature and folklore.  The dog even has a sacred status.  It is the only animal allowed in Koya San where the head temple of the Shingon sect of Buddhism is located.  

Two koma inu guardian shrine dogs—bottom left—are just samples of the work done by a stone mason in Wajima.  To the right are racoon dogs, perhaps intended as a novelty item for a garden. Bill Tingey Photo © Copyright
There is an Inudera or “dog temple” in the mountains of Harima.  And it is the guardian statues of koma inu as well as lions that protect the approach to temples and shrines all over Japan.  So let us hope that our year of the Dog will be save!  After all, we need protecting for all kinds of perils these day, both natural and manmade.


Takashi Wakamiya has looked for other meaning in the design of this tea ceremony tea caddy produced by the lacquerware collective Hikoju Makie, which he heads.  Inside the lid there are three cuddly puppies.  What could be more adorable.  Above them is a spray of bamboo().  In a way these motifs can be seen as a representation of the character for warai, to laugh or smile().  


This character has two parts.  The top half is a simplified form of the character for bamboo.  And then below is a character not much different from the standard one for dog/inu ().  

This play on words and characters adds substance to the qualities of the design.  It also provides a talking point to entertain and delight the guests of a tea ceremony.

A sense of happiness, hope and even a gentle chuckle are sure to accompany any spontaneous glimmer of a smile that these images may evoke.

Happy New Year of the Dog.

Tea caddy images courtesy of Hikoju Makie, Copyright


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22/12/2017

Japanese Industrial Crafts


“…life for art’s sake…”
The Winter Equinox.  Many people in the UK have been waiting for this day—the shortest day after which each one becomes a little longer.

Christmas Day is fast approaching and the New Year is just a few more days away.  For many people around the world this is a season of merry making and, for some, a time to relax and do some reading on the subject of Japanese crafts perhaps.  I do hope so.

A few years ago I was alerted to the existence of a series of books on many aspects of Japanese culture.  The series was published in English by the Board of Tourist Industry, Japanese Government Railways in a handy size clearly aimed at the tourist market.  There are forty volumes in the original series first published between 1934 and the early part of the 1940s.

The original volumes are particularly appealing.  The printed pages with photographs are excellent for the time.  The covers are an absolute delight, made from a matt coloured paper with an attached coloured illustration and a dust jacket of glassine—like a thin tracing paper.  The covers are unmistakably Japanese.  A number of hardback volumes were subsequently published in the 1950s roughly following the same format but looking far less “Japanese”.

It is the introduction to the volume on Japanese Industrial Arts that I would like to present.  This volume was copyrighted and published in 1941and written by Seiichi Okuda (who seems to be 奥田誠一).


Please note that the way Japanese is now commonly written in roman letters has changed.  In this piece, bizyutu is now usually written as bijitsu.  Industrial arts are referred to as kôgei but these days this word is used as a general term for craft, although often referring to a repeatable craft item as well as studio craft.













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11/12/2017

Exhibition Notice



HIKOJU MAKIE Exhibition~ Featuring work by MIWA KOMATSU

This makie panel was produce by Takashi Wakamiya, Makie by Ayano Konishi.
483x383x30mmOriginal drawing by Miwa Komatsu.
The exhibition runs from  6th~12th December 2017
 GINZA MITSUKOSHI DEPARTMENT STORE GALLERY 7F

Based on an original drawing by Ayano Konishi, this makie panal was produced by Takashi Wakamiya who heads Hikoju Makie and features the work of Miwa Komatsu.  The panel was also worked on by the woodcarver Arisa Oguro and the makie artist Ayano Konishi.

彦十蒔絵 若宮隆志展~Featuring 小松美羽~
彦十蒔絵の作品に加え、注目の現代アーティストとして国内外でめざましい活躍している小松美羽氏の神獣たちを、木彫作家 小黒アリサ氏、蒔絵師 小西 紋野氏らのコラボレーションで蒔絵作品として再現し、新たな命を吹き込んだ作品を製作しました。
*当イベント写真は小松美羽氏の作品「幸せに生まれ、幸せに栄える」を漆芸の技術を駆使して製作しました(蒔絵漆芸額 483*383*30mm)。
製作:彦十蒔絵  蒔絵担当:小西紋野
会期:2017126日(水)~12日(火)

場所:銀座三越 7階 ギャラリー

01/12/2017

Picturesque?


On Which the Eye Settles
The Picturesque movement that became fashionable in England and on Continental Europe during the latter part of the eighteenth and nineteenth century was something of a reaction against the much stricter principals employed within Neoclassicism—formality, proportion and a general sense of orderliness.

Picturesque meant exactly that—looking like something that might have originated in a “picture”.  This included landscape that might have been manipulated to look better, more pleasing to the eye and, of all things, might have included a ruin.  These were actually built to look like real ruins and used as compositional components in a landscape.

Sometimes called a folly—from the French word folie meaning “foolishness”—they were placed so as to enhance a landscape or vista and functioned as something rather romantic.

Although there is a slight air of romantic sentimentality about this ruined house standing close to the shore of the western coast of the Noto Peninsula, it is a long way from being a “folly”.  If anything it is a prop in a tragedy played out in real time, and simply one of the realities of life.

Inevitably it is something on which the eye settles.  Something about which we begin to imagine what might have happened to the family that lived in what must have been a house or real character and a home full of warmth and vitality.  Although a ruin, it is in the strangest of ways still picturesque.

Bill Tingey Photo © Copyright

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17/11/2017

Burning Wood



Warming hearts and homes
Driving around the NotoPeninsula in glorious weather in June 2015, I was surprised to see stacks of firewood outside many buildings.  It was, of course, a sign of how cold and bleak the peninsula can be in winter.  And how much the locals value that resource.

Where I live on the rural boarder between England and Wales, wood burning stoves are not only common but are becoming more and more popular.  The abundance of local supplies of wood has helped, of course.

Their popularity has spread to larger urban conurbation with a somewhat  surprising result—some people in London, for example, have called for a ban on wood burning stoves in the metropolis.  There are those people who curse the smoke that a wood burner can produce while others cite the smell of burning wood as offensive.  Burning wood is also seen as a threat to the quality of the air.

Here in the country the scent of wood burning in a stove or even on an open hearth is a welcoming gesture to friends invited to an evening meal and more and more perceived as a luxury, especially if the wood being burnt is kiln dried.

Kindling, with which to start a fire, as well as small logs are sold wrapped in plastic at petrol stations and some supermarkets.  Or they can be delivered by the trailer load.  Over the past two or three years, however, the size of the load has gotten smaller and the price higher.

During the winter on the Noto Peninsula it seems as though a wood burning stove is prized as much as they are here in the Marches—the area along the boarder between England and Wales.

But, with air pollution an ever present consideration, how much longer will we be allowed the unassailable luxury of sitting by a crackling fire of scented wood to warm our hearts and homes?

Bill Tingey Photo © Copyright


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14/11/2017

Don’t Judge a Building by its Colour

The pine tree is as much an indicator of the age of this property as is the weathering of the timber.  Note that there is a formal entrance from the street to the garden and reception rooms.
Younger than it may look
The layout of the buildings of this saké brewery in Wajima are a little unusual.  Many traditional street-side shops and other business premises in Japan are built with there eaves toward the street.

More often than not the fronts can be opened to the street and a deep wooden beam spans the entire opening.  They are usually made of zelkova wood (Zelkova serrata), which is a figured timber similar to elm.  True lacquer is used to enhance the appearance of the grain with the purpose of “drawing customers in”.

These traditional shops with their open frontage can still be found all over Japan, many of which are over one-hundred years old.  Such shops are sometimes accompanied by a small plastered storehouse but with its gable end facing the street.

Here at the Hakuto Saké Brewery, however, it is a business block which faces the street under a tiled variation of a hipped and gabled roof.  To the right of this is a single storey building housing reception rooms and higher roofs further back.  The reception rooms face a wide shallow garden fenced off from the street.  The way a substantially “trained” pine rises over the boarded fence is a common feature of traditional urban properties, whether they are dwellings are some kind of business premises.  In this case, however, the pine is much bigger than most of its kind.

So often a “front” garden such as this becomes a buffer between private and public space—remember that the hot humid summers in Japan make it necessary to keep windows and screens open for ventilation at the expense of some privacy.

Narrow slats of wood and a setback from the edge of this building in Wajima afford some privacy to the areas behind, despite flanking a public thoroughfare.

If there is no space for a garden to provide an open air “buffer”, privacy can be preserved with a wooden grill or screen to cover openings, especially when they open directly onto a public thoroughfare.

Coming across the brewery one day when I was in Wajima, I was reminded of a conversation with a Japanese friend soon after moving to Japan in 1976.

We were driving through a suburb of Yokohama on our way to China Town.  We passed some shops that I took to be “old” simply from their appearance—dark unfinished weathered timber, fine details and ceramic tiles on their roofs.

“How old are those shop?” I asked as we drew to a halt at some traffic lights.  To my surprise my friend said “Oh, very old.  About forty years old I should think”.

In my ignorance I had imagined them to be at least one-hundred years old.  I immediately realised our perceptions of “old” were considerably different.  Also, it was wrong of me to judge the age of a building by its appearance alone.

Wood, of course, ages a good deal more quickly than other materials, especially if it is untreated or painted, but this process can be accelerated by being near the sea.  The difference between summer and winter conditions will also be a contributive factor.

The characters spelling out the name Hakuto are written in a heavily stylised manner mimicking a calligraphic rendering.
Hence buildings in Wajima can easily look much older than they are.  The present buildings of this brewery date from the early part of the twentieth-century.

This saké brewery has been in business since the later part of the 19th-century although it was a shipping company and pawnbroker before that.  Today, along with its pine tree, it is a gem of traditional urban architecture.

Bill Tingey Photo © Copyright

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