Discovering the Arts of Japan: A Historical Overview

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9780789210357: Discovering the Arts of Japan: A Historical Overview

This handy reference book is perfect for anyone interested in Japanese art, whether they be art history students and enthusiasts or tourists visiting Japan. A comprehensive overview of the major trends in art throughout the history of Japan, Discovering the Arts of Japan includes a select bibliography and list of major museums housing collections of Japanese art. Handsomely presented and easy-to-use, this book offers a valuable introduction to the subject, and encourages further in-depth study of specific periods and art forms.

Le informazioni nella sezione "Riassunto" possono far riferimento a edizioni diverse di questo titolo.

About the Author:

Tsuneko S. Sadao studied art at the University of California at Berkeley. She has worked as an art consultant to Japanese museums and galleries for many years, and is presently consultant to the Isamu Noguchi Foundation, Inc., in the U.S. and Japan.

Stephanie Wada is Associate Curator of the prestigious Mary and Jackson Burke Foundation and the Mary Griggs Burke collection of Japanese Art in New York. She has taught Asian art at Columbia University and the City University of New York.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

II. Introduction of Buddhism

Asuka period

552-645

History/Politics/Religion

Buddhism was nearly a thousand years old by the time it was brought to Japan in the sixth century. Its origins lie in India, where it evolved from practices inspired by the life and teachings of Sakyamuni (b. fifth century B.C.), heir to the throne of a small kingdom in the region of present-day Nepal. While meditating under a pipal, or banyan, tree Sakyamuni achieved supreme knowledge and became an enlightened being--a Buddha. He realized that the material world is illusory, and that all suffering is caused by desire; the way to end suffering and attain Nirvana--release from the endless cycle of life, death, and rebirth--is therefore through renunciation of desire and worldly attachment. Sakyamuni dedicated the remainder of his life to teaching others how to achieve this goal, and after his death his beliefs were codified and spread by his followers. Mahayana, the branch of Buddhism that spread to Japan, recognized a large, hierarchically ranked pantheon of deities drawn from ancient Indian Vedic tradition, in addition to a multitude of Buddhas.

The arrival of the Buddhist faith in Japan signaled the beginning of an era characterized by intense assimilation of many aspects of continental culture. Having made its way east along the Silk Route through Central Asia, China, and the Korean peninsula, Buddhism was formally introduced to the Japanese imperial court around 552 by emissaries from the king of the Paekche kingdom in southwest Korea. Less than a century later, Japanese envoys were sent by the imperial court to study Buddhism in China. In 633, there were forty-six Buddhist temples in the Asuka area (south of modern Kyoto), presided over by more than 1,300 clerics. By the late seventh century, there were hundreds of temple compounds spread throughout a number of outlying provinces.

Prior to the arrival of Buddhism, Shinto had satisfied the spiritual needs of an essentially agrarian society. Commoners of the era continued to view their environment as a world populated by nature-gods, ancestor-gods, and spirits of ancient folklore, but Buddhism's structured dogma, canonical literature, and association with Chinese civilization appealed to court circles. After initial political and military skirmishes between rival pro-Shinto and pro-Buddhist clans, Shinto and Buddhism adopted a policy of harmonious coexistence. Buddhism rapidly gained the support of the most powerful figures at the imperial court, and from the reign of Yomei (r. 585-587) on, virtually all emperors were Buddhist while the imperial line was held to be directly descended from the sun goddess Amaterasu, of Shinto mythology.

The impact of Buddhism was profound, permanently affecting most major aspects of Japanese culture, and prompting a wealth of artistic activity that included extensive temple building programs, painting, and sculpture. Many of these monuments were created through the patronage of the government or high-ranking aristocrats. Chief among these in the Asuka period was the son of Emperor Yomei, Shotoku Taishi (574-622). Prince Shotoku was an ardent Buddhist scholar and statesman, and championed both the spread of the new faith and the study of Chinese philosophy. Principles of Confucianism, with their emphasis on loyalty and social order, were introduced to the Japanese during this era, and were utilized by the imperial family to expand their power and influence and to organize the government into a literate bureaucracy.

Significant social and political change resulted from these momentous events. Japan in the early Asuka period was comprised of the tiny Yamato state and a number of distinct, semi-autonomous regions, each of which was governed by a specific clan. During the reign of Empress Suiko (d. 628), the imperial family asserted its right to supreme authority over all clan chiefs. By modeling their government on the centralized, bureaucratic Chinese system, the imperial family was able to erode the power of the aristocratic clans and move toward unification of the country.

The hub of Asuka period culture and seat of the Yamato court was the beautiful Nara Plain, where palaces and temples were erected in emulation of continental structures. A new palace was constructed for each new ruler, to avoid the pollution associated with death. Craftsmen, painters, and other artisans emigrated from Korea to Japan, and their naturalized families were frequently assimilated into the ranks of court officials. Continental styles of music and dance were introduced from Paekche and China into aristocratic circles, and Korean ceramics and richly-toned Chinese three-color wares were imported for use in court ceremonies as well as in Buddhist temples. Courtiers were garbed according to their rank, in silk brocades with brocade or lacquered hats. Following the widespread acceptance of Buddhism, the tombs of the elite became smaller and less grandiose, perhaps reflecting the Buddhist belief in the illusory nature of material wealth and the cycle of reincarnation. Nevertheless, fine grave goods were interred with the deceased, including ceramic, glass, lacquer, wood, and gilt bronze objects.

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