Posted by: photochika42 | September 20, 2010

Japanese Culture and Design

The Japanese culture was strongly influenced by the Chinese culture. Japanese society, however, developed in a very unique way. This is because for many centuries, particularly from the 17th to mid-19th centuries, Japan isolated itself and avoided all contact with the outside world. It was not until the American Admiral Perry forced the Japanese to trade with the west, that Japan opened its doors to the outside world. However, once this connection between Japan and the outside world was made, Japanese arts became very popular in both Europe and the United States. Japanese arts became a very important part of the development of both fine and decorative arts in Europe and America through the 19th and 20th centuries.

When Buddhism reached Japan in the late 6th century AD, a strong Chinese influence was seen. However, after the 9th century, Chinese influence in Japanese art weakened. Japan developed its own strain of Buddhism in the 14th century known as Zen Buddhism, which stresses a life of contemplation and study in which the contemplation of nature in particular plays a very strong role. Along with the beliefs of Zen Buddhism, the fact that Japan was an island also influenced its visual emphasis on nature. Both religion and geography, in this case, influenced the way visual ideas developed in this country. Since wilderness was not available to these people, the essence of wilderness is what was sought.

The Japanese Tea Gardens - San Francisco, California

Japanese culture is visually unique because of adaptation of Chinese culture. The use of pictographic characters in the alphabet created visual symbolism of plants, animals, and other objects.

Japanese Pictographic Characters

This was strongly important in the content and meaning of Japanese design. Even though Japanese culture was strongly influenced by Chinese culture, the painting style was more abstract and naturalistic than the Chinese paintings. A style of painting called Ukiyo-e developed dramatic ways of using the elements of line and color in various forms of art.

Example of Ukiyo-e art

The architecture is an influence of different aspects from Chinese and Japanese culture. The architecture is based on the Chinese methods of construction. The Chinese influence can be seen in the buildings that survived from the 8th century. Japanese architecture, like other arts, is more preoccupied with form than with surface embellishment. In the 13th century, the influence of Japanese exteriors and interiors show stress on space and form, with decoration and furnishing limited to essentials. Frank Lloyd Wright, an early modern architect, was influenced by the multipurpose arrangement of Japanese houses.

The Guggenheim Museum

The Guggenheim Museum in New York is an example of how Japanese architecture influences Western Society. Frank Lloyd Wright, a modern architect who was influenced by Japanese architecture, helped design the Guggenheim.

Bamboo Swords

Bamboo swords are also something that is found in Japanese culture that is found in Western society.

Japanese artists unique utilization of the principles and elements of design are a reflection of their social and religious values, as well as their visual surroundings.  Japanese art has many influences, all of which are displayed in their art.

The Japanese were isolated from the Western world between the 17th and 19th centuries due to the fact that it was an island impossible to reach by way of land and difficult by way of water, and it is evident in their qualities of design.   The Japanese were not exposed to the modern developments of the Western world, and therefore their art reflects a certain simplicity and tranquility not displayed in other pieces during this period.  They were an isolated people, and were not dependent on Western developments.  Japanese art is an illustration of their physical and social isolation from the Western world.  Japanese art does have certain Chinese influences, because China is Japan’s neighbor, but they have taken those influences and used them to develop their own style.  Also, Japanese art is a reflection of their religious values, for the Japanese used to practice either Shintoism or Zen Buddhism both of which emphasize peace and unity with nature.  Therefore, Japanese artists’ expressions of the elements and principle of designs are extremely unique.

The social, religious, and visual influences of Japan have a great effect on their art forms.  Japanese art often displays earthy, cool colors so as to emphasize nature in relation to peace and tranquility.  The texture of the art is not smooth and cold, like that of much modern art, but rather demonstrates a warm, hardy, rough exterior that is normally prevalent in natural settings, such as the edge of branches or leaves, or the rough waves of the ocean.

Ocean painting

The Japanese use long lines.  In their architecture, the long horizontal lines are used to emphasize stability and peace within the home.  However, in their paintings, the long vertical lines are used to represent the extravagance and grandeur of nature.

Use of lines and color in art

These long lines are also displayed in Japanese clothing styles, such as kimonos. (The use of long lines in clothing still exists today.)

Kimono clothing style

Furthermore, these long lines often display a rectilinear proportions, shapes, and form are very specific to Japanese art and canvases, that exaggerate an image to seem longer or wider than it appears to express overwhelming size, as opposed to Western designs which often used square proportions.  These forms and proportions are especially displayed in the pictographic characters that illustrate their alphabet, which has heavy Chinese influence.

Japanese Pictograph

A lot of Japanese art is asymmetric, with focus on a certain point.  In the following example, the dragon has a balance that is not focused so much on its symmetry, but more so around the dragon’s head as the fulcrum point.  One side of painting is the dragon’s body leading up to its head, a certain climb to the climax of the painting.  As soon as the head is reached, the climax is hit, and the dragon’s expression of rage is shown in his eyes and facial expressions, as well as his hands.

Asymmetric Dragon

Japanese art is clearly a reflection of the Japanese values of love of nature.  The use of the elements and principle of design is a clear demonstration of this value.


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