About Japan Kaleidoskop

Marion Laurinat, author of Japan Kaleidoskop, writer and translator, doctor's degree in Japanese Studies

Art on Tuesday: Shin-Ohashi Bridge at Atake

Utagawa Hiroshige 歌川 広重 (1797-1858) painted a Sudden Shower over the Shin-Ohashi Bridge at Atake which is an interesting woodblock print. It is part of his series One Hundred Famous Views of Edo made in 1857.

There is not much happening, but everyone surely knows how a sudden rain shower in summer feels like. See the pitch dark cloud at the sky. The people on the bridge are hiding from the rain under their umbrellas and trying to get as quickly as possible over the bridge. In the background you see a man on a raft-like boat.

The same bridge was also portrayed by Koho Shoda (1871-1946) as a night scene. A totally different atmosphere. See it also in the post of Japan Kaleidoskop of June 2015.

Book Review: The Thief

Nakamura Fuminori 中村 文則 born in 1977 in Tôkai is an author of several novels. His book The Thief (掏摸), published in 2009, won the famous Ôe Kenzaburô Prize in 2010 and was highly praised by the International press.

The Thief is a psychological thriller of a pickpocket in modern Tokyo. Nishimura is a loner living  in the big city with no family or social ties whatsoever. On his trips through crowded streets and the underground, he skillfully reaches out into the pockets of his fellow men. He has a strict moral compass: his victims are mainly wealthy gentlemen and using violence is not an option.

One gets to know his tricks in detail and soon learns about his criminal past, which unfolds to the reader in the ongoing story.

Written from the perspective of the thief Nishimura, we learn about his thoughts and actions. As the story evolves he is getting deeper and deeper into trouble. Mainly because of his entanglement with a violent mobster boss. It was taking my breath away, when I read how Nishmura was threatened into his actions by mobsters and it seems there is no exit for him.

But being under pressure from the mob is not his only problem. His life changes in unforeseen ways. One day on his daily pickpocket tours in Tôkyô he watches a poorly performance of a cranky woman and her little son, both shoplifting for groceries. Showing empathy for the boy Nishimura rescues them from being caught by the clerks, which is the beginning of a bittersweet friendship. On a closer look one can consider the boy as a younger version of Nishimura. The book is exciting and philosophical. I enjoyed reading it.

中村 文則: 掏摸, 2009. Nakamura Fuminori: The Thief, 2012.

Art on Tuesday: Tenman-gu in Ôsaka

Hasegawa Sadanobu I (1809–1879) painted this interesting ukiyo-e named The Temporary Shrine of the Tenman-gû 天満宮御旅所 as part of his series One Hundred Views of Ôsaka in 1869/70. It is a beautiful scene from the perspective of the river showing one leisure boat from the side with two Japanese women. In the background of the river you see two punts with barrels. The Tenman-gu Shrine in Ôsaka 大阪天満宮 was build in the 10th century, but often burned down and was then rebuild many times. The Tenjin-Matsuri is held here on July 24th and 25th every year as one of the biggest festivals in Japan.

Source: Museum of Fine Arts

Art on Tuesday: Fushimi Inari Shrine

Hasegawa Sadanobu I. 長谷川 貞信 (1809-1879) painted an ukiyo-e series called Famous Places in the Capital, which was Kyôto in earlier days. This picture is the scenery of the Fushimi Inari taisha 伏見稲荷大社 of 1870-1871. A very famous place and a frequently visited tourist spot even today.

Source Museum of Fine Arts

Art on Tuesday: Early Summer


Uemura Shôen (上村松園) painted this young lady. It is an early summer scene. She is holding a round fan, observing and maybe trying to catch a firefly. The title of this picture is “An evening in early summer” (初夏の夕). She wears a light green kimono with a blue obi, look at the emblem-like cranes. The crane 鶴 (tsuru) is a symbol for longevity and good luck.

Art on Tuesday: Reading a Letter

This young courtesan is reading a very long letter while she is sitting on a veranda. The paper door in the background is open, so that you can see a cherry tree in full bloom.
At the bottom a cat is playing with the right end of the paper roll. This ukiyo-e was painted by Torii Kiyomitsu 鳥居清満 (1735-1785). The name of the picture is 文を読む遊女と猫 (courtesan reading a text/letter and a cat). His style reminds me of Suzuki Harunobu 鈴木 春信 (1725-1770) for example see his picture named Viewing the moon or Fishing on the Sumida River.

(source: Museum of Fine Arts Boston).

Art on Tuesday: Misty Spring

Torii Kotondo 鳥居言人 (1900-1976) painted this Japanese woman in a typical way of the so-called 美人画 bijin-ga (picture of beautiful woman) in 1933. The young lady wears a purple kimono with simple outlines of flowers and diverse flower patterns on the obi. Contrast colors are to be seen on the inside of her dress and her headdress.  Cherry blossom leaves shaped as little hearts are falling like snow. You see her from the right side. She is looking at something or someone outside of the picture frame. Maybe she is dreaming of love.

This ukiyo-e reminds me of the Maiko in Spring by Kitano Tsunetomi 北野 恒富 (1880-1947) painted in 1931 presented in an older post as https://japankaleidoskop.wordpress.com/2015/06/16/art-on-tuesday-maiko-in-spring/

Art on Tuesday: Dance

Katsukawa Shunsen 勝川 春扇 (1762-1830) made this triptych named
Three Actors in Beautiful Costumes Performing a Religious Dance around 1785. Due to the age of the picture the colors are bleached.

Three actors are performing a ritual dance. The actor in the centre is dressed like a samurai with two swords. He is holding an ugly puppet-like mask in his left hand. In his right hand a short knife threatening to stab the evil puppet. He looks at the woman on the left. Maybe this is a purifying gesture as of getting rid of an evil spirit or a hunting ghost.

The two female dancers on both sides of the central actor are moving apart from him in mirroring directions. They are playing flutes. The woman dressed in black holds her flute as if she is stabbing into her heart. On the contrary the dancer on the right  presents her flute leisurely whereas she is dressed in spring colors and floral patterns.

Given that it is a picture in three parts it is obvious the female dancers are the same person getting through a crisis symbolized in this play. One can read it also as generally symbolizing the circle of nature’s death and growth, winter and spring.

The stage is made of draped cloth placed somewhere in a garden – like in a temple or shrine. Behind the linen screen stands a musical instrument, probably a drum called 釣り太鼓 (tsuridaiko) like the one of the ukiyo-e by Gakutei Yashima 岳亭 八島 (1786 ?–1868) previously shown in Art on Tuesday: Concert.

 

(source: metmuseum.org)

Art on Tuesday: Cherry Blossom Time

A spring scene with cherry blossom trees in full bloom painted by Utagawa Hiroshige I (歌川 広重, 1797–1858). This ukiyo-e gives a good impression of the crowded streets in the pleasure quarters at daytime. Two groups of geishas are entering the street from the right and the left, given shelter from the sunlight by huge umbrellas. Here they are visiting the Yoshiwara district in Edo. This picture is named Cherry Blossom Time at Naka-no-chô in the Yoshiwara 吉原仲の町桜時 as a part of the series Famous places in Edo (source: Museum of Fine Arts in Boston).

Art on Tuesday: Mishima Pass

The Mishima Pass in Kai Province by Katsushika Hokusai (葛飾北斎) from the series Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji, picture no. 29, painted in the early 1830’s. In the centre you see a huge cryptomeria tree 杉 (sugi), which is a typical Japanese tree mostly growing at buddhist temples or shinto shrines. Three wanderers are hugging the trunk of this big tree full of joy. The man on the left is taking a break and is smoking a pipe. Three other people are taking the way down the hill. In the background you see Mount Fuji with a blue top with little white clouds. The weather is fine.