Japan Arts and Architecture Part I

Jōmon period

The phase of formation of civilization in Japan covers a long period, and it is the clay production that distinguishes the Neolithic cultures. The Jōmon culture, already present in the Paleolithic age, has been going on since 7000 ca. to 300 BC, and is characterized by the creation of ceramic artefacts and pottery with original ornaments. The rough-looking and hand-modeled pieces present a varied repertoire of decorations, made by impressing the still fresh clay with ropes or ropes, which stand out with strong relief on simple but robust shapes. The methods of decoration remain substantially constant with the passage of time, however four distinct phases can be identified in which changes in the style adopted for vases, containers, ornaments and figurines in stone or clay can be identified. The latter, of later epochs and called dogū, usually depict female images, perhaps with the function of an amulet; some have strongly emphasized the contours of the eyes, so much so that they are defined as ‘dogū with glasses’.

Yayoi period

With the Yayoi culture (ca. 300 BC-300 AD), attributable to a more evolved social sphere, we witness the introduction of metals and the cultivation of rice, perhaps due to a continental influence. The ceramic techniques are refined, at the expense of decorative exuberance and figurative qualities. The pieces, often characterized by a typical red-blackish dichromacy, show a refined simplicity and elegance and are directed towards the exaltation of the intrinsic qualities of the material; machined on the lathe, they have thin walls and accurate shapes. In the same period the dōtaku appeared, a sort of large bronze ‘bells’ with particular decorative motifs, whose function remains obscure; perhaps an emblem of power, in relation to the Korean tradition.

Kofun period

Between the 4th and the first half of the 6th century. AD the prehistoric phase ends and we are witnessing more and more clearly the affirmation of native models. The period was marked by the construction of impressive mound tombs (kofun), used until the beginning of the 18th century. From an original circular plan, they will then assume a typical ‘keyhole’ appearance; paradigmatic is the grandiose tomb of Emperor Nintoku in Osaka, dating back to the 5th century. From the examination of some grave goods of the time, we observe the presence of objects of Chinese origin, particularly bronze mirrors, to which other Japanese ones are associated together with various types of weapons and jewels. In some tumulus tombs there are murals characterized by the use of geometric motifs or stylized figures in which the decisive use of black and red stands out. Still in relation to funerary practices, the production of ceramic figurines, tubular in shape and internally hollow, called haniwa dates back to this period.; in most cases they take on human forms with holes for eyes and mouth. Their exact function has never been clarified; stuck externally to the burial mound, however, they did not have to replace the practice of human sacrifices, as is instead attested for ancient China. In this period of time the religious structures linked to Shintoism are established, even if the architectural articulation of the religious buildings that have come to our days, such as the famous sanctuaries of Izumo and Ise, is around the second half of the 7th century. The typological characteristics, unchanged over the centuries, of the simple and ‘natural’ shrines of the Shintō, where the kami occur(divinity), maintain a pre-Buddhist architectural model, with thatched or reed roofs, wooden load-bearing elements and a raised base platform. The access to the sacred area is preceded by a wooden portal (torii), with an architrave shape, perhaps of Indian derivation.

Asuka period

According to INSIDEWATCH, the period between about 552 and 645, commonly referred to as Asuka, sees the penetration of the Buddhist religion and its artistic expressions, according to Chinese and, in particular, Korean figurative models. The wooden structures that form the Hōryūji temple complex near Nara, founded in 607 ca. and completed at the end of the 7th century, they represent the oldest architectural testimony of Buddhist art in Japan. In the temples, except for some variations, a rigorous scheme is proposed, according to an NS axis, in which some constant elements recur: the southern access portal (nandaimon), the kondō (the golden room that houses the wooden devotional images or bronze), the kōdō (hall of sermons, or assemblies), the pagoda (), for the relics, built according to the transformation carried out in China original STUPA Indian, then the bell tower ( Shuro) and, finally, the writings of the deposit ( Kyozo). The Hōryūji complex also houses works related to the evolution of Japanese art, but also testimonies of the results achieved in China and Korea; the Tamamushi reliquary (“from the scarab elytra”) compendium of 7th century architecture, sculpture and painting, while the statues of Tori Busshi, also author of the Shaka Triad in bronze, from 623, preserved in the kondō, are linked to the Korean tradition, even though they show tendencies that are increasingly sensitive to Japanese taste. Equally important are the wooden statues of the Kudara Kannon, also in the same monastery, and of the bodhisattva Miroku, of the Chūgūji of Kyoto.

Japan Arts and Architecture 1


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