The Japanese brush is a complex tool that, given the love and attention that goes into its decoration, should be considered a work of art in itself. The different types of animal hairs used in brush making give very different results. Some hairs absorb more ink, some release more, and it is up to the calligrapher to decide which is appropriate for a specific job. Unlike using a pen the calligraphers brush allows more control of the thickness and tone of the characters.
Skilled craftsmen make the brushes, which is quite contrary to their simple looking structure. A brush can even be made out of bamboo, tip pounded into a fibrous brush and used for terse, quick effects. The original hairs used in brushes came from such animals as wolf, squirrel, weasel and badger. Today the brushes are more commonly made from sheep, dog, cat, rabbit, deer, goat and horse. For special brushes feathers, straw and dried grasses are also used. The main exporters of brush materials are Canada, China and South East Asia.
Brushes of a similar nature to calligraphy brushes are also used in Sumi ink painting (though a much greater variety of brushes are used for this art form. Another variation of the calligraphy brush can be found in use in gold lacquer decoration (Maki-e). These particular brushes are very fine, long, and thin, which is necessary for their delicate work. Reportedly the best hair for this type of brush comes from the plush flank hair of ship rats, or, secondly, cats.
Posted June 30th, 2010 by geisha+ | Comments (2)
A paper crane is an ancient origami pattern that symbolizes health and peace. For centuries there were no written directions for folding origami models. The directions were taught to each generation and then handed down to the next. This form of art became part of the cultural heritage of the Japanese people. In 1797, How to Fold 1000 Cranes was published. This book contained the first written set of origami instructions which told how to fold a crane. The crane was considered a sacred bird in Japan. It was a Japanese custom that if a person folded 1000 cranes, they would be granted one wish.
Making an origami crane is not too difficult. Here’s how:
1. Fold the bottom point of a square piece of paper up to meet the top point. Crease and unfold. Repeat for the left and right points.
2. Turn the paper over (one edge should face you) and fold the left edge to meet the right edge. Crease and unfold. Repeat for the top and bottom edges. Rotate the paper so that any point faces you.
3. Grasp the left and right points and push them together and down to meet at the bottom point. Flatten. This step will give you a two-layered, diamond-shaped piece of paper.
4. Fold the lower right edge of the top layer of paper in toward the center so that it lies along the center vertical fold line. Crease and repeat for the lower left edge. Turn the paper over and repeat for the other side.
5. Fold the triangle at the top of the paper down. Crease and unfold. Turn your paper over and repeat. Unfold the flaps made in Step 4.
6. Point the open end of the diamond shape toward you. Bring the bottom point up (top layer only) toward the top point. The left and right points will be drawn inward and the paper will fold backward along the crease made in Step 5. Flatten the paper.
7. Turn your paper over and repeat Step 6. You will have two triangles on either side of the paper that touch at their bases. The two bottom flaps will be the crane’s neck and tail; the top flaps will be the wings.
8. Repeat Step 4 for the longer diamond shape you now have in front of you. This narrows the crane’s neck and tail.
9. Fold the bottom flaps up as far as you can so that their points angle up and out. Crease. Turn the paper over and fold one of the points down to make the crane’s head.
10. Pull the top flaps (wings) down and out so that the center portion of the paper (the crane’s back) is rounded out instead of pointed.
Work on a hard surface and sharpen each crease by running your thumbnail or a pencil over it. Sharp creases are essential to the successful completion of this model.
Practice on scrap paper first and then move on to specially made origami paper. Origami paper has the appropriate thickness and weight you will need to achieve clean, sharp creases.
Posted June 28th, 2010 by geisha+ | Comments (4)
There is a prevailing picture of the Japanese as a polite and proper people who, aside from an almost fanatical passion for karaoke (and Frank Sinatra’s My Way), strictly move based on the dictates of tradition and respect. Such a boring picture, isn’t it?
But that is a mental picture of the Japanese before the 1950s. Today, the Japanese is as cosmopolitan as the Europeans, as fashion-forward as the Italians, and yes, as crazy as the Americans – perhaps more so if we are to base it on the popular pastime of useless inventions.
The useless inventions, or Chindogu movement clearly shows the fun and irreverent side to the Japanese. The movement, which was founded by Kenji Kawakami, pokes fun at the spirit of innovation that the Japanese are long known for. It’s a delightful look into the relentless drive of the Japanese to excel as seen through circus mirrors – distorted, irreverent, silly and ultimately delightful. Chindogu also gives us a glimpse at how wild is the imagination of the Japanese. How else would they have thought of dust mops that you attach to your pet cat’s feet so that they can help clean the floors when they are moving? Or the handy sling where you can rest your chin and then attach on to the hand rails of a commuter train if you want to sleep standing up?
One of the ten tenets best describe the spirit of Chindogu: Inherent in every chindogu is the the spirit of anarchy. It has broken free from the chains of usefulness.
Only the Japanese can think of this.
Posted June 23rd, 2010 by geisha+ | Comments (2)
I have always admired the Japanese people’s love (or does it already border on obsession?) for precision. Even though their art and culture can sometimes be considered ascetic because of the severity of its rules and the traditions that need to be followed (which could be a reflection of the country’s Zen and Shinto belief). Take for example the traditional art of paper-folding called origami. This Japanese art, which literally means to fold (Oru) paper (kami), transforms a simple piece of paper into exquisite works of art. With a few folds here and there, a one-dimensional sheet of paper becomes a delicate swan, a regal lion, or a mythical dragon. The fact that the word “Kami” is also a homonym for the Japanese word that means spirit or god tells much about this transcendental art. Paper folding becomes a spiritual exercise, a kind of meditation with the hands where you can also contemplate how one form fluidly transforms into another. For me, I see origami as a spiritual experience that is also a delicate form of art, it is rare to see these two worlds meet and as seamlessly as it does in origami. I think Japanese culture has successfully melded spirituality and art in most of its traditional art forms, most especially in origami. It is also typically Japanese that even these traditional arts are being dragged into the 21st century. There is now a new technique called wetfolding where you wet the paper while folding in order to create soft curves as well three dimensional forms.
Posted June 21st, 2010 by geisha+ | Comment (1)