Books on Japan - Japanese Art & Design
Japan Art Books II
Hardback, 168 pp.
Ukiyo-e, or woodblock prints, epitomize nineteenth-century Japan, with its embrace of new technology, allowing multiple copies of artworks, followed in the latter part of the century by Japan's long-awaited acceptance of the outside world with the advent of the Meiji Era, and reciprocal outward diffusion of all things Japanese, inspiring Japonisme.
Dr. Andreas Marks, head of the Japanese and Korean Art Department at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, sets the scene for the rise of the woodblock print with his introduction entitled A Paradise for Travelers, thereafter providing a judicious balance between traditional sights and more modern phenomena, including the appearance of foreigners on Japan's shores. Toyohara Chikanobu's print Ikabo Spa, for example, shows in the foreground elaborately trussed-up Western visitors being served green tea sitting at an occidental table, while behind them Japanese men and women uninhibitedly enjoy a mixed bath.
There are plenty of Hiroshige's views of Fuji, as one might expect, as well as the obligatory Hokusai Great Wave; but there are also surprises such as a sequence of amazingly dynamic waterfalls. In the peopled examples, geisha enjoy a picnic under cherry trees; kabuki actors strut; sumo wrestlers squat and wrestle. Marks has divided the prints into loose geographic sections: Sights of Tokyo, Sights around Tokyo, Sights of Kyoto, and, the most general, Sights of Japan, which covers Nara, Osaka and other places, as well as such general categories as castles.
Marks' book is a handsome addition to Tuttle's excellent series of compact coffee-table books on Japanese visual elements (see also my review of Japanese Design), but if you expect scholarly heft, you will be disappointed. The generous illustrations dominate, with little more than caption text after the brief introductions in each section. Still, this makes a fine introduction to the wide variety and vibrancy of subject matter covered by the traditional Japanese woodblock print.
The Secret Techniques of Bonsai is one of the first books in English to reveal the secrets of the trade for readers unable to read Japanese.
Written by Masakuni Kawasumi III and his son, the second, the book offers techniques developed over years of careful work and observation.
This text will be helpful for beginners and veterans alike. Included among the techniques are the following: 1. secret techniques for raising and caring for bonsai 2. information about growing bonsai from seedlings 3. advice on pruning, training, grafting, and repotting 4. step-by-step photos 5. advice on tools A wonderful primer.
In spite of the growing popularity and acceptance of manga as a legitimate form of art, comics, graphic novels, and cartoons have long been relegated to a lesser stratosphere in the hierarchy or graphic arts.
In recent years, though, cracks have begun to form in the walls of the academy. Driven in part by Japan-based artists and artisans, comic art has become a universal phenomenon and language.
In the past, because of its lower class status, comic art was perceived to be an "alternative medium." Mainstream animated films, however, such as "Spirited Away," and the influence they have had on directors such as Quentin Tarantino, have brought the art form into suburban cineplexes worldwide.
Graphic novels now garner awards, and the work of well-known artists hangs in galleries. "Pictures and Words: New Comic Art" gathers in the works of a diverse group of artists from around the world. The text is divided into three sections: Silent, Single Panel, and Text & Image.
The featured works range from pensive to overtly political, works that appear in the New Yorker to those that cannot be printed in a family newspaper. Artists include Barry Blitt, Jordan Crane, Tom Dieck, Igort, David Rees, Joe Sacco, Marjane Satrapi.
Ironically, or perhaps not, not a single Japanese artist is featured. Lacking the edge of most of the work herein, most Japanese artists, though technically excellent, do not say as much in their work, the brilliant example of Hayao Mizyazaki notwithstanding.
Utagawa Hiroshige was the last great master of the Japanese woodblock. Hiroshige (1797-1858) was one of the primary influences of many Western artists in the Japaonism boom, among them Whistler, Cezanne, and, of course, Gauguin.
Born in Edo--present-day Tokyo-- Hiroshige lost his parents at an early age. Soon thereafter he apprenticed himself to Utagawa Toyohiro, a woodblock artist in Edo. Seven years hence, Hiroshige made his debut with a set of illustrations for a volume of comic verses. Over the next decade, he produced the works that would mark him as a genius. Particularly striking were his depictions of Kabuki actors, historical figures, and beautiful women.
The first work to evince this brilliance in landscape was a series of prints on famous scenic spots in Edo. In the next year, he produced work that documented an official procession from the then capital of Kyoto to current day Tokyo.
The resulting "Fifty-three Stages of the Tokaido" cemented his place in the pantheon of great Japanese artists.
This wonderful volume documents Hiroshige's work and places it in historical context. You will return over and over again to this book.
W. W. Norton
Large format photo books, commonly known as "Coffee Table Books", on Japan are a dime a dozen, and if you are looking for one that goes beyond the obvious and cliched icons of Japan: Mount Fuji, cherry blossoms, Geisha in Kyoto - then I would highly recommend Kiroji Kubota's Japan.
Admittedly there is a small photo of Mt. Fuji, and cherry blossoms creep into the edges of a couple of photos, but by and large his photos display a much wider range of images and subject matter than most books of this ilk.
Following on from his hugely successful books on the U.S.A. and China, From Sea To Shining Sea and China, this award-winning photographer turned his eye and lens towards his home country and spent three years traveling the length and breadth of the Japanese islands to lovingly document his homeland, often exploring corners of the archipelago by-passed by tourists.
Coming from a single photographer, the range of styles is wide, and includes aerial shots, landscapes, cityscapes, seascapes, action shots, candid-shots, portraits, and staged shots, with an equally impressive range of subject matter covering most of the polarities that encompass the diversity that is contemporary Japan; from urban to rural, ancient to modern, natural to man-made, the mundane to the exotic.
Considering that Japan is so densely populated, it is maybe not surprising that the majority of photos include Japanese people, but what maybe is surprising is that of these photos, the majority show the Japanese at work: in the fields, on fishing boats, in factories and craft workshops.
The black & white thumbnails at the back of the book with detailed description of each photo are an excellent reference to the work as a whole. Recommended for anyone interested in contemporary Japan and Japanese photography.
by Donald Keene
Columbia University Press
Donald Keene has written a vivid account of Watanabe Kazan, one of the great intellectuals of the late Tokugawa Period. Kazan's life spanned a turbulent time in Japan, and his life reflected much of that.
His life began in terrible poverty and ended abroad in suicide. In his lifetime he was well known as an artist, Confucian scholar, a student of the West, a samurai, and a fierce critic of the shogunate. (In spite of the last fact, however, Kazan killed himself because he feared that he had caused anxiety to his lord.)
The title, an ancient expression used in both China and Japan to this day, comes from the "frog in the well that knows nothing of the ocean." Other artists of the same period willingly turned their backs on the "world"; Kazan, in contrast, embraced and sought out the West.
He originally became a painter to earn money to pull his family out of poverty. Using Western technique, he achieved great success with realistic and advanced portraits.
Keene's work is the first detailed biography of Kazan in English. In telling Kazan's story, Keene paints a illuminating portrait of the zeitgeist of the late Tokugawa Era. The book is richly illustrated, and elucidates a life that is symbolic of the crises Japan itself faced at the time prior to the forced opening of the country courtesy of the Black Ships.
Recommended for anyone interested in Keene, Kazan, or the Tokugawa Period.
152 pp; 150 color photos
Author and photographer Katsuhiko Mizuno leads you on a tour of the gardens located within Kyoto's machiya, or townhouses. The tsuboniwa - courtyard gardens - are distinct and subtle, and are rarely seen by tourists or even Kyoto residents themselves.
They were built by the merchant class that created the housing stock in what is now downtown Kyoto. This lavishly photographed book contains pictures of 81 gardens from 52 private homes, inns, restaurants, and teahouses.
The text also includes diagrams and explanations of the stones and other details that make up the gardens.
For those who love Japanese gardens or the unique architecture of the Kyoto townhouse, this is a perfect book.
112 pp; 100 color photos
The Fine Art of Kimono Embroidery is a gorgeous coffee-table book that showcases the art and genius of Shizuka Kusano. Kusano uses kimono and obi (kimono sash) as her canvas. She employs themes drawn from Japanese poetry, literature, art, and seasonal motifs (birds, flowers, streams).
Kusano works with silk threads and fabric, and is known as one of Japan's premier kimono embroidery artists. This text features the best of her works in stunning photos. Along with the photos, there are both commentary and explanatory notes from Kusana herself.
There is an introductory essay on the introduction of embroidery from China in the sixth century up through to the present day.
Kusana is a major textile worker in Japan. Her works are regularly exhibited in galleries and museums throughout Japan and Kyoto.
Japan boasts a rich history of taking the latest technology and combining it with outlandish, amusing, and intricate design elements. This comes in part from the culture of monozukuri, or "the art of making things."
Shu Hagiwara, author and a working designer, has chosen Japanese-designed products that have had a great impact in the post-World War II period. He examines the genesis of the design: What were the Honda engineers attempting they designed the Super Cub, legendary motorcycle? Whence sprang Sori Yanagi's stunning Butterfly Stool - now part of the MOMA collection? What traditional craft was the inspiration of Isamu Noguchi's lantern akari?
From concept to finished product, Hagiwara takes us on a tour of the design icons of the last 60 years. And they are all beautifully photographed.
A great coffee-table book.
320 pp; 350 photos
Terry Bennett has created a work of art. In Photography in Japan, Bennett documents not just the Japanese and foreign photographers - who would today be considered either artists and/or workaday professionals - and their photos but also the seismic changes in Japan from the opening of Japan to the early part of the 20th century.
There are 350 images that document Japan's evolution from feudal society to modern nation-state. The pictures range from the cinematic and panoramic to the everyday and homey. Images of fierce unsmiling samurai are terrifying - and a stark reminder of Japan's not so distant past as a warrior nation.
In addition, there are several shots of murdered Westerners who, as a result of perceived slights - not showing enough deference at a chance meeting - were slaughtered on the spot.
Contrast these with the many shots of children and home interiors, geisha relaxing while not on duty and nudes. These show the softness for which Japan continues to be known.
Also of interest are Bennett's descriptions and biographies of the photographers themselves. What lives they lead! The serendipitous routes that brought them to Japan, which had just opened in mid-century, are themselves worthy of a book.
As a result of mid-nineteenth century Japanese politics, there are many, many shots of Nagasaki and Yokohama, two of the earliest and largest foreign settlements. Both were what can only be described as small fishing villages. For anyone who has been to Yokohama, in particular, in the last 30 years, these shots are from another universe. The bay in Nagasaki, at least, is still recognizable; the pictures of Yokohama, in contrast, are otherworldly in their antiquity and grace.
In the early sections, the cityscape is completely "Japanese" in appearance. Later in the 19th century, a jarring photo has rickshaw drivers in Yokohama resting or waiting for customers on a street. But for the men, it could be taken from Paris or London from the same period. The buildings and street have been completely made over and rebuilt in a single generation.
Plus ca change.
This is a wonderful book that can be looked at - and read - over and over again.
The textile arts as practiced in Japan are justly known throughout the world for their excellence and beauty. Among many methods, the traditional "resist" technique stands out. This involves shaping the cloth in various ways, then wrapping it, and finally securing the shapes by binding the material. This is known in Japanese as shibori (from the verb to wring out, squeeze).
The effect is spontaneous and lively. The cloth appears to be almost alive thanks to the design and the tie-dye. Shibori can be used for handkerchiefs, table cloths, clothing.
This amply illustrated volume showcases Japan's largest collection of traditional shibori fabrics. There is a detailed guide to the natural dyes used in Japan, the making and care of an indigo vat, and a glossary and bibliography. This is an excellent read and a wonderful resource that features many of the best-known craftspeople and their work.
In the last decade or so the image of Japan has changed overseas. From faceless salarymen or overheated samurai/World War II soldier, "Japan" has now moved on to include the images that emanate out of food culture, manga (for adults and children), anime, popular film, and electronic gaming. Japan is no longer perceived of as merely a monolithic entity of bespectacled men intent on world economic domination.
Japan's visual culture has always been among the most varied and talent-laden in the world. Thanks to the recent trends noted above, that has become more widely disseminated abroad.
Tokyo art critic Yumi Yamaguchi in "Warriors of Art" hopes to further expand and spread the knowledge of Japan's visual culture to include its contemporary artists.
"Warriors of Art" showcases the work of forty working Japanese artists: painters and sculptors, photographers and performance artists.
Takashi Murakami is already an international star. His bright cartoonlike characters command hefty figures on the international art market. What though of Junko Mizuno's "grotes-cute" Lolita-like girls? Perhaps less familiar are the fighting machines of Kenji Yanobe, the bizaare disguises of Tomoko Sawada, the disturbing fairytale landscapes of Tomoko Konoike, and others.
For each artist, Yamaguchi introduces the main themes of his or her work: from wartime nuclear destruction to an obsession with cute. The themes are at times highly disturbing, borderline pornographic.
An eye-opening introduction that is lavishly illustrated.
Having grown up in Philadelphia in the 1970s, I approached a book on Japanese graffiti warily. That period was the heyday of Cornbread, who is still something of a legend in the city. He was the first "bomber," and his distinctive tag could be seen on buses, trolleys, trains, police cars, and many, many buildings all over the city. Cornbread and his imitators essentially defaced the city. After his arrest - his many arrests - he began tagging prison walls. With the exception perhaps of churches, nothing was sacred.
From Cornbread to Japan.
RackGaki documents the tagger and bomber scene in Japan, which got a relatively late start. By the time Cornbread was an in-and-out of prison drug addict father of 10 in the early 90s, graffiti was just debuting in Japan.
Much of the showcased work makes use of abandoned buildings and highway underpasses and other less objectionable spaces as canvases. (Though, of late, the amount of graffiti in Japan is clearly increasing on private property and public spaces. A recent trip to Nara was notable mainly for the shock of black chicken scratch that blotted many of the storefronts in a heavily touristed area.)
The work in RackGaki is clearly "Japanese" in that it is influenced by anime and manga, and also uses Chinese characters. Most of the writers though would not pass muster among serious muralists. Among them, though, are several who might find paying work in another medium: Tenga, Esow, and SCA Crew (all based in or near Tokyo), and Zen One and Very from Osaka. In particular, Tenga's characters are stunningly beautiful and powerful.
The authors subscribe to the school of thinking of tagging as an oppressed art form. Whether you agree or not, the photos in RackGaki are worth the price of the book. As in so many fields, Japanese taggers are drawing on Japan's visual culture to borrow and create something new.
One wonders what Cornbread, now in his 50's and working in anti-graffiti programs in Philadelphia, would say to his Japanese brothers.
by Iain Simons
Inside Game Design is the first book to consider game design as a serious media form. It does so by looking at some of the leading game designers working today. The book examines the influence of each of these stars in a series of interviews.
Legends such as David Braben and Michel Ance, Relentless and Keita Takahashi, are featured. There is also sound advice for those thinking of entering the field.
Like most publications from Laurence King, Game is visually attractive. It includes color drawings, process sketches from the production, photos of the finished games, studio photographs, and PR artwork.
This work is essential reading for students of game design, and is also a must read for any hardcore gamer.
Creative Space looks at the studios, apartments, and homes of designers, artists, novelists, and innovators in six cities: Barcelona, Berlin, London, New York, Paris, and Tokyo.
The interiors are as diverse as those who have created them. However, there are some commonalities. First is simplicity or minimalism.
The homes of the artists represented in the work tend toward bare. White walls and blank spaces prevail. The featured living spaces have clean lines and evince an almost zen-like state of mind.
Except of course when there is clutter. Many of the living and bed rooms are populated with Japanese toys, collectables, and other knickknacks.
Among those featured are Aya Takano, Yasumasa Yonehara, Julie Verhoeven, Gary Card, Idris Khan, Annie Morris, Fafi, Jaybo (aka, the Monk), and others.
The homes are exquisitely photographed.
Author Francesca Gavin has done more than just travel to and catalog the idiosyncracies of creative types around the world. She has brought some sense to the various designs and sensibilities documented herein.
Guerilla Art is another beautifully photographed and published work from the house of Laurence King.
It looks at "international street artists" - aka, young men with spray paint cans who tag walls - around the world.
These men and women, however, are also putting their work on canvas as a way of making money and also of spreading their work to a more durable medium.
The book comes with a DVD, which was filmed in New York, London, Paris, Sao Paulo, and Tokyo.
It features, among others, Zevs, Blek le Rat, Futura, Agnes B, and Ramm:ell:zee.
The book itself documents the beginning of the bombing movement, or street art, on subway cars and buildings.
The work has come a long way, thanks mainly to level of skill of the taggers.
A beautiful and fascinating look at current street culture.
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