A strong cultural centripetal force is the concept and appreciation of beauty. Many Japanese see beauty in the landscape, in art, music, crafts, gardens, dress, architecture, and flowers. A useful website on the history of ikebana, the art of flower arrangement, and photographs of the various styles is http://www.ikebanahq.org/index.html. A website describing basic ikebana schools and events is http://www.japan-zone.com/culture/ikebana.shtml. Traditional Japanese notions of beauty are stylized and elements are culturally unique as illustrated by these scenes. Both symmetry and asymmetry find expression in Japanese art; both are present in bonsai, pottery, and traditional gardens. To view examples of Japanese gardens, visit the following website: http://learn.bowdoin.edu/japanesegardens/.
Color has both significance and symbolism. The four oldest color terms, aka (red), kuro (black), shiro (white), and ao (blue) were written in the 8th Century. Early in Japanese history, colors were used to signify rank; purple was the most important color for the aristocracy (Figure 13).
In the most famous Japanese novel, The Tale of Genji, the beloved companion of Genji is named Murasaki (purple). It is from the murasaki-so plant that the purple dye is extracted (Hibi, 2000). But, it was a yellowish brown color that was restricted to the emperor. This dye came from a mixture of the Japanese wax tree and the suo tree. This unique Japanese color derived from Japanese plants tied society together through a common recognition of the emperor's authority and dress.
Both brown and green appear in nature in many shades. Tea is also both brown and green. Paneling in homes, the shoji screens, split bamboo, utensils, tea houses, and the traditional tea ceremony (chanoyu) itself use natural shades of brown amid outdoor greenery (Figure 14). The following website describes the components of the tea ceremony: http://instruct1.cit.cornell.edu/courses/la694/index.html.
Red is both visually stimulating and historically a sacred color. Originally lacquerware used red, vermillion (shu), and black. Beginning in the seventeenth century, Imari porcelain featured the color red. Now the vermillion seal is used to stamp official documents. Many Japanese understand the role that color plays in everyday life, highlighting beauty, social rank, and Japanese history.
Many Japanese, like their Chinese and Korean neighbors, believe placement and detail are essential to beauty (Figure 15). Landscapes are layered. The flow direction of water, its sounds, the shape of the bed, and its relationship to rocks are all planned in a Japanese garden (Gerbert, 2001) (Figures 16 and 17). Lines within a house flow to the outside garden so that the beauty of nature is not closed off from the home (Figure 18). Traditional notions about beauty are still in evidence throughout the archipelago, and, for many Japanese they are a strong centripetal force.
The art of ukiyo-e, the "pictures of the floating world," is a product of Tokugawa metropolitan culture. These colorful woodblock prints by famous artists such as, Utamaro, Hokusai, Hiroshige, and Sharaku, are excellent portraits of traditional Japanese culture, as well as Japanese rural and urban landscapes. Visit the following Web site for examples of ukiyo-e:
Ericson, Joan E., "Con/texts for Viewing Geisha," Education About Asia, Volume 11, Number 2, Fall 2006.
Gerbert, Elaine, "Visualizing Nature in Japan," Education About Asia, Volume 6, Number 2, Fall 2001.
Hibi, Sadao. The Colors of Japan. Kodansha International, Tokyo, 2000.