Traditional Arts of Japan – Exploring Japanese Culture pt 5

Traditional Arts of Japan – Exploring Japanese Culture pt 5


Old pond. Frogs jumps in. Water. Is it beautiful? This is one of the most famous haiku poems which has been translated English. It’s by guy called Basho. And you might imagine something is lost
in the translation, but this idea of something very simple leading to a
profound artistic expression is in a lot of Japanese arts, so let’s take
a look at some traditional arts today and the influence behind them. Ultimately this lecture will lead to promotion tea
ceremony, which is for me the most interesting
expression of an art through doing drinking tea. …It’s maybe hard for many people to get. Even young Japanese people might think
it’s a silly thing, but let me try to explain why the serving and drinking of tea includes everything of the Japanese artistic spirit. Here we
go. This character called ‘dou’ or ‘michi’ is in many Japanese traditional arts. Literally it
means ‘the way’ or ‘road’. Now this is in the word for tea ceremony as sadou. Kadou is flower arrangement, shodou is calligraphy, kendou is Japanese fencing, judou is judo and aikidou is Aikido. Now saying that all these things have the root road, or way, is not something many
Japanese people think about but it it’s kinda like in English – we
have the term ‘martial arts’ to describe things like karate or any kid of fighting, you know, that you do its martial arts. Well actually the word martial comes from Mars, the god of war. And so it means Mars-like art. Okay, so probably most people who are doing karate are not thinking
about the god of war while they’re doing it, but in today’s
lecture I want to give you some the historical
background for what influences this stuff. I’m not
saying that this is on the front of everybody’s
mind who is doing this. But let’s look for some more themes. People will agree about this. Elegance and simplicity are in the heart of many things Japanese. “In my 3-meter bamboo hut this spring, there is
nothing, there is everything.” That’s good. I can get that one. I can feel that one. The empty space is only as empty as your imagination or feeling. You might see a Japanese painted screen door that is three-quarters
clouds, and when you first come over you think
the artist was just lazy; he thought he would save some paint, maybe, and just keep all this part white, here, and
have a little bit of a tree with some crows about here. Yeah, but the use of space and spacing is so vital to Japanese arts. You know, traditional Japanese music didn’t really have meter like doo-doo doo-doo that’s like 4/4 rhythm. I don’t know how they did it but they just kind of felt it. I can’t actually appreciate it very
much but look it up. It’s something called ‘gagaku’. Gagaku. I don’t get it but it’s on Youtube. It’s really fair to say Zen influences quite a few things although we can’t really know how profoundly Zen shaped the arts, or they just mutually arose because Zen is a part of the Japanese experience in general. So it’s natural that in the arts as well.
One ideas of Zen is that the action is more important than the result or the conclusion. The
act of doing something is already the point. So if you believe these people who practice kyudou, which is Japanese archery, the
act of taking out the arrow, putting it into your bow, looking, and letting go is is 90% of it. And whether you hit the target or not is a minor point. You want to hit the target yes, but if you have great form and you miss the target that’s okay. Kind of. Because actually if you do have great
form, if your form is perfect, then it’s a
foregone conclusion that you will hit the target. So actually the focus in Japanese arts tends to be from the very start. How do you sit down? How do you pick up your instrument? How do you even breathe? Everything important starts from the first second, and and that first part is just as important
the last second. This is really Zen. Maybe another part is dedication. So this is a bit of an idealized quote but its nice; talking about the
traditional Japanese gardens. Especially this means
that great gardens of old Kyoto. “Every weed that threatens the delicate moss is plucked by hand by the gardener who created the space, thereby taking responsibility for its maintenance for the rest of his life.” So, if that’s true you better believe he thinks all that his actions from
start to finish are important. High school students are quite serious
sometimes in Japan. So in this picture they’re
performing on the koto, a 13-stringed instrument. Seems quite difficult me. This (playing the koto) is not a major thing that people do, but the act of practicing 5, 6, even 7 days a week in high school on your art or club is a major part of the culture. This is the
dedication part the arts. At a high school and junior high that I worked at before – this school was one of the top in the prefecture of of Hokkaido, the state of Hokkaido. It was number one in sports like basketball, badminton, and was very high in tennis and rhythmic
gymnastics. Okay, this is an all-girls school and I don’t even know you believe me if you
haven’t lived in the country. You might not believe me, but – try to! These girls would practice their sport 340 days a year. That’s kind of why they were number one. And that also means that their coaches are attending practice 340 days or more a year – multiple coaches, not just one! When you say you’re gonna do something – artistic, especially as part of a team in this country, you’re gonna do it! That’s the dedication
factor. What’s another element we can talk about? A mysterious, sort of untouchable element – we may use the word ethereal. On part of the arts is focusing on the unseen, or untouchable. One of the famous temples in Kyoto is
called Ryoanji. And this rock garden – you may have heard about it – it’s pretty popular in foreign countries, literature and so. One of the ideas of this
place is that it’s impossible to see all the
15 strategically placed rocks – large rocks –
here. You can’t see all 15 at the same time. In fact, you can’t get a photograph of all of the rocks unless you stand on a wall or use a helicopter. But that’s very much cheating! Don’t do it! That’s not the point. The point is to take in everything without being
able to see it all. It’s a very big garden. So when you sit right next to it, it mostly extends out your field of vision. And take a look at the walls here.
They’re meant to look this way.They’re not supposed to be painted beautiful colors, but you are supposed
to be able to enjoy than natural… I almost said decay, but maybe that’s not polite… I don’t know what word to use… The natural aging, we should say, of these walls over the 500 years. They are deliberately let to age. Although its directed; I shouldn’t
say that this is not taken care of. Of course this is word in very wet country – you have to
watch this stuff. But again, that’s kind of practical. The arts in Japan are simple, direct, and practical. If you have a lot paint in a very humid environment, it doesn’t usually last very long. So it’s
practical to make yourself enjoy simple wood. And as Allen Watts has said, wood never makes an esthetic mistake. The esthetics of wood patterns are just always beautiful if you take some time to appreciate it. This is all part of tea ceremony. Okay, I’m not going to claim to
understand this, but I’m just trying to pass this on to
you. I’ve been to some tea ceremony. It’s nice. I tried my best. But it includes everything. For this server, for her part, it’s not always a woman, sorry, it was
actually founded by a man. But these days it seems to be women that are more into it. It’s esthetically simple and pleasing. The preparer of the tea is also supposed to
prepare a small seasonal dish of sweets which should match the atmosphere of the seasonal flowers which they selected to put in the room. The room should be very simple. Always a tatami room. This is also athletic. It’s not easy to move gracefully in a kimono, actually, your legs are quite tight together. And if you’re not careful, you’re gonna do
a penguin walk! And that’s not very nice! So they have a lot of training to shuffle their feet in a very cool way that makes a very pleasant sound on the tatami – if you are able to
appreciate that kind of thing…. Anyway, and to see the person – at least I can appreciate this – to
see the person getting up, standing, it’s so smooth, quiet. And even the sound of the kimono – you get the idea – is quite nice if you can
put your mind in the right place. That’s the the part of the performer. The performer is also supposed to create a serene and very calm environment. Now the participant is also called to join. The participant should make some
kind of comment about the sweets, or how nice
the tea is, or how you enjoyed the bitterness of the tea. Yeah, for those who don’t know, it’s very bitter, it stains your teeth green. And that’s a good thing! It is! Just try it. And you have to make a conversation. But it has to be natural, Zen-like, and fitting the emotion of the room. So this is tea ceremony, sadou, the way of tea. It’s a mystery, but it’s something that I’d like to
understand. I don’t plan to ever perform it. But to be a good participant means it’s my chance to also do a Japanese traditional art without doing something six days a week. Let’s do
it together. I’ll see you next week.

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