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Drawing the Moon Closer Through Art

Cultural Quintessence

Japan In-depth

Kateigaho International Edition

Drawing the Moon Closer Through Art

Enormous moon sets the scene for "Jade Rabbit—Sun Wukong" from the series One Hundred Aspects of the Moon. The giant disk, which became an expressive device in much Japanese painting, is a prominent element here. This image is from the allegorical Chinese novel, Journey to the West (Xi You Ji), in which the immortal monkey, Sun Wukong, transforms into a rabbit to fulfill his quest; the monkey taunts the rabbit in the moon.

(C) Hagi Uragami Museum

Tsukioka Yoshitoshi: The Last Great Ukiyo-e Master

Yoshitoshi (1839-1892) was a master of the woodblock print whose career spanned the last years of the Edo period and the first half of the Meiji era. First recognized for his portraits of kabuki actors, he later concentrated on portraits of warriors and gory scenes of violence, reflecting the chaos that accompanied the breakdown of the feudal system.
With the Meiji Restoration and the influx of Western culture, Yoshitoshi developed his own expressive approach, fusing Western drawing techniques and the new genre of ukiyo-e depicting contemporary events. Also recognized for his beautiful women, he influenced artists such as Kaburaki Kiyokata and Ito Shinsui, who later became renowned for prints of feminine beauty.
Yoshitoshi's landmark work, Tsuki Hyakushi (One Hundred Aspects of the Moon), begun in 1885 and completed six years later, depicts scenes from myriad Japanese and Chinese tales. By the time he had finished, he had become the top star of contemporary ukiyo-e, and was later acknowledged as "the last great ukiyo-e master." Disabled by a chronic and progressive mental illness, he died at the age of 53.

In the early 17th century, Hon'ami Koetsu and Tawaraya Sotatsu applied their artistic genius to produce numerous scroll paintings and works on shikishi paper that feature a large silver half-moon in the shape of an apricot pit. This half-moon is a recurrent theme in numerous art and craft works, and on clothing of the Edo period. The poet Matsuo Basho wrote of "wanting to paint the moon at his lodgings in maki-e," and indeed the image also began to appear frequently in maki-e gold and silver lacquer painting.
In art history today, it is known as a Rimpa moon, or a moon of the Rimpa school of painting. The Edo period was also the heyday of many ukiyo-e (woodblock print) artists, who delighted in night scenes, unusual then in European art, and included enormous moons. These bright orbs hover above houses, towns, and villages, and are often referred to as ukiyo-e moons.
Rimpa and ukiyo-e moons represented a traditional mode of expressing the moon cultivated by the Japanese, albeit in exagger-ated shapes and sizes, but they were by no means a product solely of the Edo period. The idea of using the sun and moon as subjects for painting had originated in China, while India had developed altars enshrining the Bodhisattvas of the sun and moon. Sun and moon were thus commonly juxtaposed. By the Heian period (794-1185), however, this stable, symmetrical arrangement gave way to a preference for asymmetry that destroyed the sun-moon balance. When this occurred, the moon, emerged the victor.
The combination of autumn flowers and moon became especially popular at this time, as people developed a taste for scenes in which the moon seemed to gaze down from close quarters on transient autumn flowers bending in the wind. Most maki-e lacquerware features this motif of fall flowers with the moon.
Meanwhile, in the literary world of the early Kamakura era (1185-1333), poets began to write about the moon with greater frequency; the Shin Kokinshu (the "new" version of the classic poetry volume) contained 10 times the number of verses about the moon as the preceding volume. And, increasingly from about the 12th century onward, the Japanese discovered "the aesthetics of winter." With the linked verses of Shinkei and the Zen priest Dogen as early models, poets wrote eloquently of icicles and ice and the beauty of trees stripped of their leaves.
About this time, kare-sansui dry landscape gardens—a style of garden not found in China—emerged in Japan, along with noh drama, noted for the bare simplicity of its stage. Along with these changes, the moon became idealized as a symbol of the human heart, navigating the heavens at night in stately solitude. From this time forward, people began to endow the moon with a sense of sabi and wabi, refined tranquility and simplicity.
For this moon to have become the Rimpa moon and the ukiyo-e moon means that ordinary people finally had within their grasp the moon in all its enormity. This was a manifestation of the power of Edo society when directed inward (a product of the isolation of Japan at the time), and, simultaneously, the power of a culture always seeking something new. If foreign influences were prohibited in Japan, the country drew to itself, in one swoop, the far more distant moon.

John Stevenson's Yoshitoshi's One Hundred Aspects of the Moon presents the entire series with detailed explanations of the artist's work in English. This full-color book is a feast for the eyes as well as the intellect.

For more information:

Hotei Publishing
www.hotei-publishing.com (English)

Yagi Bookstore
www.books-yagi.co.jp (Japanese)

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