Clive Holland.

Old and new Japan online

. (page 18 of 23)
Online LibraryClive HollandOld and new Japan → online text (page 18 of 23)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

distance look like feathers — and on these are inscribed
ideographs, constituting a Shintd charm or ofuda. After
this has been carefully inserted in the split cane, the ends
of the latter are firmly tied together.

These arrow-like objects, with their prayer " feathers,"
which ask for a blessing on the crop, or express some
sentiment of adoration or thankfulness, are thick in the
rice fields, silent witnesses of faith or superstition (which-
ever the point from which the traveller may choose
to regard them), and quaint memorials of an ancient

Also sometimes around the smaller rice fields are erected
tiny bamboo fences along the top of which is stretched a
cord. The pieces of paper attached to this, which flutter
in the faintest breeze as it sends the rice plants shimmering
with a satiny sheen, are not to scare the birds. They, too,
are emblems of the people's faith. These tiny paper cut-
tings, like a fringe though they at first appear, are gohei
hung at regular distances apart. This cord with its paper
adornments symbolises the sacred emblem of Shintoism,
and within the space it encloses no malign influence may
enter. No scorching sun shall burn up the young plants,
nor tempest destroy the crop. Neither shall the de-


vastating locust nor hungry bird come where the white-
winged arrows are.

With most other nations a wall, whether it be of a
house or of a penitentiary, is generally per se a somewhat
unlovely object. Only when u weathered," creeper-grown,
or stained by Nature's hand does it become tolerable from
an artistic point of view. To improve it Western people
have generally fallen back upon decorative ornament ; or
excrescences with which to break up its monotony. Not
so with the artistic Japanese. Ours is the policy of con-
cealment ; that of the Japanese is to go to the root of the
evil, and strive to beautify the wall itself. In Japan almost
all walls (if one except those of " foreign " buildings) are
made of hewn stones generally pyramidical in form, and
hammered outward at their bases into an earthen bank.
The common Japanese wall is a wonder to every one who
sees it. It is never straight up and down, because to that
particular feature may be traced not a little of the in-
artistic and monotonous character of English and American
ordinary domestic buildings in particular. The line of the
Japanese wall curves softly outward as it approaches the
ground. This feature, too, is not reserved for the walls of
great or important buildings, fine temples, and the castles
and palaces of the daimio. It is seen in the walls of the
least important buildings, the tiniest shrine, and in those of
the most modern of all recently erected temples.

To apply decorative designs to articles of common use
is one of the simplest methods of beautifying them. The
Japanese have used and adapted it to perfection. Wes-
terners generally leave such matters severely alone. What
indeed should we think of a sack-maker who beautified the
bags he manufactured for conveying potatoes, grain, flour,
and other articles ? And yet the Japanese seldom fail to
decorate even such utilitarian objects as sacks with a simple
design, which does something to break up monotony. On



them one constantly sees — more especially at the seaports
on the hatobas (wharves), or in the godowns (warehouses) —
sacks on the sides of which are imprinted maple leaves, a
chrysanthemum (conventional or natural in form), a sprig
of cherry or plum blossom, a fir branch, or a sprig of
bamboo, rice ears, birds in flight, or even sketchy repre-
sentations of Fuji- San ; always in good proportion to the
size of the article they are intended to embellish, and seldom
in the centre, but at one corner. The colours used are
chiefly the blues (which are the commonest in use in China
and Japan), a peculiar, pale, but charming shade of green,
or a salmon pink.

Even the fragile paper-bags of commerce, similar to
those used in England for groceries, green-groceries, haber-
dashery, etc., and the wrapping-paper used in the shops
are seldom without a sprig of flowers, a leaf, or a geome-
trical pattern. Often the larger sheets of paper in which
silk and cotton goods are wrapped are made delightful by
designs which are both beautiful in form and colouring.

The art instinct of the race M expresses " itself in these
little'ways. In the bronze axle-heads of thzjinrikiskas one
can generally find a chaste pattern ; at the least the metal
is beaten into some kind of irregular or simple design.
The great and ever-abiding principle with the Japanese is
to beautify.

In the more modern hotels, and especially those cater-
ing for Europeans, and those which have adopted " foreign"
ideas, which include blankets and sheets, one will frequently
find that the former articles, in which there is probably a
pattern or stripe already present, will have that decorative
feature so manipulated in the folding, that when it is laid
on the bed for use it presents quite a distinct design. And
sometimes the boy or maid who is responsible for the fold-
ing of the sheets will do them much in the way a skilled
house parlour-maid does the serviettes in England ; the


object being to destroy the monotony of whiteness, and
avoid a simple square or oblong of material. In the
same way the Japanese chamber-maid will set out the
toilet articles in a distinct pattern upon one's dressing-
table, instead of in the "serried rows" beloved by her
English equivalent.

The same idea governs the Japanese cook. He or
she will serve a lunch that will be an artistic delight from
the judicious use of various-coloured porcelain plates and
dishes in conjunction with the different colours of the
articles of food. The lemon-coloured custards will be
served in a blue bowl ; the salmon pink of fish made to
contrast with a silvery-white or pale-green dish, or pure
white rice served on a pale-blue dish, and perhaps garnished
with some shreaded seaweed of a slightly deeper shade.
And in the disposition of their edible goods — sweets,
biscuits or cakes — even the street vendors use an amount
of artistic taste regarding the colours of the platters on
which they are displayed, which would put an English
high-class confectioner to shame.

In the shops where articles of many colours are — the
china warehouses, the drapers, the sellers of ancient fabrics
and curios — runs the same thread of artistic feeling. In
the first-named the arrangement of the goods will never
be conglomerate. The colours will not " scream " at each
other from one side of the shop to the other ; a discreet
care will have been exercised that each article has its
chance of appeal to the purchaser's sense of beauty. In
the second, the fabrics may not be " conveniently " arranged
to European ideas. The silks may not have all the shades
of one colour massed together, but a most beautiful scale
of harmonies will certainly be visible to the seeing eye.
And the beautifully-flowered cottons of native make will
be so arranged and manipulated that an impression, more
like that arising from a series of pictures than a certain


number of bales of goods, will be produced upon the mind
of the beholder. And in the third case, each exquisite
example of the potter's, weaver's, enameller's or metal-
worker's art will be so isolated that there is no sense of
confusion created in the possible purchaser's mind ; no
tiring of the eye that it may do this necessary work of
isolation for itself.

Though art in arrangement has been introduced by
the Japanese into all classes of shops, even those openly
catering for a foreign clientele, and dealing largely in
European and American goods, it is in the native stores
that one sees the most perfect development in what, for
want of a better term, may be called " the art of the shops."
Here even the wrapping-paper of the parcels, the string
with which they are tied up, is made to contribute to the
general artistic effect ; fine red, or pure white, or green
string taking the place of the dun-coloured twine used in
most English shops ; and the number of threads being the
logical sequence of the need for greater strength, one obtains
around one's parcel a parti-coloured ribbon, with each strand
placed side by side and not twisted or jumbled up together.
The ends, too, of this ribbon of coloured string are usually
not snipped off anyhow, but are carefully cut into a point,
a V-shape, or swallow-tail.

The same sense of art which is seen in the shape,
colour, or arrangement of purely native articles and fabrics,
has been brought to bear where the Japanese have adopted
European or other foreign articles or ideas. In many
respects it must be conceded that their art is on a small
scale. We see this in the size of their teacups, which
are, of course, native ; and in the size of the pipes and
tobacco pouches, which they adopted from the Dutch
settlers three centuries ago ; and also in their brushes and
other articles of domestic utility. The Japanese have a
great idea of the scale of proportion. In their fragile



houses, which are mostly small, large articles would be
out of place, just as would also large schemes of design.
Amongst the numerous articles they have adopted from
European and Americans, perhaps none are more charac-
teristic than drinking-glasses. Glass was not known to
the Japanese until introduced from the West, and the
glasses of civilisation, more particularly those of Germany,
used for beer (which is in its light varieties becoming
an increasingly popular drink) were of course entirely
" out of focus." So it happened when the Japanese adopted
beer-glasses that the first alteration they made was in their
size. If this had not been done they would have appeared,
in relation to the Japanese dinner-service, much as an ice-
pail would to an ordinary English tumbler. Thus it is
that a thirsty German in Japan must be always in despair
when drinking " lager " out of native glasses, which are
generally considerably smaller than the smallest tumblers
used in England for claret cup.

The adoption of the Western idea of windows has
been of slow growth. At first the use of glass windows
(which in Japan never or seldom open) was confined to
the foreign-built houses, and a few of the leading hotels
which catered for Europeans and tourists. It was only
when the possibilities of their introduction into native
houses began to be considered that their art side was
thought of. They were, of course, neither necessary as
a means of ventilation nor for light. The Japanese house
is (as we have pointed out elsewhere) " all ventilation";
and the translucent shoji admit quite a sufficiency of light
according to Japanese ideas. Glass windows with the
Japanese were adopted simply as an art effect. They
enabled the person in the house to see the delightful
pictures of garden, street, and other kinds of life without,
which formerly was only possible when the shoji were slid
back and the house was thrown open. The Japanese


window is not, because the people are so truly artistic,
merely a square or rectangular framework in which glass
is fastened, as is the case with us. It is usually a wide
band of glass running the whole width of the skoji, placed
at just the right distance above the floor to enable a person
seated on the latter to see out without effort.

But in the use of glass the Japanese mind was con-
fronted by the bare space, which it artistically abhors. The
difficulty was a real one. A pattern would destroy the
purpose for which this Western material was adopted —
the uninterrupted view. But the space could not be left
entirely blank. So it came to pass that very frequently
at one end of a window one finds traced in the glass a tiny
design of the sacred mountain, Fuji-San. The wide un-
covered space no longer exists, but nevertheless the view
remains unspoiled.

The same story is almost equally true of all the other
things which modern Japan has adopted from the West.
The articles of domestic use — pots, pans, brushes — have
most of them undergone a subtle change, which, whilst not
in the least degree destroying their usefulness, has served,
as it were, to lift them out of the ruck of common things.

Invariably the means used are of the simplest. The
most exquisite fabrics have colour effects of astonishing
beauty introduced by the mere application of other material
to the surface of the original or basic fabric. A piece of
patchwork colour, a few silken threads, and upon the
kimono, of say apricot satin, blossoms a wonderful blue
giant clematis or purple iris. A small piece of ruddy
brown silk, and yet again a few threads of dark brown or
olive-green silk, and a maple leaf in all its glory of colour
hangs as though dropped down out of the sky on the sleeve
of a dainty little lady's gown. And so on.

Another distinguishing feature of Japanese art of the
people, as well as of the great artists, is the dislike of


symmetry, or perhaps it would be more correct to say
uniformity. It is almost impossible to find an accurate
"pair" of anything of native manufacture or design in
Japan into the scheme of which it has been possible to
introduce artistic feeling. A pair of vases are scarcely ever
exactly alike in every detail. The beautiful bronze candle-
sticks which one sees in most of the metal-workers' shops
are never pairs ; for if resembling one another in general
design or in form, their minor details will surely upon closer
examination be found to differ. Once a bet was made
between two Englishmen in Yokohama that one of them
would find a pair of candlesticks. After a morning spent
in ransacking the shops of Hon-cho-ddri, the searcher
returned in triumph to his hotel bearing in his hands two
small candlesticks of fine bronze, the motif of the design of
which was a pine-tree, with a dragon leaning against the
trunk, the animal's tail forming the handle. Everything
seemed the same in each candlestick, and the purchaser
thought he had won his bet, which would have half-paid
for the bronzes. But, alas ! a minute examination showed
that there was one small branch more on one of the trees,
almost concealed by the foot of the dragon, and that in one
case the dragon's tongue was lolling out and in the other
was not!

Very few writers upon the work of Japanese artists are
entirely in agreement. There is always, we think, a greater
likelihood of arriving at a just estimate (and, indeed, fewer
difficulties in doing so) when considering the art of the
people themselves. The chief characteristics of this are
the desire for purity of line, a recognition of the value of
space in decorative schemes of all kinds, delicacy of taste,
and a thoroughness in execution.

Regarding the first-named distinction, it is apparent
in almost all things to every intelligent observer. The
Japanese draw rather than paint. This love of line is


apparent in such dissimilar things as the mud walls of their
rice fields and the scheme of their decorations on paper
screens ; in their house walls, where stone is used, and the
delicate placing of flower or foliage in vases. It is not,
perhaps, easy to say why this love of line has so permeated
the Japanese idea of art. It may possibly be the clarity of
the climate, which makes masses of light and shade less
obtrusive and less frequent than in many other lands ; it
may, on the other hand, be the influence of the mountains,
and more especially of the exquisite Fuji-San, the outline
of whose extraordinary peak is so constantly silhouetted
against the sky, and can be studied by the inhabitants of
more than a dozen provinces. Certain it is that Fuji-San
has verily instilled its beautiful form into the minds and
hearts of the people, and the prominent part the mountain
plays in their art is indicative of a far-reaching influence.

Few artists excel the Japanese in flower drawings ; but
a close examination of some of the best work of the masters
seems to indicate that most of these drawings by the great
artists of Japan are more or less influenced by tradition.
The originator of the Japanese method of drawing flowers
was undoubtedly a true impressionist, who depicted merely
what seemed to him the chief characteristic or character-
istics of the plants he was drawing, often to the exclusion
of other minor characteristics, and, as a consequence, pro-
ducing a mannerism which most of the artists who followed
him have imitated. As has been the case in other lands
than Japan, the followers of a school have often been led
into exaggeration because they have copied certain charac-
teristics of that school rather than what they themselves
saw in painting certain more or less unvarying models.
Thus it is that one often finds the less popular flowers,
which are least frequently drawn, are much more natural
and true to life than those which have been depicted by
artists of all generations, and for the drawing of which


something of a rule or method has become recognised.
There are some flowers, for example, which, as drawn,
show marked characteristics that are scarcely visible in the
flowers themselves, and their presence in the drawings has
arisen through the minute observation of some master of
former times, who put these veinings of leaves, spots upon
the stem, etc., in his drawing, which have been exaggerated
by disciples until they really monopolise an attention which
the features in the real plants would never do.

In flower arrangement the Japanese do not go for mass
or colour to the extent that they do for line. In fact, many
of the most beautiful effects we have seen have been pro-
duced not by a clever grouping of contrasting or comple-
mentary colours, not by a bold massing of a daring colour
scheme, but by line arrangement. How complete an art
this flower arrangement is can only be grasped after a close
acquaintance with it and careful study. To use certain
plants or flowers in combination is to the Japanese idea
incorrect. The iris and the narcissus would scarcely be
used by an artist in flower arrangement ; but the narcissus
and ilex are considered appropriate for combined use. The
willow and the plum blossom are scarcely ever seen (they
would certainly not be used together by a superstitious
flower-arranger), as, according to the Chinese legend, they
bring bad luck. Another point worthy of note is the fact
that neither foliage nor flowers must be used out of season.
To the Japanese idea a " forced " blossom is not only un-
natural but distasteful ; and in the case of flowers which
bloom through a period of several months, as do the iris,
chrysanthemum, and some others, then the arrangement
must vary each month to be in artistic keeping with their
stages of natural development. Particular blossoms, too,
have come to be regarded as only being strictly suitable
for certain rooms and occasions ; and the different types
of vases are used according to a determined artistic

: : :<



idea. In a sleeping apartment, convolvulus ("morning
glory ") is frequently used in beautiful hanging vases ;
whilst (the reason we have not been able to discover) by
many flower artists it is considered improper to place a
red-berried plant in a room where guests are to sit or
sleep. The plant should be confined to the ante-room
through which they would pass ; a single spray of berries
of a fine line, set in a bronze or porcelain stand or vase,
being sufficient decoration in itself.

Of all flower arrangements none have to be more per-
fectly studied and produced on lines of strict etiquette than
those used for weddings. With the Japanese the particular
direction of the lines in a design has its own significance
and even importance ; and in the case of the decorations
for a marriage feast even the minutest detail must be studied,
for each has its distinct symbolism. Pine branches are
largely used, and it is imperative that these should not only
incline in a particular way, but it is equally important that
the stems should rise from the vase or stand boldly and
firmly massed together so that an impression of vigorous
growth should be made upon the beholder. The branches
are bound round with a white paper called miku hiki (also
used for wrapping up certain varieties of presents, and used
at funerals) ; and this is secured by red and gold threads,
which are intended to symbolise the union of the male and
female. The kakemono, hung on the walls for this occasion,
must be chiefly of pines, bamboos, and plum-trees ; although
there are usually others depicting storks, the sign of good
luck ; an old man and woman, signifying longevity for the
bride and bridegroom ; or a tortoise, which has also the
symbolic meaning of long life.

To watch a professional flower-arranger at work — and
there is scarcely a village in Japan, however small, in which
one or more cannot be found (in the large towns there are
many) — is an art education in itself. He has by him (or, if


he comes to one's house, brings with him) bundles of twigs,
leaves, blossoms, string, paper, and all the materials of his
art. He sets to work with a methodical exactness bred of
long experience and much study. First he selects his twig,
blossom, or foliage, which he cuts to the exact length which
will fit the vase or bowl and show to the best advantage.
To a Western mind an inch more or less of stem is a matter
of little moment. To a Japanese that inch more or less
will make the difference between a success and a failure.
Then the artist takes perhaps a spray of foliage, some of
the leaves of which will not be in accord with the particular
scheme of lines he has in view. What does he do ? He
takes it in his hands, and (there is no more expressive or
comprehensive term) gently massages the leaves and stems,
pulling them this way and that as they become supple in
his fingers until they conform with the idea which he has.
If necessary to add beauty or finish or merit of any kind to
the design, he will tear some of the leaves so that their
ragged edges may give the finishing touch he seeks to the
work of art he has so deftly created.

In the term flower arrangement is included that of
foliage, which, indeed, plays a very important (even pre-
ponderant) part in decorative work. A rule, which can be
understood by even the Western mind and concerns all of
the best arrangements of Japanese artists, is that all the
twigs and branches must follow the natural bent of the
plant when growing.

So elaborate is this truly Japanese art that even pro-
fessional flower-arrangers frequently find it necessary to
devote their entire attention to certain varieties of designs.
Thus it sometimes happens that if one desires an arrange-
ment of particular foliage or blossoms, even of a perfectly
suitable character, the artist, who may have been summoned
to the house for the purpose, will politely decline to attempt
the task. Explaining that he " knows " the " honourable "


bamboo, cherry-blossom, iris, or orchis, but has no ac-
quaintance with the equally " honourable " plum, wistaria,
willow, or peony. And if this is so, it is best to let the
artist conjure with the particular foliage and blossoms
which he has probably studied for many years. Concerning
the exquisite result of his manipulations one need have no
sort of anxiety.

All this beautiful work is arranged upon certain care-
fully devised rules, and follows well-defined principles ;
that in which three lines are employed is one of the
simplest. Then follows the five-line scheme of arrange-
ment divided into " heads " as follows: (a) The prin-
cipal; (6) The sub-principal; (c) Support; {d) Secondary ;
(e) Tertiary. Upon these lines, and those of the more
complicated of seven and nine, are most Japanese flower
arrangements constructed.

If the delicacy of the Japanese idea does not appeal
to the average Western mind, surely the economy may, at
least in most cases, save those indeed of persons to whom
the mere extravagance of extravagance irresistibly appeals.
These will continue to employ such schemes of decora-
tion as are indicated by using fifteen thousand roses to deck
a ballroom, and to fancy bouquets of the type in which

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 18 20 21 22 23

Online LibraryClive HollandOld and new Japan → online text (page 18 of 23)