Senior Chief of the Japonismes 2018 Comprehensive Promotion Board.
Set up with the objective of communicating the appeal of Japanese art and culture within Japan and to the rest of the world, the “Beauty of Japan” Comprehensive Project Advisory Panel was set up in 2015. The Panel decided to hold Japonismes 2018 in commemoration of the 160 years of friendship between Japan and France.
In the course of discussions, reflections of the Great East Japan Earthquake led the panel to consider the distinctive aesthetic sense and values that are at the heart of Japan’s art and culture. The dignified way that people in the disaster-stricken Tohoku area retained their unflagging endurance, perseverance, and sense of propriety in the face of tremendous calamity deeply touched the world. Where did this aesthetic sense come from? How was it fostered? And, how was it able to flourish in the midst of such overwhelming tragedy?
It could be said that this aesthetic emerged with the invention of Jomon pottery, the oldest of which according to carbon-14 dating could be up to 16,500 years old, making it some of the world’s most dated pottery pieces. The Jomon people established permanent settlements and lived by hunting, gathering, and fishing; treasuring and coexisting with nature. This period, spanning over 10,000 years, became the cultural DNA of Japan, shaping the country’s distinctive character.
With the invention of pottery, people began to store and cook food, enhancing the cuisine and food culture, this in turn made them conscientious about maintaining provisions.
The belief emerged that all living things had life and deities residing within them, leading to the yaoyorozu no kami (“eight million gods”) belief system that all things, both animate and inanimate such as boulders, rivers, trees, and leaves, were manifestations of deities.
Everything in nature is asymmetrical. Jomon culture also stressed the fact that no two things are exactly alike, and in the same way that light casts a shadow, the Japanese came to cherish “subtractive aesthetics” and “form”, and developed an affinity for haiku and tanka poems.
An appreciation for empty space also developed, as seen in the Zen paintings of Hakuin Ekaku and Sengai Gibon.
As this culture developed, a degree of emotional reserve came about, leading to a love for cuteness. This
eventually led to Japanese anime that is now much beloved throughout the world.
I am certain that these aspects of Japanese culture can be most appreciated and understood by the French people.
At the Paris World Expo in the nineteenth century, Impressionist painters fell in love with ukiyo-e prints by Katsushika Hokusai and Utagawa Hiroshige, triggering the first Japonisme boom.
FUKAMI –une plongée dans l’esthétique japonaise, an exhibition which is part of the official Japonismes 2018 program and is themed on the program’s concepts of Japanese cultural diversity and the Japanese sense of beauty, showcases “flame-style pottery” (kaen-gata doki). This pottery, designated as a National Treasure, possesses a beauty of form that highlights the astounding artwork created during the Jomon Period. I highly encourage everyone to see these pieces for themselves.
Traditional lacquer craft work made by Shibata Zeshin will also be on display. These pieces were also exhibited at the World Expo in Vienna and garnered much attention. Lacquer has been used since the Jomon Period, and over time, techniques have been improved helping to enhance the durability and decorative beauty of the pieces.
The cultural DNA that embodied love, reverence, and coexistence with nature went on to form Japanese culture with influence from other cultures including the syncretism of the Shinto faith, Buddhism and Confucianism; and diversification of language. But at no time did it ever disregard nature.
In other countries, Mount Fuji would probably be considered a natural heritage. The fact that it was designated a cultural heritage in Japan is undoubtedly due to the recognition that, throughout history, this sacred mountain has been venerated as a symbol of nature worship, and that all Japanese art was based on a deep love of nature.
We hope that the Japanese aesthetics of beauty that has been passed down from the Jomon Period to the present will not only be communicated to France and the rest of the world through Japonismes 2018, but that this will in turn enable the Japanese to rediscover their own culture, paving the way for the future.