japonisme: 5/13/07 - 5/20/07

19 May 2007



Pablo Neruda

You've asked me what the lobster is weaving there with
his golden feet?
I reply, the ocean knows this.
You say, what is the ascidia waiting for in its transparent
bell? What is it waiting for?
I tell you it is waiting for time, like you.
You ask me whom the Macrocystis alga hugs in its arms?
Study, study it, at a certain hour, in a certain sea I know.
You question me about the wicked tusk of the narwhal,
and I reply by describing
how the sea unicorn with the harpoon in it dies.

You enquire about the kingfisher's feathers,
which tremble in the pure springs of the southern tides?
Or you've found in the cards a new question touching on
the crystal architecture
of the sea anemone, and you'll deal that to me now?
You want to understand the electric nature of the ocean
The armored stalactite that breaks as it walks?
The hook of the angler fish, the music stretched out
in the deep places like a thread in the water?

I want to tell you the ocean knows this, that life in its
jewel boxes
is endless as the sand, impossible to count, pure,
and among the blood-colored grapes time has made the
hard and shiny, made the jellyfish full of light
and untied its knot, letting its musical threads fall
from a horn of plenty made of infinite mother-of-pearl.

I am nothing but the empty net which has gone on ahead
of human eyes, dead in those darknesses,
of fingers accustomed to the triangle, longitudes
on the timid globe of an orange.

I walked around as you do, investigating
the endless star,
and in my net, during the night, I woke up naked,
the only thing caught, a fish trapped inside the wind.

Translated by Robert Bly

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on the other hand....

on the other hand.... this one makes me feel a little dizzy myself....


18 May 2007

learned depth

is said that the stress in japanese prints to a diagonal layout comes from what the eyes had learned to do when viewing a scroll being unrolled.

it is said that the length of one arm at a time, as well as the universe created by shape.

it is said that the en- tire wes- tern cul- ture was shocked and confused by the venture off the beaten path contained within the frame.

(some people will be shocked and confused by just about anything.)

it has fur- ther been said that learn- ing a me- thod of illustrating distance beyond the use of perspective was illuminating to the western artists.

and that the combining of the two was so effective that some grew dizzy and faint. i find myself wondering about any reasons psychological, or philosophical.

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16 May 2007


renoir wanted her to expose her breasts a little more. she refused, but in later years regretted it.

bonnard obviously had a similar attraction, but when her husband (she married at 15) began la revue blanche, his portrayal became a lot more graphic.

toulouse lautrec idolized her as well, as she invited him, and his friends, and the rest of the artists, musicians, composers. poets, invited them all to become a part of her family through the salon. a prodigal pianist, misia (she had four last names, a serial wedder) also invited pianists to the salon.

of all of her admirers (well, i don't know about her husbands) vuillard's emotions proved, perhaps, the deepest. "One of the most striking and memorable works in the exhibition is 'The Nape of Misia's Neck.' The catalogue maintains that Misia was Vuillard's 'great secret love' and provides the following quotation from her memoirs:

'The echoes of this agitation (the Dreyfus affair) reached me at Villeneuve, and I decided to leave for Paris earlier than usual. Vuillard then said he wanted to take a last walk along the banks of the Yonne, and we started at dusk.

Looking dreamy and grave, he led me beside the river amongst the tall birches with their silvery trunks. He moved slowly over the yellowing grass, and I fell in with his mood; we did not speak. The day was closing in rapidly so we took a shortcut across a beetroot field.

Our sil- hou- ettes were insubstantial shadows against a pale sky.
The ground was rough, I tripped on a root and almost fell; Vuillard stopped abruptly to help me regain my balance. Our eyes met. In the deepening shadows I could see the sad gleam of his glance. He burst into sobs. It was the most beautiful declaration of love ever made to me.'"1

vuillard painted a series of four panels for the walls of the salon misia shared with her husband, their home, and longed for her; he lived at home with his mother until he was 60, when his mother died.

draw your own conclusions: misia was painted by more than these four, and by each far more times than i illustrate here. her beauty has been invoked, her brightness, her charm and wit. her warmth invited them into her family, her husband invited them into his magazine, and she, with sarah bernhardt and loie fuller is now memorialized, and is known by us all.

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un autre lapin

(via) (and don't miss the list of museums in japan in the post the precedes this kite one), and, particularly for karla, so much wonderfulness about japanese rabbits (and a whole new definition to the phrase 'snow bunny).


15 May 2007

Geisha as Representatives of Japan

From Victorian Musicals to Post-War Movies:
Geisha as Representatives of Japan

Kath Smith

While performed only occasionally today, Sidney Jones’ 1896 musical The Geisha was one of the most popular theatrical productions in the Euro-American West that featured geisha. The plot of My Geisha is a relatively simple one that includes the familiar plot device of love triangles.

Geisha in this play are idealized by the British women and men as alluring and attractive. Although foreigners seem to have this rosy picture of life as a geisha, the geisha in the musical present the audience with a different side to the story. When the forced closing of their teahouse forces the sale of the geisha, the audience realizes that the geisha are more similar to slaves subject to the whim of the owners of the teahouses and government officials. Furthermore, although the musical is a love story with a happy ending, the geisha profession is described as one that does not involve love.

Images of the British and American women’s suffragist movement no doubt served as a provocative contrast to the image of the geisha that emerges in the Jones musical. For this brief period in history when women in Western countries were fighting for their independence, musicals such as The Geisha presented images of women in other cultures as oppressed, often ignoring the women's rights movements occurring there.

Perhaps this had the effect of making Western women grateful for the luxuries and freedoms that they already possessed. It might have also inspired them to wish to save the helpless Japanese women whose situation was more dire than their own.

I also argue that the image of geisha in Sidney Jones’ musical greatly resembles the portrait of the post-war geisha that emerges in Shirley MacLaine’s 1962 post-war film My Geisha. Why do both the musical and film My Geisha idealize geisha and the country of Japan in such a similar manner? In the late nineteen century, Japan was beginning to modernize after decades of relative isolation during the Tokagawa rule, and during the post-war period of My Geisha, Japan was trying to rebuild after the devastating destruction of war.

By focusing on images of geisha and idealized women, Japan is viewed by Westerners as a friendly and non- threatening “little sibling.” History often tells the reader a great deal more about the author than the subject described. In conclusion, I argue that the Euro-American image of the geisha is more a reflection of Western dreams than Japanese realities.1

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14 May 2007

the palace of the moon

In our day and age children no longer believe in rabbits on the moon. But all Japanese know the charming legend and still see in the shadows on the full moon a rabbit threshing his rice.

Once upon a time long ago, a monkey, a rabbit, and a fox lived together as friends. During the day they frolicked on the mountain; at night they went back to the forest. This went on for some years.

The Lord of Heaven heard about it and wanted to see if it were really true. He went to them disguised as an old wanderer. "I have travelled through mountains and valleys and I am tired out. Could you give me something to eat?", said he, laying down his staff in order to rest.

The monkey went off at once to gather nuts that he presented; the fox brought an offering from his fish trap in the river. The rabbit ran through the fields in every direction but came back with nothing.

The monkey and the fox made fun of him: "You are really good for nothing." The little rabbit was so discouraged that he asked the monkey to gather some thistles and the fox to set fire to them. They did so. Then the little rabbit said to the old man, "Please eat me", and threw himself into the flames.

The pilgrim was pierced to the heart by this sacrifice, and wept, saying, "Each one deserves praise; there are neither winners nor losers. But the little rabbit has given an exceptional proof of love."

So saying, he restored the rabbit to his original form and took the little body to heaven to be buried in the palace of the moon.1

(see also here)

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13 May 2007

sharing the harvests

you've heard the story of ferdinand the samurai. yes, he was good at battle, but when there were no borders to defend, he delighted in strolling, sketchbook, ink, and brush in hand, and to sit in the shade of a spreading tree to draw the plants around him.

this tremendously civilizing habit of the samurai benefited the populace of the edo period with a growing inventory of the flora and fauna of their land.

how ironic that the dissolution of the samurai culture had an end result of bringing that civil rest to the west.

cultures that had never seen asian flowers embraced them by the armload. japanese gardens were created in many non- japanese cultures, and japanese techniques were incorporated into many of the rest.

and artists and craftspeople throughout the west embraced the botanies as had the people in the country of their birth.

[and yes i remembered the national diet library, finally. i don't think any of their wonderful selections was the exact one i was looking for, but i was thrilled anyway.]

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