Japanese art is an interesting historical look at the cultural influences, beliefs, and religions of that country. Other countries throughout the centuries have influenced Japanese arts and culture. The diversity of Japanese art offers an interesting look into the values, customs, philosophies, and religion through various media. Just as contact with other Eastern countries such as Korea and China influenced Japan’s art, once Western travellers began visiting Japan, the Japanese style of artistic expression began to influence Western arts, especially in the areas of impressionism and cubism. Ink and watercolor paintings, sculptures in wood, bronze, clay and stone, wood block prints, calligraphy, origami, and even artistic floral arrangements all beautifully share Japan’s diverse culture and history with the world.
Japanese paintings often reflect the influence of China. Ink paintings were often black and white sketches, sometimes with a single monochrome wash. Typical Japanese paintings depict lifestyles and landscapes. In later years, colors were added in muted washes and details began to emerge in the designs on screens, banners, and even doors. Painting styles are as simple as sumi-e (ink painting) that emerges to blend with other Japanese art forms and as unusual as fish prints that were originally used by Japanese fishermen to record the size of fish they caught. Japanese painting may depict simple impressions or detailed records and designs.
Japanese calligraphy originated over 3000 years ago. Throughout the years, the Japanese developed their style of calligraphy into a symbolic design that allows the use of symbolism to represent thoughts, emotions, ideals and more. Calligraphy has several styles including squared (kaisho), semi-cursive (gyosho), and cursive (sosho). It takes years to master the art of calligraphy and very few attain mastery of the cursive style.
Calligraphy is often combined with illustrations on a wood block print to produce prints known as Ukiyo-e. Ukiyo-e developed as a way to produce illustrations or paintings that were affordable to more people. Wood block prints often combined calligraphy and illustrations to print illustrated books on a variety of subject matter. Popular illustrations often depicted landscapes, beautiful women, or actors. Wood prints were not limited to books but also can be seen on banners, scrolls, and paintings.
The art of floral arrangement known as Ikebana (the Way of Flowers) was first used in Buddhist temples as early as the sixth century. Traditional Ikebana follows three lines of form to represent heaven, earth, and humanity. With over two thousand schools around the world teaching the art of Ikebana, there are those that follow the tradition of three lines and natural materials while others bend the rules to include a contemporary perspective. All Ikebana designs strive to bring balanced harmony and beauty using form and color.
Some of the earliest Japanese sculptures date back as early as 2200 BC. The sculptures cover a wide range of sizes and subjects. Earlier sculptures are often puzzling figurines, which appear to be part human, and part animal. During the sixth century, the influence of Buddhism brought to Japan from India and China, began to become prominent in the sculpture many westerners now consider ‘typical’ Japanese sculpture. From a tiny Netsuke sculpture carved of ivory to a huge bronze Buddha, sculpture continues to provide a unique look into Japan’s history and culture.
The Japanese art of folding paper into intricate flowers, birds and animals, actually began in China during the first century. While the Chinese used origami to create boxes, vases and bowls, early Japanese origami was used to entertain children. Simple designs were passed down from mother to child. The first written directions for folding paper did not appear until 1797. The most widely recognized origami figure is the peace crane and it is still the first design most people fold.