Ben Winick on Japanese Temple Design as Microcosm of Japanese Aesthetics
When you first look at them, Japanese temples and shrines seem to be an odd mix of austere and garish. As was the case with both Yakasa Shrine and Kiyomizudera (Clear-Water Temple), the two holy sites we visited on Thursday, temple and shrine buildings can embrace an aesthetic of wabi (deliberate imperfection, and the appreciation of that imperfection) and iki (austere, subtle beauty) on the one hand, and display aspects of furyuu (lit. “courtly beauty”) and karei (lit. “flowery beauty”; sumptuousness, bordering on ostentatiousness) on the other. These styles can be seen on neighboring buildings – if not on the same building! For example, at Kiyomizudera, one of the pagodas in the front courtyard of the shrine was painted in stripes of neon red-orange on each “tier” above the base, and the lintel below each was marked with brightly colored – almost psychedelic! – abstract patterns. At the same time, the unpainted wood on that pagoda was wet from the rain and beginning to show its age, and occasionally inlaid with subtle gold filigree. These two very disparate styles, rather than clashing, actually seemed to compliment each other – and both actually held deep spiritual meaning. The neon red-orange is used across Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines in Japan, as it is believed that that particular color will attract kami (spirits and gods (both large and small)); the unvarnished wood, on the other hand, is aligned with the Japanese concept of mono no aware (loosely translated, “the pathos of transience”; the bittersweet sadness in knowing that everything eventually fades.)
Acadia Stevens on Kiyomizu dera Temple
Today we went to Kiyomizu Temple a Buddhist temple which was a fifteen minute walk from are hotel. The temple is an impressive feat of architecture as no nails were used in its construction. The purpose of this was probably to further connect those that come to the temple with nature. The entire construction of the temple is meant to bring you closer to nature. There are trees and various plants lining the walkway in order to shield the visitor from the view of the material world. The path leads the visitor further and further from the view of the city and closer to nature. Soon you are unable to hear the noise of the city and are instead surrounded by the chirping of birds, rustling of leaves, and the roaring of the water fall. No food or water is allowed in the temple complex. This is deliberate, in order to make visitors better appreciate the simpler things in life like food and water. After the long walk through nature where you let go of the material world you are rewarded at the end of your journey with stands that offer you the chance to purchase water and a hot meal. I found this trip to the temple to be interesting in its difference from the others we have visited. This temple was the most secluded of the ones we have been to visit so far, the other temples while separated from the main roads by walls and fences, were still just a stone throws away from the hub of life. Kiyomizu was so separate from the main roads that you have to walk ten minutes to get to the main road. My favorite part of this visit would have to be the food. The Pizza Meat Bun while tasting nothing like Pizza, was none the less delicious, especially after the long walk around the temple. Some times the simplest things like good food with friends, can turn out to be the most wonderful.
Ben Winick on the Tea Ceremony
During class, we’ve talked a lot about how important ritual is in Japanese culture, and this deeply ingrained aspect of Japanese culture is apparent in tea ceremony. Though we only saw and participated in a (very!) abbreviated form of that particular ritual, every action undertaken by the woman leading the ceremony was highly deliberate and clearly well practiced. All of the implements used to make matcha (a suspension of ground-up green tea leaves in hot water) were repeatedly cleaned using a red cloth (which, we were later told, is used to ritually and spiritually purify the tools); each time the leader picked up the hot water ladle, she held it in front of her and just looked at it (as she later told us, this is called “regarding the tools”); and every action taken in the preparation of the tea was repeated over and over. All of this was only in preparation for the first bowl of tea! The tea bowls themselves were emblematic of the aesthetic concepts of wabi and ma (lit. “an interval of time and space”; has various meanings, but the most important in this case is asymmetry). The bowls’ shapes were often irregular at the rim, or glazed in broad swatches of color – but each bowl had a clearly designated, intricately designed front, and the glazing was never splotchy or sloppily applied. I would love to learn more about how these bowls are designed and created!
Arianna Guirola on the Tea Ceremony
Chanoyo, in Japanese, means tea ceremony and SadoChado means “way of tea”. The way of tea is a preparation made with a green powder called matcha. The way that this type of tea is prepared during the ceremony represents harmony, respect, tranquility and purity. Tea was introduced in Japan during the 6th century by a Buddhist monk who brought matcha from China. This monk personally prepared tea ceremonies to the Emperor Saga, which led to the order of beginning to grow tea in Japan. Wabi-Sabi is a style used in traditional tea ceremonies while using simple and rustic teacups. During the tea ceremony and all its aspects allows the experience to open people’s spirit, appreciating the simplicity and natural surroundings of tea drinking.
When entering the room where the tea ceremony took place, I noticed that the utensils to prepare the ceremony were arranged in an orderly way. The arrangement looked artistic and natural and gave me a pure and tranquil feeling. The quiet in the room inspired me to follow this peacefulness with respect and harmony. The room was very simple, decorated with a calligraphy scroll on the wall, a vase, and the tea utensils placed on the floor. These simplistic decorations created a tranquil environment with the garden view outside. The host explained to us how the tea ceremony takes place and the types of materials used to prepare the tea. She talked about the four spiritual practices which are, Wa, Kei, Sei, and Jyaku. Wa represents harmony between the guests and the host and how that harmony. Kei represents respect, making everyone who attends the tea ceremony have the same rank, Sei means purity, which introduces an open and kind heart. Jyaku signifies tranquility which leads to selflessness. These four spiritual words represent the “Heart” of Sadou. When the host started the ceremony, the group sat still and quietly. It was very calming how the host prepared the tea, not making any noise when she grabbed the utensils. After preparing the tea, she cleaned the bowl and the other utensils she used. She then put the matcha tea in the bowl, added hot water and stirred it with a back and forth motion. She then started handing out the tea and when she finished, she cleaned and put the materials back in their place. I personally did not enjoy drinking tea, but this experience made me appreciate the art and the delicacy of the practice.
William Grant on Japanese Culture
While out and about in the bustling streets of Gion we had many chance encounters that could be described as memorable cross-cultural experiences. Firstly, when we stopped in the local McDonald’s for some members of the group to refuel, we happened upon two ladies dressed in full kimonos and other traditional Japanese garb ordering Big Macs. The juxtaposition of the kimono, which resembles and symbolizes ancient insular Japanese culture that has been preserved through its strong national identity and detachment from Westernization, with the most typically Western and modern of meals was both comical and a sign of the times. As the sun began to set over the river, shouts followed by chants of hundreds of people came from the near distance. These turned out to be the organized chants of a protest demonstration that comprised of untold numbers of Japanese citizens who were mostly senior in age. They carried signs and shouted into loudspeakers aggressive and defamatory exclamations against Shinzo Abe, the prime minister, who was attempting to create a standing army despite the constitution drafted after the Second World War specifically prohibiting this mode of action. It was fascinating to rationalize both how recent the war was and what its effects and America’s intervention in Japan has had on the Japanese culture and psyche. Surprisingly it seems as though these senior citizens who quite possibly lived first hand in the American-controlled post-WWII Japan are strongly in favor of the legislation and anti-imperialist doctrine established in that time period. While our lessons in Japanese culture and core values have proved educational and useful, it is where Japanese diverge in their behavior from these norms that proves most interesting to me. Tonight, as the torrents of rain finally subsided and the night assumed the tenderness and energy of Friday, I decided it would be fitting to explore some hidden corner of Kyoto and try to find an experience that would confound traditional Japanese culture rather than affirm it. I found a pachinko and videogame arcade complex and felt the atmosphere to be exquisitely anti-“wa”: at A-Cho, competition evinces harmony, individualism trumps teamwork, and there is something quite antisocial and escapist about the vibe of the place. Though it seems counter-intuitive that amongst the cacophonous noise, flashing lights and incredibly stimulating sensory overload, one can find solitude and tranquility it is apparent in the arcades scattered around Japanese cities. In the Great Gatsby, Daisy claims that in small parties “there’s no privacy.” Only when one is lost in a sea of noise, bodies, huge hunks metal, wiring, and flashing lights can one truly blend into the atmosphere as a non-entity. When you walk up through the floors of various fighting, mecha, dance and rhythm games there is not the regular greeting you find in department stores or the friendly calls of shop assistants. Nobody turns their heads, hardly anybody even notices your presence. Here, formalities are disposed with and ignored—the experience is between you and the machine, and the informality and loudness of the atmosphere is exactly what makes it enticing and perfect as a getaway. At one point, I had a difficult time attempting to uphold the traditional Japanese values of wa (harmony) and sasshi (indirectness) while also wanting to satisfy my personal desire to play on the only pokemon machine that a 40 year old man had been hogging for over 2 hours. Clearly, etiquette falls by the wayside in a venue as outcast and niche as this one. I sat 10 yards away staring at my phone, hoping that my body language and indirectness would hint to him in the right direction, but he was enjoying his own experience and unaware of his surroundings/ how he was impacting other people. Very un-wa, very un-wa indeed. And where was the Enryo? After 30 minutes I decided to be the brash, direct American and asked—with the aid of google translate of course—whether I might play one single game. Sure enough this was taken literally, and the man was hovering behind me as I finished the only game I played. He was all too eager to resume playing, and didn’t even return my gratitude when I bowed and said “arigato gozai mas.” I appreciated the cross-cultural experience for the fact that it didn’t hold up to the textbook definition of Japanese culture, and that people let down their guard and outside face in a particular setting.
Eli Moore on Visiting the Shigaraki Ceramic Park
Today I visited the ceramic cultural park in Japan. While there I was able to see a contemporary art exhibit as well as get a look at the studio on site. Pieces from the exhibit as well as many pieces spread around on site showed many of the concepts we have learned about since coming to Japan. Many of the pieces took inspiration from nature. The large vortex looking sculpture titled wave looks like a whirlpool. The subtle scaly texture on the inside and the earthy tone give an almost living feeling to it. The subtlety of the texture, the flamboyance of form, and the inspiration from nature perfectly reflect aspects of Japanese aesthetics. Outside of the cultural park, ceramics were found everywhere. Sitting down to lunch, wheel thrown ceramic cups were given out along with a matching wheel thrown bottle of water. Noodles came in beautifully uniquely glazed bowls. All aspects of food from the taste and look of the food to the accent of the utensils used are an art form.
photos by C. Herbert
Ben Garrett on Shigaraki-Yaki Town, one of the Six Ancient Kilns/Pottery Towns in Japan
On our down day, I went with Christie, Eli, and Clark to visit the pottery village of Shigaraki. It was something else, and we managed to pick up some great gifts for people as well as going to the Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park. We saw the work of ceramicists from all over the world, and even met some of the ceramicists doing residencies there. It was a great place full of so many different kinds of ceramic art from artists such as Guido Mariani, Takemi Shima, and Toro Okamoto. It made me want to be making pots. Shigaraki-Yaki town is about 1,500 feet above sea level and surrounded by the Shigaraki Mountains. Porcelain is produced here, and is one of Japan’s best clays. The Shigaraki-Yaki Porcelain began about 1,200 years ago during the time Emperor Shomu built his palace in Shigaraki. Since then, water jars and seed jars were made in the Kamakura era (1192-1333), tea bowls in the Muromachi Era (1333-1573), tea canisters and sake bottles in the Edo era (1603-1868) and since then, during the Showa Era, charcoal braziers were its chief products. Today flower pots, garden wares, tiles of various kinds, and ornaments such as the raccoon dogs, Tanuki, have become popular and are a sign of good Luck.
1. A sedge Hat (Be always careful not to become bankrupt.)
2. A charming Face (Affability is important to a merchant.)
3. A big paunch (Be quick in decision.)
4. A ‘Sake’ Bottle (Being Satisfied with a Simple meal calls virtue.)
5. An account book (Trust first.)
6. The testicles (Money will come and multiply by a wise use of it.)
7. A large tail (The end crowns all.)