The Colors of Japan

Front Cover
Kodansha International, 2000 - Art - 102 pages
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.


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About the author (2000)

SADAO HIBI is one of Japan's best-known photographers. He has published some thirty books in Japanese in the field of traditional arts over the last two and a half decades. Among his English publications are Snow, Wave, Pine: Traditional Patterns in Japanese Design; Infinite Spaces: The Art and Wisdom of the Japanese Garden; Japanese Detail: Architecture; Japanese Detail: Cuisine; and Japanese Detail: Fashion.

KUNIO FUKUDA graduated in fine arts from Tokyo University of Education (now Tsukuba University) and is presently professor of color theory at Joshibi University of Art and Design. He formerly held positions at the Japan Color Research Institute, the Japan Fashion Color Association, and Kyushu Sangyo University, where he was associate professor. He has written seven books in Japanese on color. The present one is his first in English.

With the exception of ten years lecturing at the University of Tokyo, John Bester, a graduate of the School of Oriental and African Studies of London University, has devoted most of his time in Japan to translation. His many literary and other translations include works by Yukio Mishima, Kenzaburo Oe, Kenji Miyazawa, and Masuji lbuse. In 1990, he received the Noma Award for the Translation of Japanese Literature in acknowledgment of his achievements in the field.

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