The Colors of Japan: Background, Characteristics and Creation
AbeBooks Seller Since January 26, 2005Quantity Available: 1
AbeBooks Seller Since January 26, 2005Quantity Available: 1
About this Item
Title: The Colors of Japan: Background, ...
Publication Date: 2000
Dust Jacket Condition: New
About this title
The Colors of Japan is a visually stunning look into the unique use of color in Japanese culture from prehistoric times to the present day. That the Japanese should possess their own sense of color is not surprising, for like almost every other aspect of human life, color perception varies from culture to culture.
The first and most fundamental reason for this variation can be attributed to geography. People living in arid lands will obviously perceive green in a different way from people surrounded by lush forests, as is the case in Japan. Geography will also dictate the materials that can be used to create the pigments and dyes to color objects.
Once geography has set the stage, other factors come into play, such as the direction in which a particular culture evolves. For instance, certain colors may be restricted to certain classes, as happened in the classical period of Japanese history.
A third factor is external cultural influence, in which the color perceptions of one culture are adopted by another as part of the ebb and flow of history. In the case of Japan, the first sources of such influence were Korea and China.
The Colors of Japan presents a crystalline overview of these three factors by means of discerning writing and stunning photographs. The text covers the four basic colors, the relationship of Japanese color perception to natural phenomena, the development of hierarchies of colors, the aesthetic of mixed colors, and the particular culture of color developed by townspeople in the seventeenth through the nineteenth centuries.
The photographs range over a variety of objects, from the refined to the plebeian. There are lacquerware, various kimonos, combs, surcoats, picture scrolls, ceramics, sword mountings, shrine gates, paintings, woodblock prints, tea houses, a castle, paper stencils, fans, sculpture, umbrellas, screens, and human figures. Each is not only an illustration of a particular color as used in Japanese culture, but also a beautiful object in its own right. Nature, an all-important player in the nurturing of color perception, is not forgotten. The book includes lovely photographs of autumn foliage, a horseradish field, a pebbly stream in a temple garden, a tea house pathway, rows of tea bushes, and, last but not least, a tiny green frog.
As an approach to a different way of viewing color, as an introduction to the arts and crafts of Japan, or as a satisfying reading experience, The Colors of Japan is a book that anyone who possesses a aesthetic outlook on life will not want to miss.
The book includes full-color photos of the following:
Torii gates at Fushimi Inari Shrine, negoro trays, negoro sake keg, lacquered wood combs, textile designs and motifs, jimbaori (surcoat worn over armor), furisode kimono, Nachi Fire Festival, autumn foliage at Muroji Temple, Ban Dainagon picture scrolls, various forms of Imari ware, sword mountings, suit of armor, noren curtains, katabira kimono, paintings, Kyoto hills, various forms of Nabeshima ware, aizuri and other ukiyo-e, haniwa funeral sculpture, Jomon vase, tea-scoop and case, Joan Tea House, fireman's hanten, paper stencils, carving on gate of Toshogu Shrine, horseradish field, pebble stream at Shinnyo-in Temple, Fushin-an Tea House, ukiyo-e by Katsukawa Shunsho, ukiyo-e by Utagawa Kunisada using berorin, Iga vase, sanda tiered celadon boxes, Oribe mukozuke (side dishes), a green frog (aogaeru), Japanese zelkova bonsai, pair of six-fold screens, green tea plantations, tea in a black bowl, fans, Jizo statue at Meigetsu-in Temple, ikat kimono, uchikake kimono, Konkomyo Saisho-o Sutra, choken Noh costume, silk wrapping cloth, murasaki-e ukiyo-e by Chobunsai Eishi, sacred rope at Oyamazumi Shrine, annual rites at Hibara Shrine, snake-eye (janome) umbrella, dance fans, Kabuki actor Bando Tamasaburo, screen (Pine Trees) by Hasegawa Tohaku, Mino tea bowl, Raku tea bowl ("Ayame"), Himeji Castle, fifth-century gold seal, sobatsugi Noh robe with shokko motif, kariginu kimono, tachi sword mounting, gilded wood statue of Buddha Amida, Edo cosmetic set with tomoe crest, rakuchu-rakugai screen by Kano Eitoku, pair of two-fold screens (Summer and Autumn Grasses) by Sakai Hoitsu, dry lacquer flower vase, and ceramic box with gold and silver on black ground.
[The first section of the main text.]
Four Basic Color Terms
The Japanese archipelago has been inhabited ever since the Stone Age. Unfortunately, the only clues to the colors used by the ancients of that period depend on archeological evidence. From the seventh century onward, however, written testimony survives. And in the first Japanese history, a mixture of fact and mythology written in the eighth century, appear the four oldest color terms in Japanese language: aka, kuro, shiro, and ao.
Nowadays, these words correspond to red, black, white, and blue respectively, but one Japanese philologist has conjectured that they were not in fact the names of specific colors but two pairs of terms expressing two contrasting types of optical sensation--light and dark, clear and vague.
There are small phenomena even today that seem to bear this out. If the word aka, now translatable as red, could indeed refer to brilliant light, it is not surprising that the Japanese should choose red to represent the sun. In most countries, paintings by children and children's picture books show the sun as yellow, but in both Japan and Korea it is red. This is just one example of the special significance and symbolism of red in those two countries.
It seems likely that color terms in ancient Japanese gradually evolved from this ambiguous state into clearly defined names such as red, black, white, and blue. Yet traces of the four original categories of the eighth century have survived the intervening period of twelve hundred years, to be inherited by modern Japanese. Even in the modern language, the only color terms that can be qualified by the addition of the prefix ma (meaning "true" or "perfectly") are these four, producing makka (bright red), makkuro (pitch black), masshiro (pure white), and massao (sky blue). In the same way, almost all proverbs involving color, and most compound words consisting of the name of a color and another word--including surnames--are concentrated around these four terms.
A persisting sign of an original ambiguity is, perhaps, the fact that what an English speaker would call a "green" traffic light is generally referred to in Japanese as ao. This overlapping of green and blue is not peculiar to the Japanese; it is believed to be more or less common to races with black hair and eyes and dark pigmentation of the skin. In anthropological linguistics, the band of color in question is referred to by the portmanteau term "grue."
Of course, where it is really necessary to make a distinction, the Japanese themselves rarely confuse the colors. In fact, a manual drawn up as early as the tenth century, setting forth detailed instructions concerning court rituals, makes a point of distinguishing green and bluish-green.
The Japanese language has undergone numerous changes in the course of its history, but the four fundamental color terms--aka, kuro, shiro, and ao--remain the basis on which the Japanese determine color categories.
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