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Category Archive: Japanese Aesthetics

Timeless Beppu Bamboo Crafts

  • Posted by:
  • February 27, 2017

Beppu is a city in Ōita Prefecture on the island of Kyushu in Japan. It is strategically nestled between the sea and mountains making it a popular spot for its hot springs, or onsen.

Beppu has eight geothermal hot spots (Earth’s internal heat), also known as “eight hells of Beppu”.  Beppu is not only known for their amazing hot springs, but for their bamboo crafts as well.

Beppu hot springs. | かがみ~

The Nihon-shoki (the oldest chronicles of Japan) tell us that  during the twelfth Emperor of Japan’s reign, Emperor Keiko, his private chef discovered slender bamboo ideal for basket making at Beppu while on a visit. During the Muromachi Period, a type of basket was produced in Beppu for vendors on foot, to hold their wares.

The Edo Period (1603-1867), saw in influx of visitors to Beppu from all over the country. They frequented the city to  stay at the popular hot springs to relax and enjoy the many healing benefits of the natural waters rich with minerals.  These visitors needed  bamboo mesh baskets for preparing food as well as for storing their rice which the local craftsmen made. The simple craft that was derived from necessity soon became a local craft industry.

Sagano Bamboo Forest. | Alex Chen

The bamboo used for Beppu handicrafts is mandake bamboo that principally grows in Ōita. This type of bamboo is perfect for basket making. Other varieties of bamboo such as gomadake, henon and black bamboo are also used.

There are eight fundamental techniques used in the creation of the vast range of bamboo goods from Beppu. The bamboo craft of Beppu remains to be a popular souvenir and an important local craft up until today.

Japanese bamboo baskets. |cava_cavien

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Incredible Rice Paddy Art

  • Posted by:
  • November 3, 2016

Japan is known for anime and manga art, technological advancements in robotics, and beautiful and picturesque scenery. Cherry-blossom or hanami season brings in thousands of visitors each year to witness the splendor of the blossoming flowers. Bonsai is another  art form that focuses on the long-term practice of cultivating and shaping miniature trees that are grown in a container.

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Star Wars rice paddy art. | yari hotaka

The Japanese can create amazing art in almost any form imaginable. Another art form that is uniquely Japanese is rice paddy art (田んぼアート tambo āto), where people plant various types of rice in different colors to create elaborate designs in a paddy field.

800px-napoleon_of_rice_field_art

In 1993, the people of Inakadate, a village in Minamitsugaru District in Aomori Prefecture in the Tōhoku region of Japan, were searching for a means to enliven their village. Archaeological explorations in the area gave rise to the realization that rice had been grown in Inakadate for over 2,000 years. The villagers thought of honoring their history by planting a rice field. They used four different types of heirloom and modern strains of rice to create breathtaking pictures in the rice paddies. For visitors to be able to view the entire image, a castle tower 22 meters high was erected at the village office.

Napoleon design. | Captain76

450px-sengoku_busho_of_rice_field_artFor the first nine years, the farmers only created simple images of Mount Iwaki.  Over the years, more elaborate, complex, and modern designs have graced the site. In 2006, over 200,000 people came to witness the awe inspiring work of art. Other villages in Japan have also come to create their own tanbo art such as in the village of Yonezawa, in Yamagata prefecture.

Rice paddy art is just one of the many things to discover about Japan!

Sengoku busho design. | Captain76

 

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More Origami Halloween Designs!

  • Posted by:
  • October 31, 2016

Origami is a paper folding art often associated with Japanese culture.  It is as hugely popular today as it was centuries ago. As time passes, more and more designs and folding styles are invented.

Spruce up this Halloween with some cute and ghoulish origami!

origamibird
Origami perching crow, YouTube video by Paper Kawaii – Origami Tutorials.

origamispider
Origami spider, YouTube video by PaperFoldingChannel.

 

origamihand
Origami skeleton hand, YouTube video by Cool Origami Tutorial by Yakomoga.

 

Related post:

Creepy Origami Designs for Halloween

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Creepy Origami Designs for Halloween

  • Posted by:
  • October 27, 2016

Japan is no stranger to celebrating Halloween. The country is known for its performance art, cosplay, and popularizing new fads from the innovative to the downright quirky. Tokyo has spine-chilling haunted places that rival some of the world’s creepiest haunts. Halloween may just be one of Japan’s favorite holidays to celebrate along with Christmas and Valentine’s.

To add to the spectacular Halloween festivities, here are some origami designs to try to make the celebration even more fun and scary!

origamireaper

Origami grim reaper’s mask, YouTube video by Henry Phạm – Origami Tutorials.

origamighosts

Origami ghost, YouTube video by Craft TV (Jessica).

origamipumpkin
Origami pumpkin with hat, YouTube video by Craft TV (Jessica).

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Delicious Mosaic Sushi

  • Posted by:
  • October 3, 2016

Sushi, a popular Japanese dish, has reached the far corners of the world. It’s healthful,  fast to get or make, and a complete, filling meal.

Sushi (すし, 寿司, 鮨) usually consists of cooked rice mixed with vinegar and sweet sake, raw or cooked seafood, seaweed, and vegetables. The ingredients and presentation vary, but sushi always contains rice. Raw fish or other types of meat that are sliced and served without rice are called sashimi. Sushi is often served with a daikon garnish, wasabi, soy sauce, and shredded ginger.

mosaicsushi2

Sushi. | Raging Wire

The origin of sushi can be traced to an area along the Mekong River that runs from the Tibetan Plateau past China’s Yunnan province, Burma, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. The term sushi comes from a no longer used antiquated grammatical form and literally means “sour-tasting.” The term reflects its historic origins as a type of fermented food.

Nowadays, there are several types of sushi that can satisfy every person’s fancy. The types of sushi depend on the ingredients and how they are prepared. One traditional Japanese sushi is makizushi or “rolled sushi.” It is usually wrapped in seaweed (nori), but can sometimes be wrapped in a thin omelette, cucumber , soy paper, or shiso (perilla, a type of mint) leaves. Another variation of sushi is nigirizushi or “hand-pressed sushi.”  It is often made of a rectangle of sushi rice with wasabi and some type of topping such as salmon, tuna, or any seafood (neta).

mosaicfeat

Mosaic sushi (top row) with assorted sushi. | Kristine Hojilla

Out of these variations, many chefs and even artists are inspired to create a new trend in sushi making called mosaic sushi. Mosaic sushi are beautifully crafted works of edible art that can satisfy our appetite for food as well as for visual beauty. This latest Japanese food craze was borrowed from the ancient technique of putting together compositions or patterns from smaller materials to create mosaic sushi! Oishi!

This YouTube video by How To Make Sushi will show you how mosaic sushi is made:

mosaicsushivid

Click image or here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?list=PL-OGf8d1I7m12jN_OxXL7vEEzJrJtgfS_&v=WMABvhVyrs4&index=7

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Beautiful Japanese Lacquerware

  • Posted by:
  • July 21, 2016

Negoro-nuri-spoonsLacquerware is made by coating and recoating materials like bamboo and wood with the sap of the lacquer tree, a tall deciduous tree in the cashew family. Lacquer is the material of a traditional Japanese craft that is centuries old. Lacquer is known to have as much protective strength as paint, and when made properly is resistant to alkali, acid, and friction. It is lightweight and durable, and lacquering is a favorite technique for coating most Japanese everyday things.

Japanese lacquered spoons, 20th century. | WolfgangMichel

Japanese lacquerware has been a form of decorative and fine art in Japan for centuries. Lacquer has been used in prints, paintings, and a wide variety of objects, from religious statues to everyday bento boxes.  It has been an iconic symbol of Japanese arts and creativity.

10897113653_8c2e7de4ac_zLacquerware is referred to in Japan by a number of terms.  Shikki (漆器), lacquer ware in Japanese, is the most literal. Other terms are nurimono (塗物) which means “coated things,” and urushi-nuri (漆塗), meaning “lacquer coating.” The sap of the lacquer tree is poisonous to the touch until it dries, and the creation of lacquerware is practiced only by well trained and dedicated artisans.

Lacquered scabbard, sword stand, and tabletop cabinet. | Dennis Amith

Ewer_(Yuto)Lacquer can be traced as far back as 7,000 BCE during the  Jōmon period. Evidence of this was discovered at the Kakinoshima “B” Excavation Site in Minamikayabe Town (北海道の南茅部町の垣ノ島B遺跡) in Hokkaido.  Many Japanese traditional arts and crafts as well as industrial arts produced throughout history were influenced by the Chinese. Local stylistic influences were slowly adapted through the centuries. During the Edo period (1603-1868) lacquer trees were widely cultivated for the development of the technique in lacquerware making. By the 18th century, colored lacquers came into mainstream use.

Lacquered pitcher. | Sean Pathasema

Today, production of lacquerware is prolific all around Japan, but Echizen lacquerware, with its long history, stands out particularly. As the story goes, during the sixth century, a lacquerware crown decorated with gold and silver that belonged to a prince of the Yamato Dynasty (today’s Nara Prefecture) was broken. It is said the aids of the prince sought far and wide for a craftsman  skilled enough to repair the crown. Finally such a craftsman was found in the area known today as Sabae City’s Kawada in Fukui Prefecture. The mountains of Kawada even at the time had lacquer trees growing naturally in the area and lacquer was already being produced. Kawada today still has hundreds of lacquerware craftsmen and is known as the home of lacquerware.

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A Short History of Photography in Japan

  • Posted by:
  • May 16, 2016

Shimazu_by_ichikiIn the world of visual arts, photography is a relative newcomer; yet it has surpassed traditional arts such as painting and sculpture in its popularity and the numbers of people who engage in it. The digital age has greatly influenced its reach, as evidenced by the countless photos one can find in the internet.  In Japan, photography is very much a part of its culture and technology. Most of the leading camera brands come from Japan, including Canon, Nikon, Sony, Panasonic, and Olympus.

The history of photography in Japan can be traced as far back as 1848, when the first camera was imported by a Dutch ship to Nagasaki. This was the time of sakoku, when the country was closed off from the rest of the world and trade was prohibited except with just a few foreign nationals, including the Dutch. In 1849, the camera was passed to Shimazu Nariakira, a daimyō who would be the subject of the first Japanese photograph taken by Ichiki Shirō, making use of the daguerreotype process.

A daguerreotype of Shimazu Nariakira (1828 – 1903).

Samurai_with_swordWhen Japan began opening its doors to foreign countries and trades in the 1850s, more cameras, accessories, and information about photography came pouring in. Foreign photographers began visiting Japan and taking photos, including noted Italian-British photographer Felice Beato. He moved to Yokohama and shot various types of photography including portraiture, landscapes, and cityscapes. He was the first photographer who sold photo albums in Japan.

With the rising interest in photography, and around the time of transition from Edo Era to the Meiji Era, more and more Japanese photographers set up studios. Among the first professional Japanese photographers were Ueno Hikoma and Shimooka Renjo, who opened their studios in 1862.

Samura with sword and dagger, circa 1860.| Felice Beato

By the early 20th century, Japan’s camera industries started to thrive. Natives became more knowledgeable about the photographic process, cameras were being sold at cheaper prices, and camera clubs and magazines started to boom around the country.

Domon_KenWorld War II brought about a thrust in photojournalism. Notable photographers who delved in this genre included Ken Domon, Ihee Kimura, and Yōnosuke Natori. After the devastation caused by war, the photography industry recuperated and by the 1950s, Japanese cameras were known globally as having high-class standards.

In the late 1960s through the 1980s, Japan’s high economic growth moved it to the forefront of camera technology and sales, and ahead of U.S. and German makers. Top competitors of Japanese camera brands were each other.

Ken Domon looking through his camera. |朝日新聞社

17088229279_7f846e9bac_zHowever, the 1990s marked the Japanese recession and great changes in the photographic industry came about. A lot of photo book publishers went bankrupt and many photo magazines and galleries closed. Yet, it was also a time when photography in culture spiked. Fine art photography flourished and major art museums established photography departments and exhibition spaces. At the same time, compact cameras and photo stickers had become a hit among young people.

Taking a selfie by the sakura. | Núria

With the advent of the digital and internet age, the masses have become accustomed to photography as a medium of expression and documentation. The selfie generation is here, cameras are more accessible than ever, and almost everyone in Japan (and many other countries) now carries some type of camera. With constant innovation, it’s a given that the photography industry will remain strong for a very long time.

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The Ornate and Functional Japanese Rain Chain

  • Posted by:
  • May 12, 2016

rainchain1With climate change affecting all corners of the world, every little thing we can do to help lessen our carbon footprint is a great help to our planet. Water is something we all need. Collecting rain water and re-using it is just one of the many ways we can contribute to living greener lives. Japanese rain chains are a beautiful alternative to a closed gutted downspout that makes a great tool for collecting rain water. The rain chain is also a wonderful way to add a splash of beauty and character to your home.

Rain chain on a shrine. | buck82

rainchain2“Kusari-doi”  literally means chain-gutter. Both functional and decorative, they are common in Japan. Rain chains have been around for hundreds of years in Japan and adorn the roofs of Japanese homes, collecting rainwater by allowing it to move downwards and depositing it in large barrels or other types of storage container. The Japanese then use the water for household purposes. Japanese temples also make use of rain chains and incorporate a number of ornate and sometimes larger chains into the designs.Garden & Outdoors

Japanese rain chain. | Stardog Champion

Japanese rain chains are typically a series of metal cups that are chained together with a hole in the bottom of each cup. They can be as simple as ordinary chain links that span vertically. The rain water is distributed from a rooftop gutter and runs downward through the rain chain. From tiny droplets to a rush of rain water, it’s a very simple yet ingenious concept that transforms a plain gutter spout into a gorgeous water feature that contributes to a greener way of life and a more beautiful home.

Garden & Outdoors’ YouTube video shows some examples of Japanese rain chains.

rainvid

Click image or here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F1_RRV1OPjQ

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The Intricate, Stylish Kanzashi and Tsumami Zaiku

  • Posted by:
  • January 18, 2016

Kanzashi are ornamental hairpins that crown the look of traditional Japanese kimonos. The term kanzashi  is also synonymous to folded cloth flowers that traditionally adorn tsumami kanzashi as well as the technique used in making the cloth flowers.

Shochikubai_kanzashi

The origins of kanzashi can be traced back to the Jōmon period when people wore them in their hair using a single rod or stick. Kanzashi was considered to have mystical powers to ward off evil spirits. The Nara period saw a variety of Chinese cultural influences that were introduced to the Japanese culture. During the Heian period, it became fashionable for women to wear their hair long and tied low in the back rather than putting the hair up traditionally. Kanzashi became a general term for any type of hair ornament. The Azuchi-Momoyama period saw a further change in hairstyles such as nihongami (typical Japanese hair) and the taregami (long and straight). Both hairstyles had more use for hair ornaments. During the Edo period, the kanzashi became even more popular as hairstyles became more elaborate and complicated.

Kanzashi for maiko (geisha apprentice) with pine, bamboo, plum. | Kanawa Kuniko

Artisans of the Edo period began to produce more finely crafted kanzashi to accentuate the kimono and various hairstyles. Aside from just being beautiful accent pieces, Kanzashi were even made to be defensive weapons and oftentimes indicated the status of a woman. Kanzashi artisans usually apprentice for five to ten years to establish themselves as independent professional artisans of tsumami kanzashi in Japan. Tsumami kanzashi has been officially designated as a traditional Japanese handcraft in the Tokyo region since 1982.

Tsumami zaiku are typically made with small pieces of square cloth that are pinched and folded using fingertips and pinchers, much like making origami. The folded cloths are combined to form ornaments. There are two basic pinching techniques: “ken-tsumami” (sword pinching) and “maru-tsumami” (round pinching). Flowers are a typical shape made by tsumami zaiku but other shapes can be created with the technique depending on ones creativity and imagination.

Want to make your own kanzashi? Check out this video tutorial of a kanzashi tulip by MyInDulzens – Handmade Flower Craft:

kanzashi1

Click image or here: https://youtu.be/TYSF8v7sLrg

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Amazing Sushi that Looks Like Koi Fish

  • Posted by:
  • December 17, 2015

14635019109_1c304ec947_zJapanese koi fish, specifically nishikigoi (錦鯉), literally means “brocaded carp” and makes a beautiful and popular pet. For fish hobbyists, they have become one of the most expensive fish to own. Japanese koi are mainly kept for their beauty, to enhance the decorative aspects of most gardens and homes. For the Japanese, these fish symbolize love and friendship since the word “koi” is a homophone for another word that means “love” or “affection.”

Koi. | Jason Wong

Here is a simple sushi technique to create lifelike koi fish to amaze anyone!

koisushi2Ingredients:
Sushi rice
Spicy cod roe
Squid
Shrimp
Seaweed
Cucumber and radishes to garnish

Screengrab from YouTube video by JunsKitchen

Directions:

  • Cook short grain rice in a rice cooker.
  • Cut and clean shrimp, insert a stick through the middle to keep shrimp from curling, then boil for 1 minute.
  • Butterfly cut the shrimp down the middle and lay it down flat.
  • For garnish, make several thin cuts on the baby radish.
  • Thinly slice the squid accordingly. Slice each surface of the squid piece in a criss-cross pattern to create scale-like details. Cut a slice for the body of the fish, and smaller pieces for the tails and fins.
  • Cut through two thirds of the cucumber and make thin slices. Cut vertically making sure not to cut all the way through. Then press each piece to open.
  • Cut small cucumber pieces to make into fins.
  • Cut open cod roe and scrape the eggs out gently.
  • Add the sushi vinegar into the cooked rice let cool.
  • Prepare tiny cuts of seaweed.

Assembly:

  1. Shape rice into a small rectangle and add a layer of cod roe on the top.
  2. Add the sliced of seaweed in a random pattern to create the dark markings typical of the koi fish.
  3. Place the slices of squid over the rice, cod roe, and seaweed assembly to create the body, fins, and tail.
  4. Add the cucumber fins to the prawn sushi and place the pieces of seaweed on each side of the fish head to create eyes.

See how koi sushi is made with this YouTube video by JunsKitchen:

koisushi

Click on image or here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QIqMp-erjvg

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