Thunder God by Ogata Korin "Japanese painting, whether sacred or secular in theme," wrote Smithsonian Japanese art curator James Ulak, "have long been acknowledged for their ability to subtley evoke nature's beauty or to provide moving interpretations of religious experience."
The traditional formats of Japanese paintings—scrolls, albums, fans, folding screens and movable panels—were designed to encourage an intimate and adaptable relationship between the viewer and the work of art. Specific paintings were often meant to be contemplated during a particular season or occasion. Many Japanese paintings are made with a traditional Japanese bird's-eye perspective that differs from Western-style linear perspective.
Japanese paintings are often meant to be enjoyed in the settings
they were created for. In this respect they much better enjoyed
in the religious buildings and dwellings they were placed than
Art in the East developed very differently from art in the West. In Asia, calligraphy (the art of making letters) and painting evolved together and thus painting, the graphic arts, poetry and literature became linked together in way they never did in Europe.
“The parallel cultivation of both originality and ancient tradition are a recurring themes in Japan art,” Roderick Conway Morris wrote in the New York Times. “ For example, while one screen depicts — against glittering backdrops of gold leaf — unmistakably Japanese scenes of ravens perched on snow-covered plum-tree branches on which the first small spring blossoms are flowering, another pair of screens in monochrome ink on paper shows sea- and mountain-scapes in the older Chinese style.
The expressive and philosophic aspirations of Chinese and
Japanese painters were much higher than their counterparts in
the West. Historian Daniel Boorstin wrote in The Creators,
"their works were less varied in subject matter, color and
materials. Their hopes and their triumphs offered nothing like
the Western temptations to novelty, and their legacy is not easy
for Western minds to understand." [Source: The Creators
by Daniel Boorstin]
Websites and Resources
Good Websites and Sources: Web Japan
; Traditional Japanese Painting
; Museum of Fine Arts Boston
; What Is Emaki ?
; Kano School of Painting
;Screen and Partition Painting
; Book: Japanese Painting by
Terukazu Akiyama (Rizzoli, 1977). Calligraphy
Good Photos at Japan-Photo Archive
; Nadja Van Ghelue Calligraphy Site
; Japanese Calligraphy
Japanese Calligrapy Gifts
Good Websites and Sources on Japanese Art:
Artelino on Japanese Art
; Web Japan
; Japanese Art Portal
; ; Japanese Art and Architecture from the Web Museum
; Asia Society Virtual Tour
; Daruma, Japanese Art and Antiques Magazine
; Art of JPN Blog
Art History Sites Art History Resources on the
Web – Japan
; Early Japanese Visual Arts
; Japanese Art History Resources
; Books: History of Japanese Art
by Penelope Mason (Harry N. Abrams, 1993); The People'
Culture—from Kyoto to Edo by Yoshida Mitsukuni (Cosmo
Public Relations Corporation, Tokyo, 1986); The Shaping of
Daimyou Culture, 1185-1868 by Martin Collcut and Yoshiaki
Shimizu (National Gallery of Art, 1988).
Art Museums in Japan Columbia University Page
on Collections of Japanese Art
; Tokyo National Museum site
; Kyoto National Museum official site
; Tokugawa Art Museum
; National Museum of Japanese History
; Nara National Museum
; Kyoto University Museum
; National Museum of Art, Osaka
; National Research of Cultural Properties Tokyo
; National Research of Cultural Properties Nara
;Miho Museum near Kyoto
Museums with Good Collections of Japanese Art Outside of Japan ; Columbia University Page on Collections of Japanese Art columbia.edu ; Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org ; Sackler Museum in Washington asia.si.edu/collections ; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston mfa.org/collections ; British Museum britishmuseum.org ; Los Angeles County Museum of Art lacma.org/art ; Ruth and Sherman Lee Institute for Japanese Art Collection ucmercedlibrary.info
Links in this Website:
; JAPANESE CULTURE AND
; CLASSICAL JAPANESE ART
; JAPANESE PAINTING
; EDO PERIOD ART
; UKIYO-E, HOKUSAI,
; JAPANESE CRAFTS
; JAPANESE POTTERY AND
; JAPANESE ARCHITECTURE
"Japanese paintings were first produced under the patronage of Buddhist religious sects and aristocrats of the court,” wrote Smithsonian art curator Ann Yonemura. “Later, military leaders and merchants became avid patrons. Artists were almost always professionals, although Buddhism encouraged the practice of painting as a vehicle for meditation...Some educated Japanese emulated Chinese literati and took up painting as one of several genteel accomplishments suited to a cultured life."
"Japanese paintings," Yonemura wrote, "traditionally were
produced by professionally-trained painters in hierarchically
organized workshops that passed on skills and stylistic or
iconographic models from generation to generation.
Specialization of subjects and techniques was fostered by this
"Official Bureau of Panting produced work intended for use in
imperial residences and for court ceremonies. Other workshops
specialized in Buddhist devotion paintings and copies of scared
texts" and "depictions of Chinese and Japanese narrative,
landscape and natural subjects."
Japanese Painting Materials
Japanese painters and calligraphers essentially used the same materials and tools as their counterparts in China and Korea.
The tools and brush techniques for painting and calligraphy are
virtually the same and calligraphy and painting are often
considered sister arts. The traditional tools of the
calligrapher and the painter are a brush, ink and an inkstone
(used to mix the ink). Japanese calligraphers and painters both
used brushes whose unique versatility was the result of a
tapered tip, composed of careful groupings of animal hairs.
Brushes are called fude and ink is known as known as
sumi. Sumi—jet black ink sticks—are preferred
by Japanese calligraphers. The sticks were originally made from
burning pine using a technique that is over 2,000 year old.
Today they are made by scrapping soot from rapeseed oil lamps,
mixing it with perfume and cowhide glue and then rolling it into
a cylinder and pressing it into decorated molds. The sticks are
dried slowly in damp ash and hung as long as three months. Sumi
is made from in the winter. In the summer, the glue spoils in
the heat and humidity.
Japanese artist excelled in the use of gold and silver leaf both
as a pigment and applied as metal leaf.
Early Buddhist-Influenced Japanese Painting
13th century Buddhist painting Buddhism was the earliest and most important catalyst in the development of Japanese painting. Japanese artist borrowed Buddhist iconography that developed on the Asian continent and the content of the paintings was often determined the Buddhist schools to which the artists belonged.
Ulak wrote, "In every instance the artist attempted to create,
through a single painting or an ensemble of paintings, an
environment or moment of visual impact that complemented the
faith of the viewer, enhanced a belief, and infused everyday
life with a sense of transcendence."
The earliest works of Japanese painting that scholars are
familiar with are Indian-, Chinese and Korean-influenced walls
murals on Buddhist temples and tomb walls from the Asuka Period
(A.D. 592-700); Very few art works from these periods exist
Some of the oldest existing works date back to the 12th century,
when Pure Land Buddhism was in vogue. Artists from this sect
produced gentle and compassionate deities. A genre of painting
call raigozu featured the Amida Buddha and celestial attendants
who accompanied the dead to the next world.
Early Chinese-Influenced Japanese Painting
Early Japanese landscape and nature paintings were influenced by
the monochromatic painting of the Chinese Sung and Yuan periods.
People who are not experts of Asian art have difficulty
distinguishing Japanese art from Chinese art from this period.
Common subjects include landscapes, flowers, birds, mountains,
trees, armor-clad warriors, mountain hermits and major figures
Natural subjects were important in Japanese art because man and
nature are viewed as inseparable. Works of Japanese landscape
art are regarded as organic wholes with background mountains,
borders and backing colors considered just important as the
flowers, trees, birds, animals or human figures in the middle of
The earliest examples of these painting were folding screen
paintings from the Nara Period (A.D. 710-794); and landscapes
painted on the screens and partitions of wooden structures
during the Heian Period (794-1185).
The Heian Period (794-1185) saw the emergence of a unique
Japanese style of painting called yamato-e that features
indigenous subjects and was frequently used on screens and
Scrolls in Japan
Many Japanese masterpieces are painted on scrolls, which are not intended to be hung or mounted on walls, but rather are meant to be stored in boxes and periodically taken out be looked at. This helps preserve the frail paint which breaks down when exposed to humidity and air. Collectors have traditionally unrolled their scrolls after the rainy season in the summer, savored them with some tea and returned them their boxes.
Scrolls unfortunately are one of the world's most fragile art
forms. Careless handling, exposure to bright light and humidity,
inept restoration, insects, temperature changes all contribute
to the deterioration of paint. Plus, silk is a protein-based
animal fiber that breaks down over time and has damaging
chemical reactions with pigments and glues. Western oil
paintings, by contrast, last longer because the pigments are
preserved in oil and protected from by the elements by varnish.
Emaki Hand Scrolls in Japan
Emaki (painted hands scroll) emerged as a popular art
form in the Heian Period (794-1185). Rolled and unrolled from
one end to the other, these scrolls depicted movement and
actions through a succession of scenes like a film strip.
Indigenous to Japan, this style of painting broke from away from
the tradition of Chinese-style landscape painting and developed
in response to a demand for pictorial representations of
During the Kamakura Period (1192-1333) narrative hand scrolls
found an audience among a wider range of people, partly because
they could be enjoyed by illiterates. The number and kinds
picture scrolls increased during this period. Regional war were
common subjects and an effort was made individualize the
The emaki format was used for romance stories, myths,
biographies and animals stories about rabbits and frogs. Common
individual scenes included depictions of love affairs, wars,
miracles, comic and tragic events, mystical happenings,
interacting animals and images of ordinary people as well as
aristocrats. In many ways, they were not all that different from
manga comic books. One 15th century emaki, Kachie Emaki,
shows a contest to see who can produce the most powerful fart.
Viewers of emaki move their eyes from right to let on long
horizontal sheets, creating an illusion of the picture moving.
There is one story about a rich man who falls in love with a
beautiful woman at first sight only to have her vanish before
their wedding. In another story the owner of a storehouse finds
himself flying in the air because of some mysterious power.
Choju Jinbutsu Giga (“Scrolls of Frolicking Animals and
Humans”) is a four volume set of ink-paint picture scrolls
created by an unknown artist in the late Heian period (792-1192)
to early Kamakura period (1192-1333). One of Japan's most
beloved art works and regarded by some as the oldest example of
manga, it shows hand-drawn animal figures, including a rabbit
wrestling with a frog while two other rabbits look on, laughing
and cheering. In a sumo-like pose the frog tries to trip up the
rabbit while biting his long ears. The characters look like
something out of a comic strip or a book of fables.
The Choju Jinbutsi Giga scrolls are kept out of view at
Kyoto’s Kosanji Temple. It is not known why or even exactly when
they were drawn. The entire work is made of four 10-meter-long
scrolls. The first volume, ko, is the most beloved. It is filled
with expressive depictions of animals such as rabbits, frogs,
foxes and monkeys. One image shows some monkeys and rabbits
swimming in a river, with one rabbit diving back into the river
and another riding a deer while a monkey torments the rabbit,
pouring water from the river on it. Another scene features an
archery contest between two five-member teams of frogs and
rabbits shooting at a large leaf.
The anonymous artist or artists who drew Choju Jinbutsi Giga
were very skilled. The sumi ink lines are simple but delicately
and powerfully rendered, giving the animals vivid expressions
and muscle movements. Some think the figures were drawn by
esoteric Buddhist monks. Others think they were made by court
Recent research at the Kyoto National Museum has shown that at least some of the works were made on both sides of single sheets of washi paper—like a manga or comic book—and later pasted onto scrolls. A famous scroll of frogs and rabbits is 32 centimeters high and consists of 20 sheets of washi paper, each about 57 centimeters wide. The images were determined to have originally been on two-side sheets based on identical ink stains found on two different page of images.
Genji Monogatari Emaki (“Illustrated Tales of Genji”)
is believed to be the oldest existing picture scroll. It depicts
scenes from The Tales of Genji and is like a series of
paintings that tell a story. The work is regarded as a treasure
trove of details about the way people lived in the Heian period.
Shigisan Engi, another famous emaki, depicts the priest
Myoren using mystical powers to revive a famous temple.
Portrait Painting in Japan
Portrait painting became popular during the Kamakura Period
(1192-1333) as part of a movement that emphasized individuality
and realistic detail. A 13th century portrait of the first
shogun Minamoto Yoritomo in the National Museum in Tokyo is
almost as famous in Japan as the Mona Lisa is in the West.
Western painting techniques were introduced in the 16th century
by Jesuits. Japanese portrait painters combined European oil
paints with Japanese styles. Portraits of Western subjects often
features Asian-style eyes.
Okyo tiger screen
Partition Painting and Folding Screens in Japan
Partition painting and folding screen painting were developed
during Ashikaga Period (1338-1573) as a way for feudal lords to
decorate their castles. This style of art featured bold
India-ink lines and rich colors.
The Ashikaga Period also saw the development and popularization
of hanging pictures (kakemono) and sliding panels (fusuma).
These often featured images on a gilt background.
The Momoyama Period (1573-1603) was a time when the wealthy
daimyo showed off their wealth by commissioning artist to
produce paintings with flamboyant colors on brilliant gold leaf
backgrounds. The subjects included landscapes, flowers, birds,
trees and characters from Chinese folklore.
Gold and Silver in Japanese Painting
Hiroko Ihara wrote in the Daily Yomiuri” “Since ancient times, spotless, untarnished gold and silver have been coveted as symbols of wealth and power. But rather than follow in the footsteps of the splendiferous Incan Empire or gold-dominated Italian art, the Japanese tended to value its beauty in the dim reflections of gold and silver leaf applied to pieces of art and daily items.” [Source: Hiroko Ihara, Daily Yomiuri, January 21, 2011]
Various motifs associated with nature, history and classical literature have been depicted on gold and silver backgrounds. Sometimes elegant, sometimes animated and dynamic, these motifs are enhanced by the unpretentiousness of the backgrounds. The pieces were created mainly during the Edo period (1603-1867) by artists belonging to the Rimpa school. [Ibid]
Notable among the gold pieces is Flowering Plants , a set of four fusuma sliding doors on which about 10 different flowering plants are drawn on the gold background. Ihara wrote: “Around the center of the doors are poppies that appear as dignified as a European queen. The other plants have been painted on both sides of the poppies as if paying homage to their beauty. Although no land has been depicted, the sweeping gold background gives the work depth and richness. “ [Ibid]
The intriguing contrast of gold and silver can be seen on two sets of folding screens, both titled Red and White Plum Blossoms, each bearing motifs of the flowers. One, attributed to Korin has a gold background. The other, attributed to Hoitsu, has a silver background. Although they both depict blooming plum trees in animated, attractively twisted shapes, the impressions they leave are quite different. [Ibid]
"The first one illustrates the artists' enthusiasm for gold, which was common in the previous Momoyama period when feudal lords demonstrated their power even in works of art," Shinsaku Munakata, curator of an exhibit on gold and silver Japanese art at the Idemitsu Museum in Tokyo told the Daily Yomiuri. "The second one focuses on silver, the color of moonlight in ancient China. In Japan, moonlight gives grass, bush clover and other autumn flowers a dim silvery appearance and has been a popular poetic theme since ancient times. Artists were greatly attracted to it. The elegant colors of moonlight and twilight strike a strong chord within us with their essence of solitude and freedom." [Ibid]
Zen Painting in Japan
Ink painting, known as sumie or shiboku, were introduced by Zen monks from China during the Muromachi period Sung dynasty (1338-1573). Rendered primarily with black India ink, which is also used in calligraphy, these monochrome paintings eschewed color and emphasized and abstract and suggestive representations of natural objects.
Zen monks took up painting as a spiritual avocation and many
became quite skilled at. Two famous Japanese artists that
started as monks are Josetsu (Trying to Catch a Fish with a
Gourd) and Shubun. The most famous Zen painter was Sesshu,
a master of using landscapes to capture the refined sensibility
of the Japanese spirit. His most famous works include
Landscapes of the Four Seasons, Autumn and Winter Landscapes
Edo period Zen masters like Hakuin Ekaku (1685-1768) and Sengai
Gibon (1750-1837) produced whimsical works that were sometimes
comprised of only a few strokes of black ink on white paper.
Sengai's Frog in Zen Mediation depicts a smiling frog
and an calligraphy inscription that reads: "If by sitting in Zen
meditation a human becomes a Buddha..." Hotei, which is
a similar vein, depicts a jolly, naked pot-belied monk waving a
Eraku studied classical calligraphy as a youth but burned all of
his work after being exposed to the "unskilled" calligraphy of
Daigu Sochiku and then dedicated his life to making calligraphy
that expressed the human character rather than technical skill.
Edo Period Painting and Samurai
Many Edo period painters were samurai. Paul Richard wrote in the
Washington Post: “Slicing through a torso with a curving steel
blade and putting ink to silk with a liquid-loaded brush, both
of these were stroke arts. Both required the same swiftness, the
same lack of indecision. For the master of the brush and the
master of the blade...the flawless stroke expressed a Japanese
ideal—the beauty-governed union of sure, unhurried speed and
centuries-old tradition, utter self-assurance and Zen purity of
Painting from Edo period was rich in drama and symbols. A
painting of a carp swimming up a waterfall—something
bottom-dwelling carp are unlikely to do—is seen as a
manifestation of a fish becoming a dragon and viewed as an
allegory of social climbing. An image of a monkey trying to
catch a wasp is a warning to not cross a feudal lord as the
Japanese words for word for “wasp” (hachi) and
“fiefdom” (hoch) rhyme as do the ideograms “monkey” and
Cranes by Kano Eisen
Edo Period Decorative Painting
The Edo Period is sometimes refereed to as the Period of
Cultural Maturity. Influential groups of decorative artists
include the Sotatsu-Korin School, which revived decorative
painting; the Bunjin-ga, which was influenced by
Chinese Ming and Ching dynasty art; and the artists Maruyama
Okyo and his student Nagasawa Rosetsu; and Matsuma Goshun, who
stressed realistic portraits of nature.
The Rinpa School studied Chinese, Kano and Toso styles and
developed its own highly original style of decorative painting
with a lot of gold and vivid colors on screens and hanging
scrolls. Famous 17th century Rinpa artists included Tawaraya
Sotastsu (birth and death unknown), Hon'ami Koetsu (1558-1637),
and Suzuki Kiitsu (1796-1858). The Toso school followed the
Yamato-e style and concentrated in painting scenes from
classical literature for wealthy clients.
Tagasode ("whose sleeves?") or sometimes kasode
(small sleeves) was a style of suggestive and erotic Edo period
screen painting that depicted women robes hung over their edge
of the screen.
Kano School, Boy on Mount Ibuku
Edo Period Genre Painting
Genre painting, a style of art that depicting ordinary people
going about the daily life, was very popular in the Edo Period.
Painted on folding screens and scrolls, these works of art were
filled with dozens of people, dancing, eating, and playing
around, and are somewhat similar to works by the European artist
The Hikone Screen (1620s-40s) is a superb example of a
yurakuza ("pleasure depiction"). A six panel screen
painted on gold leaf, it is a bordello scene with dozens of
figures doing things like playing board games, writing love
letters and playing musical instruments.
Early genre paintings usually depicted lots of people partying,
working or carrying on outside. As the art form developed the
number of figures was reduced, their activities were toned down,
and the figures were brought inside. Late genre painting focused
on single subjects, often a beautiful woman standing alone in a
bathhouse or room.
Classical Japanese calligraphy is known as sho or shodo ("the way of writing"). Practiced through the centuries by samurai. nobles and ordinary people, it is both something that elementary school children take in after-school classes and an art form that takes decades to master. According to some estimates, around 20 million Japanese practice the art.
Calligraphy is a system of aesthetic Chinese writing expressed
through a variety of brush movements and compositions of dots
and strokes. Largely unintelligible to Westerns, calligraphy is
regarded by many Chinese and Japanese as "the supreme art form”
higher than painting and sculpture and more able to express
lofty thoughts and feelings than words.
Fusing poetry, literature and painting into one art form, good
calligraphy possesses rhythm, emotion, aesthetic, beauty,
spirituality and, perhaps most importantly, the character of the
calligrapher. One ancient Chinese historian wrote: "calligraphy
is like images without form, music without sound."
One calligraphy artist told the Daily Yomiuri, “I love
expressing the meanings of the characters and words through
calligraphy in all its various forms...Calligraphy is not about
writing beautiful characters, but instead putting on paper words
or characters have presence and grace. Otherwise they’re;
See China, Art, Calligraphy
Calligraphy, History and Culture in Japan
From an early age Japanese and Chinese children are taught that
calligraphy and beautiful handwriting are considered a
reflection of their character and personality. Rendered in quick
fluid strokes calligraphy is more concerned with flow and
felling that skill deal and precision and is supposed to come
straight from the heart. The characters themselves are a kind of
poetry. To produce great works calligraphers must tap into the
forces of qi, which many Asians believe permeate nature and the
Calligraphy has traditionally been highly valued in the Japanese
court. For noblemen it was one of the most important skills they
were expected to master.
Japanese calligraphy is based on Chinese characters, known in
Japanese as kanji. In the Heian period (794-1185),
hirgana, Japanese sounds written with Chinese characters,
evolved. Members of the Imperial court used it to create
uniquely Japanese styles of calligraphy that was more slender,
fluid and elegant than Chinese calligraphic scripts.
Calligraphy Tools, Paper and Techniques
Calligraphy requires a fude brush, sumi ink, a suzuri inkwell, hanshi paper, a shitajiki felt pad and a bunchin paperweight. They each come in several varieties and price ranges; Kinoshita recommends visiting a calligraphy speciality shop for advice on which tools you should use for your purposes and budget. Inkwells and water droppers in particular are available in many beautiful choices, so it could be fun to build an attractive collection as your skills grow. [Source: Naoko Moriya, Yomiuri Shimbun , October 22, 2010]
There are two ways to hold a brush: With the tankoho method, the brush is held like a pencil, with the thumb, index finger and middle finger. With the sokoho style, the ring finger is added.
As a specialist in kanji calligraphy, Kinoshita—who works under the name of Shusui Kinoshita—uses white paper for her work. But she uses letter paper made for brush writing when sending a letter to her friends and acquaintances. Says Kinoshita: "It can also be fun to base your choice of letter paper on the recipient and the season." There is a large selection of beautiful paper available for use in hiragana calligraphy. They come in different colors; some are patterned and some are gilded. This type of paper is called ryoshi and is believed to have originated in high society during the Heian period.
Calligraphy Tools, See Painting Materials Above
Styles of Calligraphy in Japan
There are three main styles of Japanese calligraphy: 1)
kaisho (“block style”), the most common style; 2)
gyosho (“running hand style”), a semi-cursive style; and 3)
sosho (“grass hand”), a flowing, graceful cursive
Most Japanese calligraphers have traditionally been trained in
both Chinese and Japanese scripts. The style and script employed
by a calligrapher has been influenced by both the content of the
text and aesthetic considerations. The most famous Chinese-style
calligrapher is Kusakabe Meikaku.
Students who learn calligraphy are taught the importance of
proper breathing as students of the martial arts and Zen
meditation are. Longtime resident of Japan, John David Morely
said calligraphy was like Sumo wresting because the calligrapher
has only one brief chance to get it right.
Some Japanese calligraphy artists use tatami-size sheet fo hansh
paper and gigantic brushes, the artist Choso Yabe us a brushes
the size of a mops ad and paper the size of a ;large meeting
Comeback of Calligraphy
Calligraphy is making a comeback in primary school as a way to generate interest in traditional culture, teach etiquette and instill discipline. It is also being sought out by adults of all ages and walks of life as a means achieving a degree of tranquility and inner peace.
Calligrapher Mariko Kinoshita told the Yomiuri Shimbun, “One of the most appealing aspects of calligraphy is its meditative quality: You can reflect on yourself and feel a sense of serenity as you practice. You don't have to spend hours doing it,. For example, if you just write on one sheet of paper before heading off to bed, it will give you a sense of composure, especially if you have a rather hectic life." [Source: Naoko Moriya, Yomiuri Shimbun , October 22, 2010]
Kinoshita, who teaches the art at a culture center inside Printemps Ginza in Tokyo, began studying calligraphy privately when she was 6. She says she finds joy in reaffirming to herself the beauty of the characters and the years it took for the forms to become complete. Kinoshita told the Yomiuri Shimbun her students tend to be women in their 20s-30s. Some of them are hoping to have attractive writing; others are interested in what is known as art calligraphy, a recent movement in which there is more freedom in the writing of characters. [Source: Naoko Moriya, Yomiuri Shimbun , October 22, 2010]
“Kinoshita recommends that people new to the tradition begin by first practicing brushing the Chinese and Japanese classics, known as rinsho,” Naoko Moriya wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun. “Demonstrating her point, Kinoshita writes six kanji characters on hanshi paper. She sits with her back straight as she holds her brush, creating a tense, serious atmosphere. The six characters are from Kyuseikyu reisenmei, a Chinese classic often used to illustrate the kaisho standard, or square writing. The words are inscribed on a monument built to celebrate the coming of spring at Kyuseikyu, a palace building from the Tang Dynasty in China. Kinoshita said it is always the first thing she has her students learn.”"By meditating on why the ancient peoples left these characters, I feel as if I can get a sense of those days," Kinoshita said. [Ibid]
Art Restoration in Japan
Oko Studio in Kyoto is the world's premier facility for
restoring Asian art. Using techniques and tools that have
changed little over the centuries, skilled restorers
painstakingly repair hand rolls, screens and hanging scrolls
with artificially-aged silk patches that are carefully cut,
glued and shaved in place. [Source: Carol Simons, Smithsonian
It takes anywhere from a few months to a few years to restore a
work. But sometimes it can take longer. One hand scroll with
4,331 Buddhist sutras took 26 years to restore. Most restorers
spend 10 years learning their craft and 20 years to become a
"Today, we may mix traditional with the new, but there's very
little change in the basic way we do things," Restorer Iwataro
Oka told Smithsonian magazine. "Most of tolls are from Edo times
[1600-1868]. So are most our techniques. No matter what scrolls
we're working, the methods we use are pretty much the same."
Art Restoration Methods in Japan
Usually works of art are first carefully studied for months
before restoration work begins. Light tables, x-rays,
microscopes, infrared cameras, video cameras and computer are
all used to examine the works and figure the best strategy for
The restorers work on $40,000 cypress wood tables that are
periodically planed to get rid of nicks and marks. Before
restoration work begins the works are usually cleaned with water
and special absorbent paper. The works are never repainted. The
colors of the silk patches are usually "common denominator"
shade of brown or tan aged with radiation to match the silk in
the work of art.
One of the most difficult tasks is removing old patches and
lining without doing any damage. To do this, a thin paper facing
with gel made from seaweed is attached to hold the work in place
the old patches and lining are removed cotton swabs and small
tweezers. Then the thin paper facing is easily removed.
Today replicas of delicate fusama-e paintings are made using
digital technology on special washi paper with advanced ink-jet
Image Sources: National Museum of Tokyo, British Museum, Onmark productions.