There’s just something about the way the Japanese put their traditional arts together that’s instantly recognizable. Simple. Bold. Balanced. Nuanced. A very strong sense of identity confidently permeates every work. I just can’t get enough of it. I spent quite a bit of my time in Tokyo trying to record, and maybe internalize, that essential Japaneseness, trying to wrap my head around what makes this unique aesthetic work.
I mean, even the fish have it. And yes, in a way that’s art too, since these koi were bred to have such color patterns. No, the Japanese didn’t know exactly what patterns would turn up, but they did have that sense to pick that roulette game and let it ride until something really pleasing came out. It’s the same thing, I think, with the way Japanese potters often allow glaze to run in random streaks across a bowl or teacup, so each one comes out unique after firing.
It’s interesting how Japanese art can at times be very formal and structured, and at other times embrace the happy accident the way it does. Was that aesthetic there even before Zen Buddhism became popular? I’m guessing it’s rooted deeply in the Japanese love for nature that permeates even that definitive megacity, Tokyo.
As my wife Cathy checked out Kiyomasa’s Well in the Meiji Jingu forest park, I turned around – simply to check out the surroundings for more possible photographs – and found this arrangement of ferns, fallen leaves, fungi and mosses on an embankment of cut logs. How much was the gardener’s work, and how much random chance? Quite a bit of the latter, it seems – I can’t imagine a gardener stopping to rearrange those brown leaves just so every few minutes, and I’ve seen enough dead logs to know those mushrooms just pop out spontaneously. But it comes together beautifully.
The Japanese traditionally believe that spirits, the kami, are everywhere in nature. It seems here, the kami are artists too.