Guest Post: Four Masterpieces Joined by the Spirit of Water

Water falls from above, and from below, falls
Four Masterpieces Joined by the Spirit of Water
By Susanna Brooks, Curator of Japanese Art

It is summer, and the rainy season is upon us at Morikami. Rain falls practically every afternoon. The sky becomes dark and the rain falls fast and heavy, culminating into torrential downpours that draw everyone to the windows to take in the stunning, mesmerizing view of water falling from the sky and cascading down the rain chains, nourishing the plants, and dislocating the pebbles in the once-neatly-raked dry garden.

Morikami summer rain

Morikami’s dry garden and rain chains during a summer storm.

Rain is universally revered for its ability to create and sustain life and respected for the power it has to wound and raze nature when it falls hard and long. This entry provides an abbreviated exploration of the element of water as a meaningful motif in Japanese philosophy and art, primarily as the main subject of two famous 19th-century woodblock prints, which, in turn, share an affinity with two 19th-century Western masterpieces.

Water sustains all life, made evident by the fact that both the Earth and human body are composed of 70 percent water. For many cultures water holds spiritual symbolic meaning, with the natural attributes of water – its flexibility and adaption to change and transformation – equated to ideal human emotions and actions.

A precept of Japanese Buddhism holds water ( sui, or mizu) second in importance to Earth in the cycle of the five elements of the universe (Earth, Water, Fire, Wind, and Nothingness). Representations of these five elements are present time and again in the design of Japanese architecture, stone lanterns, Buddhist temples and Zen-inspired gardens. In Shintō, the native religion of Japan, water is venerated and presided over by Susano-o, god of the sea and storms, Kuraokami (literally, “dark dragon, tutelary of water”), god of rain and snow, and Suijin, the benevolent deity of water itself. A goal of spiritual practice within Shintō is to become like the flow of water, blurring divisions and transcending boundaries. For that reason, many devotees practice purification rituals under waterfalls (taki shugyō).

As a meaningful element in Japanese art and architecture, water is a leitmotif of many Japanese woodblock prints. Katsushika Hokusai, the artist of The Great Wave off Kanagawa, one of the most recognized images in the world, believed that water was sacred and had the power to purify and restore life in accordance with the natural flow of divine awareness. To Hokusai, water represented the flowing of formlessness in the universe.

Katsushika Hokusai (ca. 1760 – 1849) Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji: The Great Wave off of Kanagawa Woodblock print; ink and colors on paper Edo Period, ca. 1829 – 1832 Photo courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Katsushika Hokusai (ca. 1760 – 1849)
Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji: The Great Wave off of Kanagawa
Woodblock print; ink and colors on paper
Edo Period, ca. 1829 – 1832
Photo courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Hokusai and his Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji inspired the great, woodblock print artist Utagawa (Andō) Hiroshige. Hiroshige was a plein aire artist who strived to depict nature faithfully. He sketched his landscape scenes out-of-doors and then had the images transferred to woodblocks.  Here, he captures a group of travelers caught in a rain storm. Hiroshige recorded this scene while traveling with an official delegation through Ise Province in Mie Prefecture.

Utagawa (Andō) Hiroshige (1797 – 1858) Fifty-Three Stations of the Tōkaidō: Shōno-juku Woodblock print, ink and color on paper Edo Period, 1833 – 1834 Gift of Brigitte and Joseph Lonner 1998.065.001

Utagawa (Andō) Hiroshige (1797 – 1858)
Fifty-Three Stations of the Tōkaidō: Shōno-juku
Woodblock print, ink and color on paper
Edo Period, 1833 – 1834
Gift of Brigitte and Joseph Lonner
1998.065.001

The image is part of the Fifty-Three Stations of the Tōkaidō, a series of prints commemorating the Eastern Sea route from Edo (present-day Tokyo) to Kyoto. Considered Hiroshige’s most famous series, the Fifty-Three Stations was a pivotal watershed in ukiyo-e, for it greatly advanced the landscape as a key subject of this popular woodblock print genre. [1]

Hiroshige traveled the Tōkaidō in 1832 as part of an official delegation that was transporting horses, a gift from the Shogun to the Emperor as a symbol of his loyalty and as a way to pay his respects to the divine ruler of Japan. The landscape so impressed Hiroshige that he captured the journey in a series of sketches. When it was completed, the Fifty-Three Stations of the Tōkaidō numbered fifty-five, with the extra two commemorating the start and end points. Shōno-juku is the forty-fifth of the Fifty-Three Stations of the Tōkaidō.

Just as Hiroshige is celebrated for his rural landscape scenes, so French Impressionist Gustave Caillebotte is best-known for capturing the daily nuances of life on the streets of Paris. In this larger than life-size scene, Paris Street; Rainy Day, Caillebotte brings us practically face to face with a fashionable flâneur (French man of leisure) and his lady strolling in the rain.[2] With its cropped, zoomed-in angles, sharp tilted ground, and flat color palette, Rainy Day has a grand photo-realistic presence and a sensibility reminiscent of 19th-century Japanese prints, which had become all the rage among the French Impressionists. Like Hiroshige, Caillbotte captured a precise moment in time. As the painting’s simple, straightforward title suggests, Rainy Day takes rain as its main subject and creates around it a snapshot of daily life, turning an otherwise ordinary scene into a timeless, monumental work of art.

Gustave Caillebotte (1848 – 1894) Paris Street, Rainy Day 1877 Oil on canvas Photo courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago

Gustave Caillebotte (1848 – 1894)
Paris Street, Rainy Day
1877
Oil on canvas
Photo courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago

Another timeless and iconic work of art that takes water as its theme is Fallingwater, one of the greatest architectural achievements of the 20th century. Designed in 1935 by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, Fallingwater is a 2855 square-foot house built out over a 30-foot waterfall. The home has strong Japanese elements, particularly the manner in which the structure blends in with its environment, harmoniously bridging nature and man. As Japanese architect Tadao Ando has observed, “…Wright learned the most important aspect of architecture, the treatment of space, from Japanese architecture. When I visited Fallingwater in Pennsylvania, I found that same sensibility of space. But there was the additional sound of nature that appealed to me.”[3] The “sound” that Ando referred to was the melodious song of falling water for which the house is named.

Frank Lloyd Wright (1867 – 1859) Fallingwater 1936 – 1939 Photo courtesy of Fallingwater.org

Frank Lloyd Wright (1867 – 1859)
Fallingwater
1936 – 1939
Photo courtesy of Fallingwater.org

Of the 400 structures that Wright built in his lifetime, Fallingwater is considered his greatest masterpiece. The house embraces the essence of Wright’s aesthetic design philosophy, a concept he originated and called organic architecture, which espoused the construction of structures that were in harmony with humanity and the environment. Wright was also a prolific, and for a time, successful, dealer of ukiyo-e, such as those that Hokusai and Hiroshige made and Caillebotte collected.

As water is connected to humanity and the environment, so Frank Lloyd Wright is connected to Japan and Japanese woodblock prints. When Wright first traveled to Japan in 1905, he purchased hundreds of ukiyo-e, including Hokusai’s Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji and Hiroshige’s Fifty-Three Stations of the Tōkaidō. The following year, he assisted the curators of the Art Institute of Chicago, where Caillebotte’s Rainy Day is prominently displayed, in organizing a retrospective exhibition of the work of Hiroshige, which featured all fifty-five of the Fifty-Three Stations of the Tōkaidō. Perhaps the correlation between all four of these artists and their masterpieces is merely coincidental, but I like to think that the spirit of water, in all its glorious forms, serendipitously linked their flow.


[1] Ukiyo-e, or “pictures of the Floating World,” describes a genre of woodblock prints and paintings that depicted scenes from everyday life in and around the merchant’s quarters of Edo, primarily the districts they created for pleasure and entertainment. Themes of ukiyo-e include beautiful women (geisha and courtesans), kabuki theater, sumo, historical scenes, and landscapes. The term ukiyo is associated with the Buddhist concept of impermanence and the sorrows (uki) of life (yo), a notion that underscores the temporariness of life, youth, and human desire and pleasure.

[2] Rainy Day is a stately painting that measures 83.5” x 108.7” (approximately 6.9’ W x 9’ H).

[3] Tadao Ando, 1995 Laureate: Biography. The Hyatt Foundation. 1995.

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The Lanterns of Roji-en

Toro (literally “light basket” or “light tower”) originated, like many elements of traditional Japanese architecture, in China. Originally, lanterns were only used in Japan to line the paths of  Buddhists temples. Stone lanterns were eventually popularized during the Momoyama period (1568-1600) by tea masters, who used them to decorate their gardens.

Many different types of lanterns can be found throughout Roji-en. Some are strategically placed just downstream from a waterfall, overlooking a water feature, or lining a path, but all serve mostly as decoration. Here are a few common styles of stone lanterns found in Roji-en, and where to look for them.

Kasuga-doro.  This lantern is a tachi-gata, or pedestal type, and represented a guardian at the entrances of temples or tea gardens. Kasuga-doro lanterns can be seen around the South Gate, Challenger Point, the Yamato-kan bridge and Yamato Island.

Challenger

Rokkaku Yukimi.  This lantern is known as the “snow-viewing” lantern.  The upturned roof catches snow, inviting viewers to appreciate a garden in a season when most gardens are frozen. This type of lantern can be found at the Modern Garden overlooking the pond.

Yukimi

KotojiKotoji means “harp tuner.”  The two legs of this lantern resemble the tuning forks of the koto, a quintessential Japanese instrument.  One leg of the lantern stands on land while the other dips into the water, reflecting the interdependence of land and water.  A kotoji lantern can also be referred to as a “wet foot-dry foot” lantern.  This type of lantern can be seen in our Modern Garden creek.

kotoji

Delicious Eats & a Taste of the Rice Pounding Ceremony – Part 2 of Our New Year’s Series

UPDATE 1/10/14: Due to extreme flooding Oshogatsu has been postponed until Sunday, January 19, 2014. If you have already purchased tickets you will receive an email with details about your purchase. Otherwise, you may still purchase tickets online until Friday, January 17th at noon. We apologize for any inconvenience and hope to see you all there next Sunday!

 

With Part 2 of our New Year’s Blog series we want to talk about one of our favorite parts of any celebration – you guessed it – the food. Food plays an important part in celebrating the Japanese New Year; from Mochitsuki, rice-pounding to make mochi cakes, to special New Year’s eats, there’s a lot to taste and try when you visit us during Oshogatsu.

NEW YEAR’S FOODS

There are a few foods that are important symbols of good luck and happiness for the New Year. These special New Year’s foods are called osechi-ryori, and are traditionally packed in layered lacquer boxes called jubako, which are similar to bento boxes. The dish depends on the area, but some common dishes include kuromame (simmered black soy beans), kurikinton (mashed sweet potato with sweet chestnuts), tazukuri (candied dried sardines), renkon (lotus roots) and shrimp.

Each dish and ingredient holds meaning. Some dishes are said to bring good health, others a good harvest, happiness, prosperity, longevity, etc. Traditionally, yellow dishes and ingredients such as kazunoko (herring roe) symbolize prosperity, while mame (beans) are for good health. Usually, people make osechi dishes by New Year’s Eve to last through the first few days of the year so that they won’t have to cook during the celebration days.

At Morikami we’ll serve our own take on a few of these New Year’s flavors, as well as traditional mochi cakes straight from our the rice pounding ceremony. (We’ll also serve a few familiar American festival favorites.) No matter what, there will be plenty to taste!

NEW YEAR’S EATS AT OSHOGATSU

This year, as a special treat, the Cornell Café will serve a dish called chirashizushi. Traditionally, this is a festive dish served on special occasions, and loosely translates to “scattered sushi.” Ours includes tuna and salmon sashimi with shrimp, snow peas, carrots and a symbol of longevity in the new year – an origami crane. On festival grounds we’ll offer some other New Year’s eats like soba noodles and coconut shrimp!

Soba is a traditional noodle dish, made from buckwheat noodles in a hot soup, and symbolizes wishes for good luck in the year ahead. Shrimp is also an important symbolic food for New Year’s and is believed to promote longevity. Some say this is because shrimp have curved backs like the very elderly. Check out our food page as the event gets closer for more on what we’ll be serving up as well as full menus.

THE RICE POUNDING CEREMONY

Mochitsuki—the rice pounding ceremony – is essential to Oshogatsu, and is one of our favorite parts of the festivities. Traditionally, mochitsuki begins the day before by soaking the mochigome (sweet rice paste). The next day, the mochigome is ready to be steamed in the seiro (a wooden steaming frame) and then put into the usu, a large mortar made from wood, stone or concrete. The hot rice paste is then pounded with a kine ,a big wooden hammer, until smooth and shiny.

One of the most exciting parts of mochisutki is watching the cooperation between the person pounding and the person assisting (who quickly darts his or her hand into the usu and turns the rice before the next rhythmic pound of the hammer). It takes some coordination to get it right, but once the mochi is smooth and consistent in texture it’s placed onto a mochiko (sweet rice flour) covered surface, and small portions are pinched off, formed into balls, flattened and then set aside to cool until ready to eat.

At Morikami we perform the rice-pounding ceremony a few times throughout the day in order for everyone to get a chance to see and participate in the spectacle.

Tune in next week for a special New Year’s edition of Vlogs With Veljko where he’ll tell us about a very special Japanese New Year’s tradition- Nengajo!

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We Want You!

If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to go behind the scenes at a Morikami festival, or if you’re searching for a fun way to give back, search no further – volunteering at Lantern Festival gets you Morikami insider status and most of all, supports yours truly!

Volunteer responsibilities range from lantern building to helping out in the galleries and everything in between. We’re looking for individuals, small groups and large groups to help us make Lantern Festival a success. Volunteers are the backbone of our programs and events, so we thank you in advance for being such an integral part in this celebration.

Want to see what you’re in for? Check out the gallery below for snapshots of our volunteers in action and head over to our festival volunteer page to fill out an application. We’ll see you in October!

 

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