We’re starting a three-part series looking at inspiration from Japan, because it’s an inspiration of a country. There’s so much to love, from manga and anime to kabuki theater and sumo to – of course – sushi. Don’t even start us on the amazing pens and stationery, in every thinkable color – though we might have to draw the line at the cat cafés.
You may know that Japan also has a rich artistic tradition, going back centuries and ranging from pottery to woodblock prints to calligraphy.
Some art depicts important Japanese traditions – like the tea ceremony. Also called “the Way of Tea,” or chanoyu, it was influenced by Zen Buddhism and Chinese tea-drinking practices, since at least the 13th century. Full of ritual, it centers around the host honoring the guests, by methodically preparing and serving matcha (powdered green tea) in a memorized series of hand movements and gestures. It’s also a spiritual experience that embodies the Buddhist principles of harmony, purity, tranquility and respect.
The Mitsuji Preparing Tea Japanese Vintage Art Poster shows this tradition in action, from the ceremonial dress to the humbleness of the host (on the right) to the array of utensils used to grind, heat and serve the tea. It’s actually very bitter, so they serve it with traditional sweets. Make sure you do the same when your guests come over:
Realistically, we can’t talk Japan and ignore its stunning nature. From lakes and archipelagos to mountain ranges and sea, it’s a beauty of a country. Not far from Nagano, home of the 1998 Winter Olympics, is the small town of Shinano (population: under 10,000). It was part of Shinano Province before being absorbed into Nagano Prefecture, in 1871.
Shortly before, a painting was made depicting its steep slopes, tall trees, verdant mountains and homes that blend into it all. The Shinano, Japan circa 1837 Poster pays homage to this town of tranquil beauty:
We finish with a flourish: Mount Fuji, standing more than 12,000 feet tall, is Japan’s highest peak and still an active volcano (last erupted in 1707-8). On a clear day, you can see its symmetrical, snow-capped peak from Tokyo. It’s a national symbol, worshipped as a sacred mountain and, as of 2013, a UNESCO World Heritage Site – having “inspired artists and poets and been the object of pilgrimage for centuries.”
The Red Fuji Poster comes from a woodcut made by Katsushika Hokusai, around 1831. Considered a master of landscapes, the artist was one of the first from Japan to gain renown in the West. This print, one of his best-known works, is part of a series of 36 views of Mount Fuji.
Allegedly, if you dream about the mountain on the first night of the new year, the rest of that year will be lucky. Who knows – maybe if you hang it in your bedroom, you’ll join the ranks:
Next in our ode to Japan, we grace you with food inspirations. Save your appetite!