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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22/10/2017

Red for Food—A Work of Art

Art for the eyes at Miyashin, Wajima (Also see post Miyashin—A Feast for the Eyes 11/02/2016).
Burning bright
This is an iconic example of how red true lacquer can set off food.  Is it red, is it vermillion or scarlet?  It is not really a red that can be found in other cultures, except perhaps in China.

The delicacy and colour of the bowl turns a piece of tofu, some shreds of crab, shrimps, a mushroom and a twist of a boiled strip of a green stem, which I cannot identify, into a work of art, helped a good deal by an artful chef.

The black lacquer table on which the bowls stands, is flecked with mother-of-pearl providing a universe for this culinary masterpiece to inhabit.  A real feast for the eyes.

A fishmonger’s stall in a market in Valeta, Malta, 1975
The only other place in the world I have seen the colour red associated with food is in Malta, a small cluster of jewel-like islands in the Mediterranean.  But it was not cooked food.  Nevertheless, I can only suppose that the red bowls and counter were used to make the fish look more appetising.  The art of cooking comes later.

Bill Tingey Photo © Copyright

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11/10/2017

Tatami Three


Ungen ribbon design, probably derived from a continental Asian original.
Borrowing from the ancients
At Fukushoji Temple we find a good example of just how the status of a guest and the spaces they use can be expressed in a number of ways.

First of all there is the progression of three spaces.  The first anteroom is comparatively plain while the second makes a statement with colour and the use of a tatami edging in black and white.  Then there is the slight step up to give, all be it subtly, a sense of a dais for the final space with its tokonoma, the wall colour and the use of two tatami edging ribbons.

The brightly coloured edging with sharp diamonds and blocks of colour adds a delicate yet highly effective hint of brilliance to the main space and helps to set it apart from the other two spaces.

This colourful edging is referred to as a Ungen.  Its style dates back to designs, which were first introduced from the Asian continent following the introduction of Buddhism late in the sixth-century.  Such motifs were initially reserved for use in rooms occupied by the Emperor and Empress, members of the royal family and other important figures at court.  Their use in temples followed and continues to the present day.  There are now many variations of these designs, which are rooted in examples held in the Shosoin store house in Nara.  This repository holds large numbers of very early examples of artefacts, many of which were from overseas, that subsequently influenced art and design in Japan

A Monberi design inspired by the Japanese anemone.
Placed in front of the tokonoma and thus further emphasising the importance of the person who sits there, the black and white Monberi design is again used here on the thin mat placed under the glowing cushion—another layer of importance and status.

Kamon, family crests based on a pine tree motif.  Japanese Design Motifs, Dover Publications, Inc. New York
Many readers will be familiar with Japanese family crests or Kamon.  They display in various degrees of abstraction and abbreviated graphic representation images of everyday objects, geometric forms as well as significant Japanese flora and fauna.

Japanese anemone from my own garden.
Similarly, the Monberi here is a very accomplished piece of design work.  It was most likely based on the Japanese anemone (Anemone hupehensis var.japonica), although no one can be sure because of its ancient origins.  While the petals do not naturally form such an orderly spiky outline, they do provide a hint towards completing this highly stylised and yet cleverly expresses flower, including its stamens, which are rendered as a collection of orderly squares.



While these motifs help to express the status of spaces and indirectly that of the person or persons using them, the ribbons in particular are also just one part of an archive of design and art originating in China and Korea.  It is just another example of how the Japanese have borrowed from the ancients, with care, reverence and respect.

Tatami Anecdotes
The word tatami is the noun form of the verb tatamu meaning to fold.  Originally mats were laid out on wooden floors for people of status to sit or sleep on—sometimes several mats were laid one on top of the other—and then they were folded up and stored when not in use.  The stiff mat combining a rice straw substrate and an igusa reed topping was a subsequent development.  They were used individually for many years before thick tatami mats were laid over an entire floor area—a gradual development extending to the end of the sixteenth-century.  Their use by common folk increased with the popularity of the Tea ceremony and became common during the eighteenth-century.

Even though the use of tatami is far less common today, just like their forebears many Japanese still treat the mats with great respect.  They are, for example, careful not to step on the ribbons edging the mats.  The Japanese seem to have an inbred sense of concern and respect for the mats and the ribbons.

While the use of some patterns was restricted in the past, designs using a family crest or kamon were aloud.

The kamon were similar to the black and white anemone inspired ribbon at Fukushoji temple.  Stepping on a family crest ribbon was considered thoroughly disrespectful to the family and its ancestors.  It would be avoided at all costs and was part of the respectful etiquette of the samurai class and something the merchant class learned from a very early age.

In addition to kamon, designs based on animal and floral subjects were common.  These too deserved respect and not treading on them expressed a compassion and tender heartedness associated with a strict training to show a general sense of sympathy and consideration towards other people as well as for things.

Made using natural materials and dyestuffs meant the ribbons were rather vulnerable—not treading on them therefore was yet another way of expressing compassion.

This “discipline” of respect is handled by the Japanese with such ease it can easily go unnoticed.  This kind of attentiveness, thoughtfulness, manner and considerate attitude can be recognised throughout Japanese life and culture and is clearly something from which we could all learn.

For those of us living in dwellings firmly attached to the ground, it would be inconceivable to think that an attack from an enemy could come from beneath the floor.

An extreme example of a raised floor at the Katsura Detached Palace outside Kyoto.
Because most traditional buildings in Japan had raised floors, however, an attack from below would be one of an assassin’s first options of stealthy attack.

The wooden boards beneath tatami matting were not necessarily close fitting to facilitate good ventilation—this is still common practice, which allows the mats to act as air filters too.

For a would-be assassin under a raised floor, the chinks of light from between the mats above would guide their sword or spear toward their prey—assuming that the target was unaware of the danger lurking below.

Bill Tingey Photo © Copyright

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21/09/2017

Tatami Two

In the first anteroom at Fukushoji temple, the edging ribbons are plain.
Position, status, respect
My Mother-in-law lived in a first floor flat.  From the sitting-room window there were stunning views over the surrounding, spacious well kept gardens, which included some majestic mature trees.

In the sitting-room she usually occupied an easy chair to the right of the fireplace with the generous garden views behind her.  Living here on her own her position close to the fire with its direct view of the television to the left of the fireplace was right and proper.  She was, after all, the Mistress of the household.  Her position in the room expressed her status and was seldom challenged.

On occasions, however, it was relinquished without even a hint of unwillingness.  When my parents came to visit one day, my Mother was shown to that seat of “honour” in a gesture of respect, one woman to another.  My Farther sat happily on a chair some distance away from the fire while I and my wife occupied the sofa.

While there are no fireplaces in traditional Japanese farmhouses, there are open hearths.  The side of the hearth away from the open earth floor is where the man who is head of the household sits.

If a house has a decorative alcove called a tokonoma, the position in front of it is kept for the head of the family but more often than not reserved for an honoured guest who sits with their back to the alcovethus respect is shown and status recognised.

The second anteroom has tatami with a simple black and white ribbon but other accessories are quite decorative.  To the right there is a glimpse of the furnishings in a modern main reception room—an easy chair upholstered in velvet and a large antimacassar seem a little dated and out of character to western eyes.  But what was considered correct in the circumstances, however, was followed to the T despite how incongruous it might look.
But what part does tatami play in this manner of behaviour with its well observed and yet largely unwritten rules and customs?  At Fukushoji temple the stage is set for tatami to play its part.

This temple is in Goroku (featured in Rustic is Good 12/07/2017).  In a space away from the main worship hall, there is a sequence of connected spaces that form a suite of rooms with a theatrical air.

Although the step up here is small, it nevertheless serves to emphasise the importance of the main reception area with a fancy, multicoloured edging ribbon contrasting with the simplicity of the ribbon in the second anteroom.

The tatami mats in the first of this sequence of three spaces are plain but do have dull brownish-red, plain sewn ribbon edgings or heri.

The edgings are a good deal more decorative but simple in the next space.  Finally there is a decorating extravaganza of colour and pattern to be found in the last space, which is in fact one step up from the previous two.

The colour of the walls alone are unusual.  The slightly recessed area to the left of the alcove is a remnant of a place where someone would sit and write.  To the left of the cushion is a traditional padded armrest, or hijikake.  To the right is a grand hibachi in which charcoal bricks would smoulder to provide some warmth mainly to the hands.  Under the cushion the simple black and white patterned ribbon frames yet another level of isolation for an honoured individual in this main reception room.  This follows an ancient tradition.

In the eighth-century mats were positioned as needed on the wooden floors of palatial residences, either for sitting or sleeping on.  Such a luxury was only afforded the royal or noble.  It was not until much later that large areas were completely covered with thick tatami mats.

At Fukushoji we are seeing an enactment of customs and traditions that have been honed and refined over the centuries.  They will surely be recognised by anyone as a mark of respect and a sign of status.

Tatami Anecdotes
After some time, the igusa reed topping of a tatami mat becomes the colour of pale straw as it is exposed to the light.  It is possible, however, for it to be turned to reveal a pale green colour close to when it was first attached to the body of the mat.  Some of the wonderful aroma of this reed remains to be enjoyed until it is time to renew the igusa.

In the past it was not uncommon for tatami mats to be stood outside in the sun during the far less humid months to be thoroughly dried.

At the Nakamura residence on Okinawa, the surrounding walls of dressed and carefully assembled limestone provide protection and privacy.  Also, the two steps up here help to develop a sense of status as well as perhaps providing an escape route for torrential typhoon rains.

Okinawa is the largest of the Ryukyu Islands in the extreme south-west of the archipelago.  Typhoons regularly make land-fall here, occasionally with an amazing result.

A local resident told me that her grandfather was in hospital once when a strong typhoon swept in.  After it had passed, she thought she had better check that nothing disastrous had happened to his home in his absence.

Traditional buildings on the Ryukyu Islands are surrounded by walls of dressed limestone (coral reef) to protect them from typhoon winds.  The walls also afford residences some privacy as the screens of a dwelling are often left open to provide a breath of fresh air to ventilate the interior, especially during the summer months in this sub-tropical region.

Shutters to keep the wind and rain out of the house had been closed before the arrival of the typhoon, so she was pretty confident that all would be well.  Nevertheless, she felt it would be better to take a look.  After an initial inspection of the perimeter of the building, she opened the front door and walked into the main reception room.  To her great surprise most of the tatami mats were standing on end like giant domino pieces.  Somehow the wind had vaulted the surrounding walls of the compound, had snuck under the raised floor of the building and pushed up the tatami mats from below.  Fortunately, this was the only irregularity.

Bill Tingey Photo © Copyright

Do feel free to pass on the address of this blog to anyone you think will be interested.  Or share it on a social media site.  Should you wish to leave a comment, please do so by clicking on the comment mark at the bottom left of this or any of the other posts.   If you have found this blog interesting, why not become a follower.  Thank you.