Nyoirin Kannon. Kamakura period, early 14th century. Japanese cypress (hinoki) with pigment, gold powder, and cut gold leaf (kirikane). H. 19 1/2 x W. 15 x D. 12 in. (49.5 x 38.1 x 30.5 cm). Asia Society, New York: Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection
Asia Society/Wall Street Journal:
Last week, the Wall Street JournalfeaturedAsia Society‘s upcoming Kamakura: Realism and Spirituality in the Sculpture of Japan exhibition as one of several ways to “travel the world” and absorb international culture without ever leaving New York:
This exhibition links artistic style to spiritual practice. As religious trends of the time brought worshipers closer to their deities, sculptors pursued innovations in woodwork, carving expressive, humanlike forms that were intended to “come alive” during public ritual and private devotion. The show features a stellar lineup of figures, mostly carved in cypress and adorned with gilding and lacquer. Look for the miniature Buddha figures and sutra text, fascinating examples of tiny items that artists left embedded in hollow spaces to empower their figures from within.
The Kamakura exhibition begins on February 9 and goes through May 8.
Did you know that Japan has 16 locations on the list of UNESCO World Heritages? Could you name them all with any sum of money on the line?
Survey Research Center, Co. Ltd. conducted a survey that showed that most people could not. When asked whether they were interested in Japan’s world heritages, 67.8% of those surveyed responded affirmatively. However, only 4% of respondents knew all 16 Japanese sites.
See how many you can name before looking at the list below:
1. Yakushima [Kagoshima Prefecture]
2. Hiroshima Peace Memorial (Genbaku Dome) [Hiroshima Prefecture]
3. Gusuku Sites and Related Properties of the Ryukyu Islands [Okinawa Prefecture]
6. Hiraizumi – Temples, Gardens and Archaeological Sites Representing the Buddhist Pure Land [Iwate Prefecture]
7. Ogasawara Islands [Tokyo Metropolis]
8. Historic Villages of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama [Gifu Prefecture]
9. Himeji-jo [Hyogo Prefecture]
10. Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine and its Cultural Landscape [Shimane Prefecture]
11. Shirakami-Sanchi [Akita and Aomori Prefectures]
12. Buddhist Monuments in the Horyu-ji Area [Nara Prefecture]
13. Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto (Kyoto, Uji and Otsu Cities) [Kyoto Prefecture]
14. Shrines and Temples of Nikko [Tochigi Prefecture]
15. Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara [Nara Prefecture]
16. Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range [Nara, Wakayama and Mie Prefectures]
How did you do? You might have noticed that both natural locations and manmade structures can qualify as world heritages.
The survey also showed that over half of Japanese tourists add the option of visiting a world heritage site when they take a tour on vacation.
Find out more about world heritage sites by watching “The World Heritage” on TBS at 6 a.m. on Sunday, November 27. The first program will focus on natural heritages, and the program that airs on Sunday, December 4 will deal with cultural assets.
Watching these shows and learning more about world heritages will surely enrich your mind and deepen your appreciation of Japanese history, and they may even give you some ideas for your next trip within Japan.
A few weeks ago we introduced you to the world of traditional Japanese woodwork, a technique that uses no nails or hardware, just precise joints, to keep furniture and even buildings together. This technique is also used to create intricate, wooden, functional artwork, known askumiko, which is used within Japanese style-rooms to create a stunning atmosphere.
The traditional handicraft has been passed down for centuries, however, the trade is sadly dying out. In response, artisans are taking the age-old concept and applying the designs to more modern-day household items, such as chairs and lampshades. The results are nothing short of exquisite!
According to Tanihata Co., a kumiko workshop in Toyama Prefecture, kumiko has been around since the Asuka era (600-700 AD). The craft was originally used almost exclusively for sliding doors, room dividers and ramma (the decorative wooden piece above many doors in traditional Japanese buildings). While providers like Tanihata still make these products, modernization has brought a decrease in demand for such traditional room components, so craftsmen are broadening their horizons.
▼ Ramma, the decorative section above doors and walls
Regardless of what they are making, the time and care put into each piece never changes. If you thought making buildings and furniture in the traditional Japanese style was painstaking, prepared to be wowed.
Just like furniture-makers, kumiko artists are very particular about the wood they use. While, it’s easier to use mass-produced particle board, you lose the ability to be as precise, the elegant atmosphere of real wood, and of course, the great smell! When choosing wood, they prefer to use that of coniferous trees, namely cedar and cypress, because they grow straight and the wood has a high-quality fine grain.
▼ Kumiko is often made of wood from tall, thin, Japanese cypress trees.
Once the wood is picked out, cut and planed, they make the frame for the piece, whether it be a coaster or a ceiling lampshade. Next comes the difficult and intricate part of the process, which makes kumiko what it is. Hundreds of small pieces of wood are thinly sliced and shaved with a variety of tools, such as old-fashioned knives and saws, plus new machinery too. These tiny pieces have to be precisely cut down to the micron (1/1000 mm) or they won’t fit together perfectly! Once cut, the pieces are carefully assembled by being slid into place in an elaborate design within the frame.
▼ A variety of machinery and hand-tools are used to make and assemble the delicate pieces.
The designs for kumiko pieces aren’t chosen randomly. In fact, many of the nearly 200 patterns used today have been around since the Edo era (1603-1868). Each design has a meaning or is mimicking a pattern in nature that is thought to be a good omen. The designs are not just pretty, they also distribute light and wind in a calming and beautiful way.
▼ The Shippou design. In Buddhist scripture, shippou refers to a set of treasures (which includes gold, silver, lapis lazuli, quartz, coral and agate), and the never-ending, circular design represents harmony.
▼ The goma design is suggestive of nutritional and abundant sesame flowers, which are thought to promote longevity. This design is often used for ramma.
▼ Sanjyu-hifu is a design that utilizes thin strips to create diamond shapes. It’s thought to mimic very fertile water plants, a good omen for prosperous offspring and good health. With this is mind, sanjyu-hifu is often used in hotels and wedding halls.
▼ The Asanoha pattern takes after the hemp leaf. Hemp plants are known for growing quickly and straight-up, as well as for being sturdy plants. For this reason, the design has come to be used commonly with baby clothes too.
▼ These are some of the more common designs.
As we mentioned earlier, artisans are turning their focus to bringing their trade to the modern world, while still sticking with the traditional roots of kumiko. With this in mind, they have been creating beautiful art that can be used on a daily basis in any home.
▼ You can even get kumiko chairs!
Due to the drop in demand for traditional Japanese interior decoration, such as ramma,the kumiko trade has also seen a decrease in the number of young craftsmen. But hopefully, with the technique being applied to modern living, more young people will step up to the challenge and carry on this intricate and beautiful craft for future generations.
What looks like a traditional statue of Buddha dating back to the 11th or 12th century was recently revealed to be quite a bit more. A CT scan and endoscopy carried out by the Netherlands-based Drents Museum at the Meander Medical Centre in Amersfoort, showed the ancient reliquary fully encases the mummified remains of a Buddhist master known as Liuquanof the Chinese Meditation School.
While it was known beforehand the remains of a person were inside, another startling discovery was made during the scan: where the organs had been removed prior to mummification, researches discovered rolls of paper scraps covered in Chinese writing.
The Liuquan mummy has since been transported to Hungary where it will be on view at the Hungarian Natural History Museum through May of 2015.
If you’re a fan of mecha anime, you’ll know all about towering robots and the impressive displays of power they show during large-scale, epic battles. One of the titans of the mecha world, Gundam, is so revered in Japan he’s been recreated to scale and stands looking out over Tokyo Bay, wowing crowds with his strength and height.
Gundam might not be so happy, however, to learn that a picture doing the rounds on the internet is making him look tiny when compared with his peaceful brother from another otherworldly realm. To be fair though, not much can compete with Ushiku Daibutsu, the tallest Buddha statue in the world, who lives just a 90-minute train ride from Narita Station.
Located in Ushiki, Ibaraki Prefecture, Ushiki Daibutsu was completed in 1993 and stands a total of 120 metres (390 ft) tall. Like Lady Liberty, the statue houses an observation floor, where visitors can enjoy amazing views that stretch far off into the distance.
While the famous daibutsu (giant buddhas) of Nara and Kamakura are known for drawing crowds of visitors, the Ushiki Daibutsu makes up for its lack of centuries-old history with sheer height and impressive body parts.
Weight: 4,003 tonnes (8.825 million lb)
Length of left hand: 18 m (59.06 ft)
Length of face: 20 m (65.62 ft)
Length of eye: 2.55 m (8.4 ft)
Length of mouth: 4.5 m (15 ft)
Length of nose: 1.2 m (3.9 ft)
Length of Ear: 10 m (32.81 ft)
Length of the first finger: 7 m (22.97 ft)
To get a sense of the enormous scale of this statue, the head of this great Buddha could house the entire body of Nara’s daibutsu (seen on the far right of the image above). Thank goodness these are all peace-loving heroes or who knows what kind of mess we’d all be in!
Ushiku Daibutsu Details
Address: 2083 Kunocho, Ushiku, Ibaraki
Hours: Mar–Sep: 9:30 am–5:00 pm (until 5:30 pm Sat, Sun & holidays); Oct–Feb: 9:30 am–4:30 pm
Admission: 800 yen (US$6.80) for adults (Dec–Mar: 700 yen [$5.95]), 400 yen ($3.40) for children
When Steve Jobs showed up at the San Francisco airport at the age of 19, his parents didn’t recognize him.
Jobs, a Reed College dropout, had just spent a few months in India.
He had gone to meet the region’s contemplative traditions — Hinduism, Buddhism — and the Indian sun had darkened his skin a few shades.
The trip changed him in less obvious ways, too.
Although you couldn’t predict it then, his travels would end up changing the business world.
Back in the Bay Area, Jobs continued to cultivate his meditation practice. He was in the right place at the right time; 1970s San Francisco was where Zen Buddhism first began to flourish on American soil. He met Shunryu Suzuki, author of the groundbreaking “Zen Mind, Beginners Mind,” and sought the teaching of one of Suzuki’s students, Kobun Otogawa.
Jobs met with Otogawa almost every day, Walter Isaacson reported in his biography of Jobs. Every few months, they’d go on a meditation retreat together.
Zen Buddhism, and the practice of meditation it encouraged, were shaping Jobs’ understanding of his own mental processes.
“If you just sit and observe, you will see how restless your mind is,” Jobs told Isaacson. “If you try to calm it, it only makes things worse, but over time it does calm, and when it does, there’s room to hear more subtle things — that’s when your intuition starts to blossom and you start to see things more clearly and be in the present more. Your mind just slows down, and you see a tremendous expanse in the moment. You see so much more than you could see before. It’s a discipline; you have to practice it.”
Jobs felt such resonance with Zen that he considered moving to Japan to deepen his practice. But Otogawa told him he had work to do in California.
Evidently, Otogawa was a pretty insightful guy.
When you look back at Jobs’ career, it’s easy to spot the influence of Zen. For 1300 years, Zen has instilled in its practitioners a commitment to courage, resoluteness, and austerity — as well as rigorous simplicity.
Or, to put it into Apple argot, insane simplicity.
Zen is everywhere in the company’s design.
Take, for instance, the evolution of the signature mouse:
It’s the industrial design equivalent of the enso, or hand-drawn circle, the most fundamental form of Zen visual art.
But Zen didn’t just inform the aesthetic that Jobs had an intense commitment to, it shaped the way he understood his customers. He famously said that his task wasn’t to give people what they said they wanted; it was to give them what they didn’t know they needed.
“Instead of relying on market research, [Jobs] honed his version of empathy — an intimate intuition about the desires of his customers,” Isaacson said.
What’s the quickest way to train your empathy muscles? As centuries of practitioners and an increasingly tall stack of studies suggest, it’s meditation.
When you take that into account, it’s easy to see that for Jobs, growing his business and cultivating his awareness weren’t opposing endeavors.
When he died, the New York Times ran a stirring quote about what he did for society: “You touched an ugly world of technology and made it beautiful.”
We can thank that time in India and on the meditation cushion for that beautiful, rigorous simplicity — one that sparked a design revolution.
“This is insulting Myanmar, Buddhism and 500 millions Buddhists around the globe,” Facebook user Htet Naing Win responded to the bar’s post, using more moderate language than some.
The case comes amid a surge in Buddhist nationalism in Myanmar — which emerged in 2011 from half a century of military rule and global isolation. A powerful group of monks who fear Buddhist culture in Myanmar is under threat has emerged and is promoting restrictive and controversial laws aimed at “the protection of race and religion”.
Blackwood is being held in Myanmar’s notorious Insein prison where he is potentially facing a four-year jail term. Lawyers predict the trial will stretch for months.
The case has been condemned by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. It adds to concerns that Myanmar’s nominally civilian government is backsliding on rights reforms. It also illustrates the increasingly powerful influence on law and politics of the hardline nationalist monks.
Violence relating to a rise in religious tensions has claimed the lives of more than 240 people, mainly Muslims, in Myanmar since 2012 and actions deemed to offend Buddhist sensitivity are flashpoints.
As telecommunications in the developing country expand, social media is providing an increasingly powerful platform for those intent on promoting intolerance.
In July, Myanmar government’s revealed it had been in contact with Facebook representatives seeking advice on curbing online hate-speech amid fears it had fueled religious violence in the country’s second-largest city Mandalay earlier that month.
So sensitive are religious issues in Myanmar just now that Blackwood was initially unable to find a lawyer willing to represent him. Riot police have been drafted in for the trio’s court appearances as supporters of the Buddhist nationalist 969 movement gathered outside.
The lawyer who eventually agreed to take on the New Zealander’s case, Mya Thway has said he had since received anonymous messages on Facebook threatening to “cut him to pieces and burn him” for doing so.
While the psychedelic Buddha image, or ones like it, are a familiar enough sight adorning T-shirts in the tourist areas of neighbouring Thailand, the insensitivity of using a sacred symbol to promote a bar in Myanmar has been widely recognized within the country. But outside Myanmar, many have reacted with surprise to the degree of anger the case has provoked.
“It can be difficult to make sense of Burmese Buddhist reactions to this case, which many people perceive as over-reactions,” said Matthew Walton, Aung San Suu Kyi Senior Research Fellow in modern Burmese studies at St Antony’s College, Oxford.
Walton described the use of the image as “both a bad business move and a culturally insensitive advertising effort that was at a minimum disrespectful to local Buddhists’ tradition but in the context of an emboldened Buddhist nationalist movement, an incredibly stupid and damaging act.”
Blackwood’s case is believed to be a first in terms of a Westerner facing legal action relating to current religious sensitivities, but according to Walton it remains unclear whether the case heralds a wider rise in intolerance towards perceived Western threats to Buddhism.
He added: “I do want to emphasize that I personally think an extended prison term would be excessive, but I also imagine that there’s an interest in making an example of the defendants, so as to establish how seriously the Myanmar government will take insults to Buddhism.”
David Mathieson, Human Rights Watch’s senior researcher on Myanmar, described the case as “very disturbing.” He cited it as part of an “escalation in a pattern of rising Burmese and Buddhist ultra-nationalism, anti-Muslim fervor, and creeping xenophobia.”
The main target of the Buddhist nationalist movement has been the country’s Muslims, who make up about 5 percent of its 53 million people.
Blackwood has pleaded not guilty to two charges relating to insulting religion, and a third charge of disobeying an order issued by a public servant. The father of a 4-month-old child insists he did not mean to offend or insult anyone but remains behind bars.
“I believe the law says the act must be deliberate, require malice with intent to offend,” Blackwood told the court on Dec. 26. “I have said a number of times, there was no intent.”
Concern over incitement to violence via social media, have led to the launch of a movement aimed at addressing the issue. The Flower Speech campaign — or “Panzagar” in Burmese — was started by Nay Phone Latt, a blogger and activist who was imprisoned between 2008 and 2012 for his online writings about the country’s then-military rulers.
The organization aims to promote responsible use of social media, while upholding the principles of free-speech, long oppressed in Myanmar.
While Nay Phone Latt, who featured on TIME’s list of the world’s most influential people in 2010, said he didn’t believe Blackwood and his co-defendants should be jailed but added that he didn’t agree with their Facebook post.
“It is difficult to stand on their side,” Nay Phone Latt said. “Every religion has to respect others if we want to stay together peacefully. I am a Buddhist and liberal thinking, but I don’t like that kind of thing — it’s wrong to use an image of the Buddha in that way.”
Although it’s often overshadowed by Kyoto, the city of Nara can also count itself among the pre-Tokyo capitals of Japan. As a matter of fact, Nara was to be the country’s first permanent capital, challenging the beliefs of the day that the death of an emperor contaminated the area and necessitated moving the base of power.
Nara no longer represents the same lofty political authority it once did, but the city is still the site of several important temples, as well as the impressive Nara Daibutsu, a bronze Buddha statue nearly 15 meters (49 feet) tall.
And yet, the first thing most people think of when they hear Nara is deer, since over 1,000 of the animals live inside Nara Park. But even with roughly 500 hectares (1,235 acres) of space to run around in, sometimes the deer like to stray outside the park’s boundaries, such as they do each July when they occupy this sidewalk and stretch of road.
Although they’re technically wild animals, Nara’s deer are remarkably calm. Held to be messengers of the gods under Shinto belief, the animals are neither caged nor penned, but instead allowed to roam free around the sprawling expanses of Nara Park. As the park is one of the largest tourist attractions in the city, travelers often stop to pose for pictures with them, as well as feed them special deer treats sold by vendors inside the park.
On July 22, though, Twitter user Mojizuri was startled to see a herd of deer occupying a sidewalk, as well as spilling out into the road itself.
“I’ve lived here for 10 years, and I’ve never seen them do this sort of thing before!” Mojizuri tweeted.
Like most of the world, we’re not used to seeing deer chilling in the middle of the street, and had we been in Mojizuri’s shoes, we’d probably have reacted in the same way. However, it looks like it’s possible that even in his decade as a Nara resident, he just never happened to walk down this exact street at this particular time of year.
The uploader, who goes by the screen name Blue Bells 9999, says that this is a regular occurrence in late July, with the deer strolling out of the park to “enjoy the coolness of the street.”
Given that the concrete sidewalk and asphalt road surface would ordinarily retain heat during the summertime, we’re guessing that the surrounding cityscape and topography creates either a cooling wind tunnel or an inviting patch of shade.
Whatever the reason, motorists seem to be used to the phenomena, as we don’t see a single car swerving or horn honking in the video. A sign cautions drivers about deer crossing, and most seem to have extended that courtesy to keeping an eye out for deer sitting as well.