What a cultural gift to have been given the opportunity to take part in limelight-arts-travel‘s online lecture series. The first of my chosen chats is one that delves into the cultural renaissance of Japan; a world away from the western-imagined Dark Ages that shadowed Europe at the time.
Haiku began in 13th century Japan reaching its peak in the 17th century. When I visited Japan, I found myself in the sacred forest of Kashima Jingu: 70 hectares of forests, ponds, shrines and a deer park with the deer’s lineage dating back to the ancient divine messengers of Nara.
While immersing myself in the balm of the forest (forest bathing), I wandered along a path studded with wooden posts engraved with haiku. Matsuo Basho, the master of Haiku, the (generally) 17-syllable poems that evoke the imagery of nature, was born into a samurai family. He visited this area in 1687. His poetry punctuates the forest.
As I discovered more of cultural Japan; the distinctive architecture of temples, pagodas and shrines, the function of writing, poetry, painting, fans and screens, Shintoism and Buddhism, all these concepts fell into place as I was immersed in Dr Kathleen Olive’s lecture on Japan’s Heian period of the 8th-12th centuries. While much of Europe was cast under our western idea of The Dark Ages, Japan was in its Renaissance where ideas in art, architecture, literature and ritual led to a new and unique Japanese culture.
The Heian Period of refinement did not include 80% of the population who were subsistence farmers. It was a movement that specifically indulged the elite – the bureaucrats and aristocrats. At the time, much cultural knowledge came from trading with China and the kingdoms of Korea.
Japan’s first official capital was Nara (southwest of Tokyo) with its Imperial Court. When the emperor gave permission to his court to experiment with Buddhism (a diplomatic gift from the ancient kingdoms of Korea), it wasn’t long before the emperor felt his power being challenged. Nara was deemed to be cursed and a new capital was sought.
Using Four Gods Topography – Geomancy – the site needed a river on the east, a highway on the west, dragon mountains to the north (as the physical threat of war would come from here) and lowlands to the south. A poetry competition was held to decide the name of the new city. Peace and Tranquillity won = Heian-kyō (Kyoto). This gave its name to the entire Heian Period of cultural renaissance in Japan, where the movement was not to look to China or the kingdoms of Korea, but to look within.
And so began the great development of new ideas in art, architecture, literature and ritual (including the multilayered & seasonally coloured kimono) that led to a new and ultimately unique Japanese culture – before the rise of the samurai class and before the settlement of Edo – Tokyo.
Dr Kathleen Olive in her talk along with her visuals, draws you in to this enigmatic era of change with her extensive love and knowledge of classical Japan.
- This is the first in the visual and performing arts lecture series with Limelight Arts Travel. You can subscribe to any within the series.