Category Archives: Japan

REVIEW: temple walls | japan, by Ryuten Paul Rosenblum

temple walls | japan
Ryuten Paul Rosenblum
2017
48 pages
14.5 x 23.5 cm
Hard cover / Accordion binding

Zen Buddhist practice is sometimes called “wall-gazing” meditation, a reference both to Bodhidharma — the sect’s purported founder — and his nine years meditating while facing a monastery (or, cave) wall, but also to Zen’s eschewing of meditation aids like paintings and statutes. The walls of ancient Zen temples and monasteries have been the companions and unyielding support for the practice of countless practitioners for centuries. This presence, and their non-objective forms (and perhaps these are the same thing), are captured in Paul Rosenblum‘s photographs of temple walls in Japan.

A wall is also symbol of renunciation: the Buddhist meditator has turned away from the world, quite literally.

The images are small squares of wall, thus converting the age and detail of stone, glaze, cracks, woodgrain, weathering into images that call to mind camera-less Polaroids, blurred landscapes, and gesture paintings. However, such imaginations are not Rosenblum’s purpose in creating these images. Rather, “practice is about seeing the mind in all things, even the most commonplace/everyday/simple/mundane. The temples and monasteries that I visited are widely know, even revered by some. For me, my ‘interaction’ with simple, taken for granted things like walls was infused a feeling of honor and respect for the practice that has taken place in them for centuries. I feel each is the body of a Buddha; our practice is what makes it vividly alive in this moment.” (This and other quotations from a personal email from the photographer.)

Rosenblum is a linage holder in the Zen tradition of Dongshan and Dōgen and spends part of each year serving as Vice Abbot of Genrinji, a Zen Temple in the Germany.

 

These photographs present a radically different view of well-known sites: from the usual architectural, viewer-to-object-oriented, or tourist-friendly Zen gardens, to a quite intimate one that asks for more from the viewer than one-to-one identification of things. It is easier to focus on things planned to be focused on, it is harder to focus on what is more ever-present, sitting firmly in the background (like the mind). The images are”intended as a way to support seeing without thinking predominating.”

One’s attention falls into habit, thus seeing more traditional image of a Buddhist temple tends merely to provoke the mind to recollect the idea of a temple through image-association. These images, radically deconstructed ones of Buddhist temples, urge the eye and mind to work a little harder.

That said, the images have a beauty that one finds absent any heavy mental-lifting. This is to say that they have formal qualities akin to some 20th century western art (whether or not this visual/intellectual impact is akin in some way to Buddhist ways of seeing is an open question).

The book itself is a lovely object, an accordion bound, limited edition by Datz Press of Seoul, Korea. The cover stock, inside cover material, paper, and ink all show attention to a somewhat unrefined aesthetic. (The choice to render titles in all lower case does strike me as a touch precious; a minor point in a design that intelligently and sensitively supports the artist’s intention.)

I particularly appreciate this book as it presents new ways of putting images and seeing toward Buddhist practice. Books like this one reveal that there are more ways of using images toward practice than the well-known use of mandalas and thangkas.

~ Jonathan Ciliberto

 

Advertisements

Ritualized Writing: Buddhist Practice and Scriptural Cultures in Ancient Japan, by Bryan D. Lowe

On the New Books Network, you can read a short review, and listen to an hour-long podcast on the recently published Ritualized Writing: Buddhist Practice and Scriptural Cultures in Ancient Japan, by Bryan D. Lowe (UNIVERSITY OF HAWAII PRESS 2017).

Unkei – The Great Master of Buddhist Sculpture

Tokyo Museum of Art

Unkei – The Great Master of Buddhist Sculpture / Heiseikan Special Exhibition Galleries September 26, 2017 (Tue) – November 26, 2017 (Sun)

In Japan, no Buddhist sculptor is better known than Unkei. With his extraordinary artistic talent, he led a new era in sculptural expression, creating realistic works that appear before the viewer as though they were alive. For this Special Exhibition, Unkei’s masterpieces have been brought together from across Japan. These include works from Kohfukuji temple in Nara, with which he had close relations. In addition to presenting an overview of Unkei’s life as a sculptor, the origins of Unkei’s remarkable style and its transmission will also be explored through the inclusion of works by his father, Kokei, as well as his sons, Tankei and Koben.

General Information

Period Tuesday, September 26 – Sunday, November 26, 2017
Venue Heiseikan, Tokyo National Museum (Ueno Park)

Related Events

Kohfukuji and Unkei: Particularly on the Statues at the Hokuendo (North Octagonal Hall)
Heiseikan Auditorium October 1, 2017 (Sun) 13:30 – 15:00

The Influence of the Buddhist Sculptor Unkei: With a Focus on Koen and Zen’en Honkan Room 14 August 29, 2017 (Tue) – December 3, 2017 (Sun)
This thematic exhibition explores how sculptors inherited and transformed the style of Unkei in the Kamakura period (1192–1333).

Carving the Divine: Buddhist Sculptors of Japan

 

 

 

 

 

Carving the Divine: Buddhist Sculptors of Japan is a documentary by filmmaker Yujiro Seki, about modern day sculptors of Buddhist art. The filmmaker seeks funds to send his film to the Sundance Film Festival.

Link to Indiegogo page, with much more information.

“Living among these Būshi for the years necessary to document them transforming blocks of wood into incredible sculptures, I was not only able to gain access into the secretive world of some of Japan’s foremost masters. Nor was I simply able to capture a world of Buddhist rituals normally off-limits to all but monks and priests. My proudest achievement in Carving the Divine is that I believe the finished film does a good job of showing how these two traditions – Mahayana Buddhism and the art of the Būshi – both sculpt and are sculpted by Japan itself, and how the struggles of today’s Būshi reflect the historical struggles of the Japanese People – to “persevere,” as we Japanese so often say.”

Kaikei Buddhist exhibit enlightens visitors

10:00 am, April 19, 2017
The Yomiuri Shimbun

NARA — Kaikei, one of the nation’s representative sculptors of Buddhist statues from the Kamakura period (late 12th century to early 14th century), developed a sophisticated form of sculpting that was followed by artists of later generations. An ongoing exhibition in Nara presents the various attractive aspects of Kaikei’s sculptures, helping visitors see why Japanese have been fascinated by the master’s works.

Kaikei, whose date of birth and death are unknown, has been seen as an equal to Unkei (d. 1223), whose father is said to have served as the young Kaikei’s teacher.

Currently being held at the Nara National Museum through June 4, “The Buddhist Master Sculptor Kaikei: Timeless Beauty from the Kamakura Period” is an unprecedented exhibition as the items on show include 37 works proven to have been created by Kaikei based on his signatures on the pieces or other clues. This accounts for 80 percent of such works definitely attributed to Kaikei today, both at home and abroad.

Kaikei carved out Buddhist images as a serious devotee of Amida (Amitabha), which can best be indicated by the Standing Amida Nyorai at Todaiji temple in Nara.

For some works, Kaikei used a signature that included Amida, as on the Seated Miroku (Maitreya) Bosatsu at Daigoji temple in Kyoto. The statue, on view from April 25, is described as the best work of the sculptor’s early years.

The signature can also be found on the powerfully carved, impressive Komokuten (Virupaksa) from the Four Guardian Kings at Kongobuji temple in Wakayama Prefecture. Continue reading

Base for giant pagoda could be first proof of mystery temple

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
February 10, 2017 at 17:50 JST

Trench digs at the Higashi-Yuge site in Yao, Osaka Prefecture, revealed the possible foundation of a pagoda where Yugeji temple is said to have stood in the eighth century. The foundation, marked by the white lines, is 20 meters by 20 meters. (Provided by the Yao education board)
Photo/Illustraion

YAO, Osaka Prefecture–Archaeologists have found a square foundation believed to have supported a towering pagoda that was part of a mysterious temple built by a powerful Buddhist monk in the eighth century.

The discovery at the Higashi-Yuge archaeological site was announced on Feb. 9 by a cultural property research group originally founded by the Yao city government.

It could be the first archaeological evidence proving the existence of Yugeji temple, which is said to have been built here in the Nara Period (710-784) by Dokyo, a Buddhist monk.

Dokyo rose in power after winning the favor of Empress Shotoku, one of the few female rulers in Japan’s history.

Her reign started in 764 and ended with her death in 770. Dokyo fell from power after she died, and he was relegated to what is now Tochigi Prefecture. The year of his birth is not known, but records show he died in 772.

Only a few historical documents mention Yugeji temple.

The research group and the Yao education board consider the square foundation, about 20 meters by 20 meters, as invaluable evidence in the search for Yugeji temple. They are now working to preserve the site.


The foundation was found in stratum dating back to the latter half of the eighth century.

According to Kazuhisa Hakozaki, a researcher of ancient Buddhist architecture at the Nara National Research Institute for Cultural Properties, the sheer size of the foundation indicates that a relatively large pagoda stood on top. Continue reading

In Japanese movie ‘Silence’, Christianity in 17th century Japan gets the Buddhist treatment

51384-ipvndonemw-1487018501The 1971 version by Masahiro Shinoda successfully integrates the visions of the novelist and film director.

Narrative cinema has the ability to take a descriptive story and translate it into images and sounds that can be enjoyed in themselves. In the case of a literary adaptation, the descriptive power of these images and sounds is related to the degree of elaboration that the author offers in the original novel. A filmmaker chooses a particular novel only if the themes of the novel and the concerns of the author match his/her own cinematographic concerns.

This is most certainly the case with Masahiro Shinoda’s Silence (1971), a precursor to Martin Scorsese version that is being released on February 17. Silence, based on Shusaku Endo’s 1966 novel by the same name, is about the gross violations committed by the Japanese in the 17th century against Christianity. The film centres on a priest, Rodrigues, and his struggles with the local feudal lords (the daimyo) and warrior communities (the samurai), until he is forced to give up his own faith. Rodrigues’s battle is played off against a Japanese Christian, Kichijiro, who voluntary gives up his faith.

Shinoda’s Silence is a successful adaptation primarily because the filmmaker’s concerns are the same as those of the novelist. Endo, a Catholic who suffered persecution in Japan, uses the diaristic form to describe the circumstances that lead to the conditions in which the novel plays out. This is most suited to Shinoda, who believed his cinema to be one of the catalysts in pitting the individual against the community.

The diaristic form points to the act of writing. Shinoda transforms this concern into speech, with Rodrigues speaking out lines from his diary in the lush Japanese countryside. The director often translates Endo’s descriptive passages into spoken dialogue, as if to suggest that cinema is a medium of showing and not telling.

Shinoda’s conception of cinema is one in which the figure is subsumed into the landscape. Much like Endo’s novel, Shinoda’s film is eventually Buddhist in form, as it puts forth a vision in which the elements of nature are to be worshipped. This Zen-like approach makes the concerns of communicating the sufferings of the Christians seem paradoxical, for the film in itself takes a paganistic approach to the content.

For Shinoda, the struggle is not between an individual and his faith but between the individual and nature. Cinema has the ability to transform words into spaces. Shinoda’s approach to space is closer to a documentary. He carefully places the camera at a distance, almost making nature a character with the landscape as its face. This is communicated in a carefully constructed colour scheme. Whereas Christianity is communicated through man-made warm tones such as reds and light browns, the Buddhist elements of nature are communicated in cool greens and blues. This creates a number of interesting juxtapositions. The figure of Christ, represented by Rodrigues, is invariably dressed in an inorganic red and placed in a natural background comprising cool tones.

Shinoda’s cinema often crossed genres, evading easy classification. Silence nestles within the jidai-geki, or the historical drama genre. Jidai-geki uses historical content, with the lead character, invariably the samurai, presenting a vision of contemporary Japanese society. In Silence, the intolerance of the Buddhists is pitted against the fate of Rodrigues, who becomes the opposite of what he seems to preach, thus underlining the hypocrisy of Japanese mores.

The film uses variable techniques and approaches to tell Endo’s story. The documentary style of naturalism is juxtaposed with architectural interiority, and the two create a tension that translates into a cinematic grid, with light serving as its basis. The ending, which contradicts Rodrigues’s ideas on fidelity, is communicated through freeze frames belonging to that most anarchic mode of film-making – the avant-garde or experimental approach.

Although Silence was a successful adaptation on most counts, Shinoda, an atheist, changed the ending of Endo’s text to the author’s chagrin. Shinoda could not engage with Endo’s belief of Christianity as a universal religion. The ending of the book is deeply religious, but Shinoda translates this religiosity in sexual terms.

Silence is a masterpiece for its ability to translate the novel’s concerns at the level of content into cinematographic concerns at the level of form. Most importantly, it is able to integrate the visions of the novelist and film director with the vision of cinema to produce a satisfying cinematic experience that transcends mere storytelling.In Japanese movie ‘Silence’, Christianity in 17th century Japan gets the Buddhist treatment
The 1971 version by Masahiro Shinoda successfully integrates the visions of the novelist and film director.

In Japanese movie ‘Silence’, Christianity in 17th century Japan gets the Buddhist treatment
Feb 15, 2017.
Devdutt Trivedi
Share
Tweet
Email
Reddit
Print
Share
Tweet
Email
Reddit
Print
Narrative cinema has the ability to take a descriptive story and translate it into images and sounds that can be enjoyed in themselves. In the case of a literary adaptation, the descriptive power of these images and sounds is related to the degree of elaboration that the author offers in the original novel. A filmmaker chooses a particular novel only if the themes of the novel and the concerns of the author match his/her own cinematographic concerns.

This is most certainly the case with Masahiro Shinoda’s Silence (1971), a precursor to Martin Scorsese version that is being released on February 17. Silence, based on Shusaku Endo’s 1966 novel by the same name, is about the gross violations committed by the Japanese in the 17th century against Christianity. The film centres on a priest, Rodrigues, and his struggles with the local feudal lords (the daimyo) and warrior communities (the samurai), until he is forced to give up his own faith. Rodrigues’s battle is played off against a Japanese Christian, Kichijiro, who voluntary gives up his faith.

Shinoda’s Silence is a successful adaptation primarily because the filmmaker’s concerns are the same as those of the novelist. Endo, a Catholic who suffered persecution in Japan, uses the diaristic form to describe the circumstances that lead to the conditions in which the novel plays out. This is most suited to Shinoda, who believed his cinema to be one of the catalysts in pitting the individual against the community.

The diaristic form points to the act of writing. Shinoda transforms this concern into speech, with Rodrigues speaking out lines from his diary in the lush Japanese countryside. The director often translates Endo’s descriptive passages into spoken dialogue, as if to suggest that cinema is a medium of showing and not telling.

Play
Silence (1971).
Shinoda’s conception of cinema is one in which the figure is subsumed into the landscape. Much like Endo’s novel, Shinoda’s film is eventually Buddhist in form, as it puts forth a vision in which the elements of nature are to be worshipped. This Zen-like approach makes the concerns of communicating the sufferings of the Christians seem paradoxical, for the film in itself takes a paganistic approach to the content.

For Shinoda, the struggle is not between an individual and his faith but between the individual and nature. Cinema has the ability to transform words into spaces. Shinoda’s approach to space is closer to a documentary. He carefully places the camera at a distance, almost making nature a character with the landscape as its face. This is communicated in a carefully constructed colour scheme. Whereas Christianity is communicated through man-made warm tones such as reds and light browns, the Buddhist elements of nature are communicated in cool greens and blues. This creates a number of interesting juxtapositions. The figure of Christ, represented by Rodrigues, is invariably dressed in an inorganic red and placed in a natural background comprising cool tones.

Shinoda’s cinema often crossed genres, evading easy classification. Silence nestles within the jidai-geki, or the historical drama genre. Jidai-geki uses historical content, with the lead character, invariably the samurai, presenting a vision of contemporary Japanese society. In Silence, the intolerance of the Buddhists is pitted against the fate of Rodrigues, who becomes the opposite of what he seems to preach, thus underlining the hypocrisy of Japanese mores.

The film uses variable techniques and approaches to tell Endo’s story. The documentary style of naturalism is juxtaposed with architectural interiority, and the two create a tension that translates into a cinematic grid, with light serving as its basis. The ending, which contradicts Rodrigues’s ideas on fidelity, is communicated through freeze frames belonging to that most anarchic mode of film-making – the avant-garde or experimental approach.

Although Silence was a successful adaptation on most counts, Shinoda, an atheist, changed the ending of Endo’s text to the author’s chagrin. Shinoda could not engage with Endo’s belief of Christianity as a universal religion. The ending of the book is deeply religious, but Shinoda translates this religiosity in sexual terms.

Silence is a masterpiece for its ability to translate the novel’s concerns at the level of content into cinematographic concerns at the level of form. Most importantly, it is able to integrate the visions of the novelist and film director with the vision of cinema to produce a satisfying cinematic experience that transcends mere storytelling.

[link]