Japan, From Will Durant's Our Oriental Heritage
This is background on Japan's Golden Age for my study of Asian Empathy from the Life-Giving Sword
Buddhist Japan, 522-1603, civilized by China and Korea, refined and softened by religion.
Feudal and peaceful Japan, Tokugawa Shogunate, 1603-1868, self contained seeing no territory nor external trade, agriculture wedded to art and philosophy.
Modern Japan, opened up by America in 1853, wars of expansion, trade dependency, imperialism of Europe and America, the only possible conclusion is world war.
The Sacred Isles are created when two gods, Izanagi and Izanami, brother and sister, stood on the floating bridge of heaven and thrust a spear in the ocean and held it aloft. From the spear drops fell and they became Japan where they fell. By watching tadpoles, they learned the secrets of sex and gave birth to the Japanese.
From them was born the divine lineage of the emperors of Dai Nippon. From the time of their love there has been only one imperial dynasty in Japan.
Fourth century Japanese were described by Chinese writers as having no farm animals, facial tattoos, armed with spears and arrows, wearing no shoes. They were polygamous, peaceful, and respectful, loved to drink and lived long lives. The women wore body make-up rich in scarlet and pink.
Early peasants where independent soldier-gentlemen and there was no exploitation or poverty, and there was no stealing. Handicrafts came from Korea and crafts guilds were created. Free artisans where at the top of the class structure and there were also slaves. It was partly feudal and tribal, eventually landed barons operated peasants as serfs.
The early Japanese worshiped animals, ancestors and sex. Spirits were everywhere, in the night sky, in the plants and trees, insects and animals, even in men. Deities were innumerable, hovered over the homes and danced in the flames.
The dead were feared and worshiped, precious objects were laid on their graves and prayers and delicacies were offered before their ancestral tablets every day.
Buddhism entered in 522 satisfying the religious needs of the people and the political needs of the government. Buddha is represented differently than in his time, not the revolutionary escape from the Hindu ways of need, want and control, but the Mahayana version of Buddhism. Gentle gods and cheerful ceremonies promised personal immortality and gracefully brought piety, peacefulness and obedience to make them happy with their agricultural existence. Their content with life, joy in celebrations and a unity of feeling gave politicians the benefits of order and national strength.
Leaders gave Japan to the Buddha, lavishing resources on temples, the clergy, included the ethics in decrees. Japan socially advanced with artistic renaissance but as palace coups by rival controlling families changed the political landscape, repression and domination often replaced progress with autocratic domination.
In 898, one such family, the Fugiwara, installed Daigo, remembered as the greatest Emperor of Japan. Japan borrowed culture and spirituality from China so successfully that they entered a Golden Age where Japan rivaled any other nation at any other age with the beauty of its art and the radiance of its people.
Cooking, poetry, music, gardens and architecture were imported with discrimination where Japan maintained its own spirit and character adapting new knowledge to ancient values.
The wealth, luxury and intellectual refinement of Japanese families would not be rivaled until the Palace of Versailles or the courts of the French Enlightenment. The whole nation was stimulated to rise to standards of learning and taste and sex had been liberated, adultery was winked at. Harmonies of color wavered on every sleeve, music and dance accompanied life's steps, literature flourished and morals relaxed.
This period of brilliant refinement was brief because it relied on concentrated wealth that could be impacted by virtually any social disruptions or changes in the environment. The ascendancy of the wealthy to the heights of luxury tended to corrupt official rule to the point of offering positions of responsibility to the highest bidders.
As the poor observed the mounting wealth, criminals were allowed to live in open splendor and gangs of bandits roamed all of Japan. Centrally weakened, Japan became vulnerable to attack, a common thread in her history. The sudden decline from the Golden Age encouraged the families to become independent forces fracturing the nation, giving leadership to Shoguns, men accurately defined as war lords.
The Shoguns recognized the Emperor and maintained his family preserving the lineage of the Sacred Islands, but only with the smallest possible investment. Since the Japanese forces could no longer protect the average farmer, taxes were now collected by the Shoguns.
By 1192, Yoritomo of the Minamoto clan established an independent authority called the Kamakura Bakufu. While Kamakura was an important Buddhist city, Bakufu simply means military. Yoritomo died suddenly and his descendent's where weak leaders, giving the adage “the great man has no seed.” Soon after his death another family, the Homos, set up a parallel authority with their Regency which acted as “boss of bosses” family for the various Shoguns.
In China, the Kublai Khan became aware of this fracture and ordered the building of a flotilla which, as a poet said, “made the hills weep for the loss of their trees.” Clever Koreans, forever in fear of Japan, had falsely described Japan to him in terms of the former golden age. He sailed to Japan assured of a conquest but a famous storm welled up in the ocean drowning his armada of 3,500 ships and 70,000 fighters. This storm is, of course, the Kamikaze, the Divine Wind.
Takatoki was the last of the Homos. He was as defective has his ancestors had been clever, he collected dogs instead of taxes, and in this leadership void a series of coups, typically complicated with treachery installed the Ashikaga clan for 250 years intermittent civil war. Towards the end of their rule, painting and other arts became more important than governmental organization allowing Japan to descend into chaos.
An interesting trio emerged from this decline, encouraged by the chaos to attempt control of the nation. Legend has it that they were childhood friends who joined in an oath to support whichever of them succeeded in becoming top Shogun. Nobuaga was the first to try and failed but he had been supported by the second, Hideyoshi, who succeeded in becoming a major force by building on the successes of the first. Hideyoshi is a very important figure but the third, Iyeyasu is the most interesting of the three, and he had to buy his time.
The first, Nobuaga, had accumulated leaderless bandit forces into an army with the help of the second, Hideyoshi. When he died, Hideyoshi completed the coup against the Homos, presumably with the help of the third, Iyeyasu. He made himself the ruler of half of Japan and gained the trust of the largely symbolic Emperor, and convinced him to allow a conquest of Korea, which in turn would allow him to give China to Japan. This plan seemed insane to the three, Iyeyasu, who after debate decided to abide and allow its expected failure to destroy Hideyoshi, allowing him to build on the power of the other two.
The Koreans had innovated naval warfare in a way that was not seen again until the battles of the ironclads of the US Civil War. Their Monitor defeated the entire Japanese navy of 72 ships, those not sunk were burned to their waterlines. This defeat did not ruin Hideyoshi, instead he settled down to life with his concubines and was given the title of Taiko, the antecedent of our word tycoon but he was better known to Japan as Monkey-face. A visiting missionary described him as “cunning beyond belief.” Not particularly religious, he none the less convinced the Japanese to contribute all the metal weapons to a colossal statue of the Buddha, the Daibutsu of Kyoto. Newly disarmed, the people had no choice but to accept his edits, one of which was to redefine the role of the warrior class, the Samauri.
Christians had established themselves in the southern port of Nagasaki and had driven the Buddhists out. Needless to say, this alarmed central Japan and the possible aims of the Jesuits was not lost on them. Monkey-face sent a messenger with five peremptory questions, asking why Buddhism was being repressed but also asked, interestingly, why the Portuguese colonialists ate useful animals, such as oxen and cows. There were also questions about the slavery practices of the Portuguese who were exporting Japanese to foreign buyers. Unsatisfied with their response, Monkey-face sought to crush the Christians, though it would take a few more generations to bring about a repression similar to the Masada resistance of the Jewish Zealots in Middle-eastern history.
Monkey-face died in 1598 and made his cohort, Iyeyasu promise to build a new capital in Tokyo and recongnize Hideyori, Monkey-face's son, as heir to the Regency they had taken from the Homos.
Kyeyasu reneged, mentioning that a technical flaw made his Samauri blood oath invalid, and quickly moved on to the task of consolidating Japan. Monkey-face's son and heir refused to take a hint and abdicate, this required a siege which against the huge Castle of Osaka, Monkey-face's son and his retainers eventually committed ritual suicide. Iyeyasu ended threats to his ascendancy by killing Monkey-face's remaining family, including all the children.
He changed his attitude quickly and transformed Japan into a peaceful and stable nation. Creating a long peace required winning the Sumurai away from the blood violence of the sword. He give them literature and philosophy and prestige, they contributed to the arts and theater.
Once again Japan's brilliant potential blossomed into another explosion of national beauty. Despite denying Japan any kind of democracy he was advanced and socially aware, he declared that the “people are the foundation of the empire.” He maintained patriarchal control and did not hesitate to punish insubordination with death, a rebel could expect to see his whole family killed for his transgressions. He preserved the Shogunate feudal system he felt it allowed a balance between centralized and distributed power and which allowed for the continuity of Japan's traditional structure. Japan under his leadership was unquestionably the best feudal society throughout all the ages of humanity.
**Menenorui... (see Life Giving Sword).
His heirs ruled successfully and amiably for eight generations, and his last ruling heir, **, was an amazingly advanced social innovator.
Iyeyasu was the first of many to declare that worth of a nation is measured in the humanity shown to its convicted criminals. Severe punishment is not the sign of a nation of bad people, but indicates a nation of corruption and incompetence.
The blending of Shinto ancestor worship and the fully modern Buddhism brought together the country in a way that pleased Iyeyas. He was lenient with the Christians based in Nagasaki though the Jesuit and Portuguese colonial designs were transparent. The intolerance and bitter denunciations of Japan's faith was disturbing. Neophyte Christians not only fought a holy war with the Buddhists but dogmatically attacked each other. During Monkey-face's regency, a Spanish Galleon was forced ashore by small Japanese flotilla. The Spanish captain was indignant at what he felt was piracy and complained to high officials. When he entered a minister's office, he was asked how the Christians had been so successful in aligning so many nations to one man, Jesus Christ. Being a load sailor, not a practiced diplomat, he told the Japanese what they really needed to know, “Our kings begin by sending men of religion to the nations they wish to conquer. The religieux induced people into embracing Christ and once there has been suitable progress in conversion, soldiers are sent to combine with the newly converted Christians making infiltration and domination very easy.”
Monkey-face was disturbed enough to bring a death ultimatum but he didn't live long enough to enforce the edict. Eventually, the Christians were persecuted enough to build a Masada type fortress of 37,000 soldiers, and like the Zealots, they were either killed in the rebellion for religious freedom or committed suicide.
Iyeyasu planned well for the long run, and eight generations of his heirs ruled Japan until the upheavals of the modern global age and highly capitalized industry. Some where mediocre but effective, others ruled with a strong hand as did Iyemitsu, third in his line when he eliminated the Portuguese Jesuit threat. Others built new Golden Ages of culture but the most remarkable of his heirs was the last, the socially advanced and aware Yoshimune who brought Japan into line with all the fundamental desires of the Buddha in the most revolutionary sense.
Like every liberal movement, it his initiative was expensive and Yoshimune borrowed from the lower but wealthy merchant class and compensated by reducing the expenses of government. He shocked the gentry by dismissing the prettiest ladies of the court. He dressed in cotton rather than silks, kept is regent apartments like peasant's home and dined on country cuisine. So open was he that he placed a complaint box before the palace of the Supreme Court and commoners were rewarded for their openness now matter how caustic their complaints.
Iyeyasu's Tokugawa dynastic age was the happiest period in Japan's long history. His people lived stable country lives, they were not necessarily wealthy but they were healthy, enjoyed perpetual peace and aimed very high in the pursuits of all their traditional arts. No one could know the effect of the arrival of American warships after 1850, nor expect the sudden excitement that stimulated the Japanese to beat the West at its own game, to rekindle the expansionist insanity of Monkey-face, the senseless cruelty inflicted on the Asian continent during the Second World War. No one could expect the generosity of the American Marshall plan or the results of the ill-planned strategies of the American Federal Reserve which brought much of American industry under the control of Japan.
The Imperial family, descendants of the mother and father gods who created the Sacred Isles, were supported by the Shogunates but in a way that might embarrass a modern family. The emperor was surround with concubines, he was secluded, kept idle and efemenint with silks and perfumes. They submissively played the role but where often forced into common crafts to supplement income.
Shoguns, in contrast, luxuriated, expected treatment normal for kings and emperors. When borne through the streets all the people were expected to kneel with their heads on their hands on the ground. Fires where extinguished, houses shuttered and pets locked up as he passed through, submission was enforced by the police. Cultured ladies entertained the Shogun without reserve and his retinue, including jesters, accompanied him everywhere. Shoguns, also called Daimyo, acknowledged allegiance to the emperor, and some even managed to declare independence for their regions in defiance of the central Shoguns.
Japan, in many ways was a version of China, so much culture had been transplanted, but Japan was a military state, and China was nationally pacifist. Chinese gentlemen where scholars, Japanese gentlemen were swordsmen, and only Iyeyasu interested the Daimyo's soldiers in culture, traditionally there were as likely to try out a new sword on a beggar as a dog.
Samauri did no labor except occasionally die for Daimyo or Japan. They gambled and brawled and their soul was their sword, despite long periods of peace there was considerable sword play in the streets.
Like knights in shining armour, they fought bravely for anyone who appealed to them for help or a just cause. They lived by their own code, despised materialism, never borrowing, lending or counting money. Bushido, the Way, was reminiscent of the early Buddhists and Tao, combined mediation, practice and superior knowledge in to Zen practice which evolves to this day.
The famous courage of the Japanese soldiers could not have been inherited from China, so fearless were they that within the Samauri code there were innumerable reasons for ritual suicide. Hara-kiri, more politely called seppuku, was the first lesson of Samauri youth. A special small sword was carried kept so that Samauri could disembowel themselves. Soldiers forced into surrender were as likely to do this as not, ministers were expected to follow their Daimyo into death with seppuku. Revenge vendettas were always a component of law, but often Samauri would kill themselves after righting wrongs. Peasants and women were forbidden Hara-kiri, but aristocratic women were taught jigaki, which was throat cutting, so they could kill themselves in protest.
Japanese law was rough justice, encasing the original evolution from tribal to feudal society, it functioned based on the simple concepts of revenge. Powerful Shogunate codified law but the street level enforcers the Samauri swordsmen took orders from their respective Daimyos.
Entire families were held responsible for the actions of their members, and paid for transgressions in numbers of five, cruelty in punishment exceeds what you have probably heard. Banishment was a common sentence but in many cases families forced to live in mountain hollows consolidated both militarily and spiritually, finely honing martial arts while implementing Buddhism in a very fundamental way.
In the mid 700's the Emperor Shomu abolished the death penalty, beginning a tradition of leniency in leadership, social advances require a committed and holistic approach and when he died his heirs were forced to reapply it since they lacked the ability to continue his initiatives.
Yoshimune, the innovator, was disgusted by prison conditions and punishment cruelty, lapses in justice where prisoners were simply lost in the system, the charges long forgotten. He codified the justice system, abolished family responsibility, and reformed the prisons.
In Yoshimune's Japan the ancient eight layer caste system had been reduced to 4 layers, Samurai, artisans, peasants and merchants, with merchants belonging to the lowest caste. Beneath this layers were a class of slaves, about five percent of the population. They were criminals, war captives, children who had been kidnapped or sold by their parents into bondage, and beneath the slaves where pariahs known as Eta, considered despicable by the Buddhist because they worked with dead animals, as butchers, tanners or scavengers.
Most Japanese were peasants, farming the eight of Japan which will raise crops. The Nara dynasty nationalized the land, and rented it to the farmers, but found that lack of ownership created farmers who didn't care for the land. Private ownership was restored but the state invested in the crops in the spring by providing seed. In densely populated Japan, one square mile fed 2000 people, making farming painfully intensive and farmers had to provide the state with one month of forced labor, where he was treated like a prisoner. Taxes might have been as much of 72% of the farm product, though usually 40% . Peasants possessed a place to cook and some utensils, his home was a shanty and his clothes were scant.
Natural disasters plagued Japan, being volcanic it is vulneralbe to earthquakes. Between 1177 and 1185, there had been an earthquake, a famine, and a fire which almost destroyed the capital, Kyoto. The city was dying of hunger, all the refinements of happier times could not be sold for food that didn't exist. Infants clung to the mother's breast not knowing if she was alive.
At one time, a lady's sleeves reached below her knees, and each had a little bell that tinkled as she walked. On wet and snowy days, women walked on raised wooden slippers an inch or more in height. In Tokugawa Japan, clothes became so extravagant that the shoguns felt they had to step in, outlawing the multiple superimposed robes, whose colors provided rainbows of colors determined by the rank of the wearer. Laws were cleverly circumvented but in time the rage for robes abated and Japanese fashions returned to the simple cotton of the Buddhists.
Japanese of all ages are the cleanest of people, those who could afford so, changed three times a day, and all bathed daily. Hot baths were used to keep warm in winter. Diet has always been healthy whether simple or extravagant, the staple rice was enhanced with fish, vegetables, seaweed, fruit and occasionally meat. Meat was rare except with the rich and the soldiers. They were long lived and known for feats of endurance. Meat was outlawed at times in deference to Buddhist beliefs, but when the wealthy priests were discovered to be eating meat secretly, the Japanese viewed it as a delicacy.
Fine cooking was core to the culture during better times, artists and philosophers divided themselves into warring clans and fought with recipes. Table manners were like a religion, bites were prescribed enactments. Meals were begun with a hot bowl of sake, and sake was long known to be life's single solution.
That which the seven sages sought,
Those men of olden times,
Was sake, beyond all doubt
Instead of holding forth
While, with grave mien,
How much better to drink sake,
To get drunk and shout aloud.
Since it is true
That death comes at last for all,
Let us be joyful
While we are alive
Even the jewel that sparkles in the night
Is less to us than the uplifting of the heart
Which comes by drinking sake
Even more sacred though was tea, imported as a remedy for tasteless hot water it grew, after many false starts, grew into a graceful and complex ceremony. It was a shogun who popularized it first when it cleared a hangover. Rikyu established strict rules of tea, clappers signaled guests that the ceremony was beginning, there was an absolution bowl of pure water, gossip was forbidden, only noble issues were discussed, no deceit was allowed either, and the ceremony was limited to four hours. No tea-pot was used, a beautiful cup of carefully prepared tea was passed from guest to guest, each carefully wiping the rim. When the cup was finished, the guests passed it around again to admire the craftsmanship of the potter. Potters stimulated the tea ceremony by creating ever more beautiful designs helping form the tranquil, courteous and charming manners of Japan. Flowers are loved too and the same Rikyu and the art of flower arrangement grew with the evolution of the tea ceremony. Womanhood in aristocratic Japan consisted of flowers, poetry and dance.
When in spring all the cherry blossoms bloom, all Japan gazes at them, the trees are not cultivated for fruit but for the flower which symbolizes the the faith and bravery of the swordsman. Japan is devoted to flowers and all of nature, they instinctively and carefully cultivate all the moods of nature in gardens and in the home, they love asymmetry in their tiny tortured trees and in rocks brought from volcanoes and the sea. Gardeners dig tiny lakes, build streams, patiently grow gnarled trees and connect them with paths and bridges that spring from a naturally imperfect and beautiful forest. Ideally they attach their homes to the gardens, they are frail and pretty, simplistically and perfectly built with subtlety refined carpentry.
The family lived in tranquility throughout all of Japan's storms and wars surrounded not by possessions but by natural beauty, both rich and poor. All lived modestly and uncompleted by bric-a-brac or displays of wealth, a bookshelf or cupboard containing things necessary to sleep, accented by a natural rendition in the calligraphy of painting and poetry.
Freedom for the Japanese is in the family not in the individual, this is where social stability is derived, where the father is omnipotent. He could be tyrannical, he could dismiss sons or daughters in law yet keep the grandchildren with him, he could even kill a criminal or unchaste offspring, a lower caste father could sell his children into slavery or prostitution. Commoners were monogamous, but the aristocratic cold have concubines as they could afford, Christians grated the Japanese by their assertion that adultery was a sin. In the golden ages, wives could outstrip their husbands in sexual conquests and might even trade their love skills for a poem.
Asian culture universally encouraged family growth, but not in the Samurai. Population pressure reverted previous rules encouraging young marriage to prevent marriage before thirty. They were encouraged to adopt if they had only daughters, since girls could not inherit in a warrior class.
In the give and take relationship with Chinese culture, a young monk from a major family became aware of more philosophy than the accepted Buddhism, trade at that time was forbidden with China but the youth determined to learn about the Chinese sages. Fugiwara Seigwa visited sea going communities in an attempt to smuggle himself to the Chinese mainland but actually found in one of these towns another youth reading from the Confucian text which is “The Great Learning.” He obtained this and other texts from the literary smugglers and founded a group dedicated to Confucian scholarship. He was so popular that the spoiled Buddhist monks ok Kyoto, the capital, thought him an outrage and tried to silence him.
Since Seigwa had died suddenly, the Tokugawa shogunate was happy to adopt his star student, Hayashi Razan, and granted him an important advisory position in their Regency. He denounced Christianity as an irrelevant mess and Buddhism as a weaking influence for Japan and a threat to the family fabric. Typically open and impressionable of the Tokugawa clan, the present Shogun, Iyemitsu created a fashion out of Confucian lectures and allowed its influence into the Japanese cultural spectrum. One later Japanese Confucian, Ogyu Saorai, proclaimed his greatest joy (besides reading) was to “eat beans and criticize the great men of Japan.” Other priests complained that Ogyu “thought he knew everything there is to be known”, to which he responded that “if there is anything to be said, it has already been said by Confucius.” Samurai raged at his conceit, but the open and aware shogun Yoshimune loved his courage and protected him from the intellectual mob of priests and scholar-soldiers.
Those who admired Confucius and China eventually fell into a wasteful and unfortunate struggle with the traditional admirers of ancient Japan. In the battle a reactionary and anti-Chinese movement formed, and a literal and fundamental version of Japanese history was formulated and published. Not just Confucius but the Buddha became a target for a movement known as the Sonno Jo-i. They targeted any nationality they were aware of and incubated nationalist hatred which would return Japan to the historically suicidal expansionist needs of the conquests of Korea and China.
Higher education in Japan was founded by Hayashi Razan when the Tokugawa clan allowed him to create schools for administration and Confucian studies. His school eventually became the University of Tokyo. Confucian teachers were allowed the status of Samurai and wore swords, an important and tolerant allowance by the Shogunate. By 1750 there were 800 similar schools but only for the Samurai class, merchants, be they rich, were of lower caste and had to learn from public lectures.
The real artist must not try to think for the audience but to lure them into active thought, he must find one fresh perception that will reflect all the ideas and emotions. Each poem must be a quite record of one moment's inspiration.
When Lady Kaga no Chiyo lost her husband,
All things that seem
One dreamer's dreamer's
I sleep, I wake
How wide the bed with none beside me
Having also lost her child,
Today, how far may he have wandered,
The brave hunter of dragon-flies!
As brief as the poems were, novels could run to twenty volumes, 4000 pages. Lady Murasaki no-Shikibu wrote the Gengi Monogatari, The Gossip about Gengi. She was a Fujiwara who married another Fujiwara but was left a widow. She turned to writing, at a time when paper was so scarce she actually, sacrilegiously, recycled the Buddhist sutras for her novel. Gengi, the son of a Daiymo and his favorite concubine leads the life of the woman's idea of a man, sentiment and seduction, always brooding and languishing over love as he goes from one woman to the next. Gengi, in reflecting over his life seeks repentance with a monk but then sees a lovely princess and once again falls in love. Gengi's first wife dies in childbirth, and is free to remarry, he falls in love with a princess, Murasakai. The author installs herself in her own novel and maybe she found happiness within her own fantasy.
The jollyist writer of Japan was similar to Dickens. He could not escape poverty despite is talent, but he accepted poverty with good humor. Instead of furniture, he had paintings of furniture on his walls, on holidays he sacrificed to the gods with pictures of excellent offerings. He was given a bathtub so he wore it on his head on the way home and knocked down the pedestrians who came his way. When a publisher came to his house for business and offered him a bath, while the guest was washing he borrowed his clothes and was able to present himself at new years ceramonies in proper dress.
On his deathbed he made his students promise to place packets on his chest just before his creamation. What they didn't know is that the packets were firecrackers.
Lady Sei Shonagon was a Fujiwara in the time of Lady Murasaki and wrote casual sketches of the refined and scandalous life during one Japan's better times.
Her list of likes and dislikes
*Coming home from excursions with the carriages over flowing
*To have lots of footmen to make the carriages speed along
*A riverboat going downstream
*Teeth nicely blackened
*A nursery where a child has died
*A brazier with the fire gone out
*A coachman who is hated by his ox
*The birth of only girls in the house of a scholar
*People who break into your story with their own version quite different from your own
*While chatting with a friendly man, hear him talk admiringly of woman he has known
*A visitor who tells long stories while you are in a hurry
*The snoring of a man you are trying to conceal, and has gone to sleep in a place in which he has no business
Asian pottery was purely functional and unglazed until the 8th century. Experimenters in China and Korea and Japan in a short period mastered glazes and pastes of porcelain which what is now called “China” today. Japanese potters traveled to China over several centuries to learn ceramic secrets, and eventually rivaled the Chinese. With the arrival in Japan of tea in the 1500s, the new and indefensible religious practice of the tea ceremony created demand for the most delightful pottery possible for the central tea cup. The founding tea master, Rikyu, initiated the art of the tea-cup with a huge order sent to a Korean potter's family living in the capital of Kyoto. A Kyoto pottery craze followed, its style being the famous Raku, and a district was founded where virtually every house was a pottery.
Japanese painting is closely linked to calligraphy, the brushes are the same. It was a religious or instructional expression for most of Japan's time until in the late 1700s artists stunned the ruling Samurai with depictions of normal people in real life. Artists moved on to immortalizing actors and then visited the brothels to create seductively disarming works of female beauty in ways that had been purely for religious depiction in previous ages. Printing advanced from monochrome to true polychrome allowing two very popular and familiar artists into many homes, Hokusai and Hiroshige.
Hokusai was born in the artisan class, the son of a mirror maker, he is known today to the world for his Thirty-six views of Fuji, the most famous print being the boat in the wave before the mountain. He lived very long and created so much work, and at the age of 89 he reluctantly surrendered life with this phrase, “if the gods would only give me ten more years, maybe I could become a great painter.”
In the Mangwa, he illustrated every detail of everyday life, humorous, scandalous, and percept to every detail. He created the images a dozen a day and this work numbered fifteen volumes. He was looked down upon in his time and his poor family survived by selling food and almanacs.
Hiroshige was more respected in Japan, whereas Hokusai has been more accepted in the West. Hiroshige painted scenes more realistically and gave Japanese print owners views of their country in such volumes that it allowed everyone to travel as the National Geographic does today. His most famous volume was the 56 Stations of Tokaido, drawn along the post road between Tokyo and Kyoto. In his last phrase before death he went much easier, “I lay my brush down at Azuma, I journey to the Holy West, to see the scenery there.”
Japan leaves Peace
Japan left this joyful period of paternal militancy and guidance, brilliant celebration, almost comic renaissance, intense concentration and fascination with all things orderly and irreverent just as these two painters died.
Japan had been isolated and was unaware of the mechanization of civilization happening around the Atlantic, and was unprepared for the shock of the cheapening of everyday and colossal things produced beyond rational expectations of consumption by the highly capitalized factories and their mines.
Her beautiful crafts could not compete in price with the dour and utilitarian implements of the age of coal and iron and the big ships of global trade. The cruel beauty of war encapsulated artfully into the culture of the Samurai could in no way compete with the chemistry and metallurgy Western destruction.
Japan leapt awake, and accepted science and industry, having been humiliated repeatedly by the intimidating West, she committed to beating her abusers at their own game and has done so with amazing success. She lost so much in the change, and awakened a dark and dangerous desire to expansion into China and Korea which the Tokugawa's had successfully repressed.
By the time this book was written in the 1930s, she had invaded the mainland countries, with cruelty. There is no comparison between these criminal behaviors and the joy of the life giving swords. Could have Iyeyasu prevented the colonialization of the Asian mainland, and the bombing of Pearl Harbor ?? Would that have prevented the most pain and humiliation of the first and last nuclear attack on the human race ??