Japan and the Culture of the Four Seasons

Japan and the Culture of the Four Seasons: Nature, Literature, and the Arts

Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 336
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    Japan and the Culture of the Four Seasons
    Book Description:

    Elegant representations of nature and the four seasons populate a wide range of Japanese genres and media -- from poetry and screen painting to tea ceremonies, flower arrangements, and annual observances. In Japan and the Culture of the Four Seasons, Haruo Shirane shows how, when, and why this practice developed and explicates the richly encoded social, religious, and political meanings of this imagery.

    Refuting the belief that this tradition reflects Japan's agrarian origins and supposedly mild climate, Shirane traces the establishment of seasonal topics to the poetry composed by the urban nobility in the eighth century. After becoming highly codified and influencing visual arts in the tenth and eleventh centuries, the seasonal topics and their cultural associations evolved and spread to other genres, eventually settling in the popular culture of the early modern period. Contrasted with the elegant images of nature derived from court poetry was the agrarian view of nature based on rural life. The two landscapes began to intersect in the medieval period, creating a complex, layered web of competing associations. Shirane discusses a wide array of representations of nature and the four seasons in many genres, originating in both the urban and rural perspective: textual (poetry, chronicles, tales), cultivated (gardens, flower arrangement), material (kimonos, screens), performative (noh, festivals), and gastronomic (tea ceremony, food rituals). He reveals how this kind of "secondary nature," which flourished in Japan's urban architecture and gardens, fostered and idealized a sense of harmony with the natural world just at the moment it was disappearing.

    Illuminating the deeper meaning behind Japanese aesthetics and artifacts, Shirane clarifies the use of natural images and seasonal topics and the changes in their cultural associations and function across history, genre, and community over more than a millennium. In this fascinating book, the four seasons are revealed to be as much a cultural construction as a reflection of the physical world.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-52652-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Art & Art History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  6. Historical Periods, Romanization, Names, Titles, and Illustrations
    (pp. xix-xxiv)
  7. Introduction Secondary Nature, Climate, and Landscape
    (pp. 1-24)

    The ubiquity of nature and the seasons in Japanese literature is apparent in too many ways to count. One has only to turn to The Tale of Genji (Genji monogatari, early eleventh century) to discover that most of the female characters—such as Kiritsubo (Paulownia Court), Fujitsubo (Wisteria Court),Lady Aoi (Heartvine), Lady Murasaki (Lavender), Suetsumuhana (Safflower), Oborozukiyo (Misty Moonlit Evening),and Hanachirusato (Village of Scattered Flowers)—are named after natural objects and phenomena, usually flowers and plants, each of which is associated with a specific season. Indeed, a fundamental grasp of The Tale of Genji requires an understanding of the literary...

  8. Chapter One Poetic Topics and the Making of the Four Seasons
    (pp. 25-56)

    One of the major reasons for the prominence of nature and the four seasons in Japanese literary and visual culture is the impact of Japanese poetry, particularly the thirty-one-syllable waka (classical poetry), the main literary genre of the premodern period. Indeed, all the major types of Japanese poetry—kanshi (Chinese-style poetry), waka, renga (classical linked verse), and haikai (popular linked verse)—use natural themes extensively.

    In an East Asian tradition going back to the Six Dynasties period (220–589) in China, poetry was generally expected to do one of three things: express emotions or thoughts () directly, describe a “scene”...

  9. Chapter Two Visual Culture, Classical Poetry, and Linked Verse
    (pp. 57-88)

    Waka (classical poetry) reached its zenith as a genre in the Heian (794–1185) and Kamakura (1185–1333) periods and continued to be widely practiced even as its popularity waned in the Muromachi (1392–1573) and Edo (1600– 1867) periods. In the Muromachi period, waka was finally superseded by renga (classical linked verse), which became the most popular late medieval poetic form. Renga, in turn, was surpassed by haikai (popular linked verse), which came to the fore in the seventeenth century. The seasonal associations developed by waka were inherited and disseminated by both renga and haikai, but in contrast to...

  10. Chapter Three Interiorization, Flowers, and Social Ritual
    (pp. 89-112)

    It is not only classical Japanese poetry and its affiliated forms that created a sense of harmony with nature. Japanese architecture, beginning with the design of the palace-style (shinden-zukuri) residence of the Heian period (794–1185), also created a sense of intimacy with nature, which was carefully reproduced in the gardens of the house and which became the topic of much poetry. The shinden structure, in which the interior rooms opened directly onto the garden, created what we might call a veranda or “beneath the eaves” (nokishita) culture, occupying a space between the interior and the exterior that became the...

  11. Chapter Four Rural Landscape, Social Difference, and Conflict
    (pp. 113-132)

    By the early thirteenth century, Fujiwara no Shunzei and his son Fujiwara no Teika had helped to canonize what are now known as the Heian classics—The Tale of Genji (Genji monogatari, early eleventh century), The Tales of Ise (Ise monogatari, ca. 947), the first three imperial waka (classical poetry) anthologies (Kokinshū [Collection of Japanese Poems Old and New, ca. 905], Gosenshū [Later Collection, 951], and Shūishū [Collection of Gleanings, 1005–1007]), and Bo Juyi’s Collected Works (Ch.Boshi wenji,Jp.Hakushi bunshū)—which formed the textual foundation for the seasonal associations in the aristocratic literary tradition. While the power of the aristocracy...

  12. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  13. Chapter Five Trans–Seasonality, Talismans, and Landscape
    (pp. 133-152)

    Japanese poetry displays extreme sensitivity to the transience of nature and the passing of the seasons. This might be attributed to the rainy climate and the quick growth of vegetation; for example, the reed (ashi), which became a symbol of Japan in the ancient period, is one of the fastest-growing plants in the world. A more convincing explanation, however, is that natural change came to be a metaphor for the transience of life and the uncertainties of this world, a view that was reinforced by the Buddhist belief in the evanescence of all things. This perspective became particularly prominent from...

  14. Chapter Six Annual Observances, Famous Places, and Entertainment
    (pp. 153-174)

    Annual observances, which became an integral part of the culture of the four seasons, differ greatly according to place, profession, community, and period. They cover a broad spectrum of activities, from religious rituals, such as Hatsumōde (first pilgrimage of the year to a shrine) and the Festival of the Dead (Obon), to agricultural rites such as taue (planting rice seedlings) and inekari (harvesting rice). Some are held in appreciation of seasonal nature, such as cherry-blossom viewing (hana-mi), moon viewing (tsuki-mi), and bright-foliage viewing (momiji-gari). Others evolved into recreational activities, such as the Doll’s Festival (Hinamatsuri), which is celebrated on the...

  15. Chapter Seven Seasonal Pyramid, Parody, and Botany
    (pp. 175-200)

    The widespread influence of haikai, a new interest in food, a booming culture of parody, and the rise of medical botany left a deep imprint on the culture of the four seasons in the Edo period (1600–1867). Haikai (popular linked verse), which emerged in the Muromachi period (1392–1573) and came to the fore in the seventeenth century, transmitted the seasonal associations and images that had been developed in waka (classical poetry), even as it added a vast new sphere of poetic topics—from kabuki to unpleasant insects. With the shift of the capital to Edo (Tokyo), two major...

  16. Conclusion History, Genre, and Social Community
    (pp. 201-220)

    This book approaches the idea of secondary nature, particularly in urban environments, from various angles—textual and visual arts, architecture, socio-religious rituals, and annual observances—and explores the evolution of some of the major components of secondary nature through a number of closely interlinked art forms: waka (classical poetry), renga (classical linked verse), haikai (popular linked verse), standing-flower (rikka) arrangement, gardens, the tea ceremony (chanoyu), screen painting (byōbu-e), and ukiyo-e. What emerges is not a unified “Japanese” view of nature and the seasons, but a highly diverse perspective, with functions and representations of nature differing greatly, depending on the historical...

  17. Appendix Seasonal Topics in Key Texts
    (pp. 221-224)
  18. Notes
    (pp. 225-248)
  19. Bibliography of Recommended Readings in English
    (pp. 249-258)
  20. Selected Bibliography of Primary and Secondary Sources in Japanese
    (pp. 259-270)
  21. Index of Seasonal and Trans–Seasonal Words and Topics
    (pp. 271-288)
  22. Index of Authors, Titles, and Key Terms
    (pp. 289-312)