Text Essay 3

 IMAGINATION:
Creations of the mind

Supernatural beasts haunt our dreams and lives.

1. Shi-Shi Antics
Japanese artists love to paint supernatural, occult, and just plain eerie animals and beings. They draw on rich folk traditions as well as Shinto and Buddhist lore that includes monsters, demons, ghosts, and animals that are not what they seem.

This scene by the brilliant artist Ando Hiroshige (1797-1858) depicts two mythical animals, called shi-shi or “lion dogs.” The great beasts play on an impossibly vertical cliff, looking more like action heroes than real lions.

But then, shi-shi lions are not “real” lions. These mythical beasts repel evil spirits and usually sit sedately at the gates of Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples and are similar to the foo dogs that guard Chinese temples.

Shi-shi lions guard temples in pairs. One usually has its mouth open to scare away demons, while the other’s mouth is closed to keep in the good spirits. These two shi-shi have broken away from their shrine and chase around a cliff, possibly suggesting the shi-shi lion dance that ushers in the New Year and celebrates other seasonal milestones. Dancers wearing fearsome lion masks snap and prance to the terror and delight of their audiences.

Hiroshige was one of the foremost masters of the woodblock print. These prints were created in great numbers for sale in the streets and shops of Edo ( Tokyo). Woodblock prints of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Japan are called ukiyo-e or “pictures of the floating world” because they showed scenes of Tokyo’s entertainment quarters and everyday life instead of timeless traditional and religious subjects.

Hiroshige is best-known for his landscapes and depictions of humans. He created more than 5,000 distinct prints; some of them sold more than 10,000 copies.

Hokusai, the early contemporary of Hiroshige, also created a print of a shi-shi in one of his manga books.His shaggy shi-shi confronts the viewer directly from a wintry, snowy landscape. Behind him is the suggestion of a pine tree sketched into the background.

Two Shi-Shi Lions  

Printable Image
[Imagination 1-1]
Two Shi-Shi Lions
Ando Hiroshige (1797–1858)
19th century
Full-color woodblock print, ink on paper
USC Pacific Asia Museum Collection
Gift of Dr. George W. Housner, 2001.21.12

Illustration of a Shi-shi from the Manga, Vol. 14   Printable Image
[Imagination 1-2]
Illustration of a Shi-shi from the Manga, Vol. 14

Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849)
1815
Leaf from a bound book, woodblock print, ink on paper
USC Pacific Asia Museum Collection
Gift of Mrs. Elizabeth Lowrie in memory of Mr. Robert T. Lowrie, 1978.16.278F page 51

 

2. Weird Denizens of the Watery Depths
In Japan, the use of animals in art to mock human behavior dates at least as far back as the thirteenth century. An early example, which is one of Japan’s National Treasures, depicts a frog wrestling a rabbit — and winning. The Buddhist monks who created this scroll mocked the triumph of the warrior samurai over the cultured nobility.

In this painting by Katsushika Hokusai, an octopus wears the short robe and double swords of a samurai warrior. He is seated on a mound of tubers, perhaps the farmer's crop of sweet potatoes. On the right, a farmer is tugging at his mattock, an agricultural tool shaped like a pickaxe, which has been seized by one of the octopus's tentacles.

It has been suggested that this scene represents the struggle between the samurai warriors and the farmers of the Edo period. In 1838, a year before the drawing was made, there was a poor rice crop, so there was a shortage of rice in 1839. Hokusai's image may represent the farmers' hatred of the oppressive samurai landlords, which sometimes led to revolt. Hokusai, who himself came from a working-class background, may have been criticizing the injustice of the social system of his time.

As bizarre as it is to land-dwelling humans, the octopus is a real creature. Hokusai also depicted another water-dweller, in this case the mythological, freshwater kappa. The kappa is a river imp that preys on travelers. They usually have fish scales, turtle shells, a face like a bird or a monkey, and a dish on the top of their heads that holds a liquid that is the source of their superhuman strength. An unlucky traveler who encounters a kappa should bow to greet it, and the liquid will drain from its head when it bows in return, rendering it weak and harmless.

This melancholy kappa rests with its hands and feet crossed. Perhaps it has just lost its power and is resting until its strength is restored.

Octopus-Samurai and Farmer  

Printable Image
[Imagination 2-1]

Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849)
Octopus-Samurai and Farmer
circa 1839
Drawing, ink and color on paper
USC Pacific Asia Museum Collection
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Gerald Kamansky, 1987.47.1

Detail of a Kappa from the Manga, Vol. 3   Printable Image
[Imagination 2-2]
Detail of a Kappa from the Manga, Vol. 3
Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849)
1815
Leaf from a bound book, woodblock print, ink on paper
USC Pacific Asia Museum Collection
Gift of Mrs. Elizabeth Lowrie in memory of Mr. Robert T. Lowrie, 1978.16.277B page

3. The Mysterious Tiger
At first glance, this painting appears to be a typical elegant scene from the pleasure quarters of Tokyo from the Edo period. A courtesan in her beautiful red kimono, her two assistants, and a tiger enjoy a nap, a musical instrument and a book of poems scattered on the floor. It happens every day, right? And it’s not any stranger than an octopus dressed as a samurai!

The three female figures are painted with the fine, black lines and bold colors typical of eighteenth-century ukiyo-e paintings, which depict scenes of the pleasure quarters, or the floating world. It’s the tiger that provides the clue to this painting’s meaning. The sleeping beast is painted in a style typical of Chinese monochrome ink painting, suggesting that the painting is not simply a humorous depiction of the floating world.

In fact, the presence of the tiger in the center makes the painting a mitate, a type of parody in which legendary or historical figures or motifs are recreated in a modern situation. This painting suggests the Chinese image called the Four Sleepers, in which an enlightened Buddhist monk and his tiger are shown sleeping blissfully with two eccentrics. Here, the artist may be suggesting that spiritual enlightenment can be found in the pleasure quarters.

 

The Four Sleepers  

Printable Image
[Imagination 3-1]
The Four Sleepers
Kawamata Tsunemasa (flourished 1716-1748)
circa 1745
Scroll painting, ink and color with gofun on toned paper
USC Pacific Asia Museum Collection
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Gerald Kamansky, 1988.65.2

4. The Insect Lords
Some Japanese paintings and woodblock prints are much like today’s political cartoons. Today, for example, donkeys represent the Democratic Party and elephants stand in for the Republicans on the editorial pages of U.S. newspapers or on television. In this painting by an unknown artist, insects symbolize people that the artist wished to make fun of.

Just like today’s politicians, Japanese feudal lords were always on the road. During the Edo period, the shogun forced the country's 250 lords, or daimyo, to spend every second year in the capital, Edo, so that he could keep a close watch over them. Every other year, the lords journeyed to and from home with hundreds of retainers, an expensive and time-consuming undertaking. And, in an era before the Japanese had wheeled vehicles, the daimyo walked or were carried in a palanquin by servants. This system of alternate attendance prevented the lords from rising up against the shogun and contributed to a long era of national peace.

In this satirical painting, the daimyo and his retinue are replaced with finely painted grasshoppers, praying mantises, and other insects marching past Mount Fuji. The retainers carry leaves and flowers in place of the spears and swords carried by the samurai. Frogs and bugs, representing the common people along the route, watch the procession pass by.

Artists also created works celebrating the beauty of insects. This graceful work shows a praying mantis balancing on a wisteria leaf, keeping a sharp eye out for its next meal. In some parts of Japan the mantis was thought to resemble a Shinto priest performing his rituals and was considered lucky.

Like many Japanese artists, Shibata Zeshin (1807-1891) worked in various media and techniques, including lacquer, woodblock prints, painting, and drawing. His traditional yet modern approach and naturalistic style won great favor during his lifetime and he was honored in the restored imperial court. Many of his works were exhibited in international exhibitions in 1850 after Japanese isolation ended.

The sensitive rendering of the mantis and branch shows the artist’s great love for and appreciation of nature.

Procession of Insects  

[Imagination 4-1]
Procession of Insects
Unknown Artist
19 th century
Hand scroll, ink and colors on silk
On loan from the Ruth and Sherman Lee Institute at the Clark Center for Japanese Art
(No larger image available)
 

Praying Mantis on Vine  

Printable Image
[Imagination 4-2]
Praying Mantis on Vine

Shibata Zeshin (1807–1891)
19th century
Full-color woodblock print, ink on paper
USC Pacific Asia Museum Collection
Gift of Dr. George W. Housner, 2001.21.38


Travelers in Sight of Mt. Fuji  

Printable Image
[Imagination 4-3]

Travelers in Sight of Mt. Fuji
Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849)
circa 1834-1835
Drawing, ink on paper
USC Pacific Asia Museum Collection
Gift of Paul, Bernice and Herman Blackman, 1985.58.3 

5. Shape Shifters
The Japanese have a love-hate relationship with the fox. For centuries, the fox has been considered to be the messenger of Inari, the goddess of the harvest, because foxes were often observed in rice fields killing the mice who destroyed the rice crops. Later, Chinese beliefs about wicked, trickster foxes entered Japan and gave the fox a darker, more complex character, as a cunning creature who transformed into beautiful young women to possess or bewitch men.

Artist Hiroshige created a woodblock print that invokes the spooky side of foxes. Here, fox spirits congregate at Oji, near Kyoto, their flame-shaped bodies invoking foxfire. This mysterious glowing light appears in forests and is caused by a luminescent fungi growing on rotting trees. The elongated foxes seem to be in the very act of transformation between fire and fox — and human. In the distance, eyes of approaching foxes mirror the twinkling night skies.

In contrast Nagasawa Rosetsu (1755-1799) depicts a gentle fox sitting facing the viewer with a wary expression, her fur bristling. A small fox kit, or puppy, peeps out playfully from behind.

The fox’s fur is created with hundreds of tiny brushstrokes applied with a very fine brush. The artist, Nagasawa Rosetsu, was a pupil of Maruyama Okyo, the Kyoto artist who encouraged the realistic depiction of animals. Rosetsu went on to develop his own vivacious style of painting.

Another shape-shifting animal is the tanuki, sometimes called a badger. It is actually, like the fox, a member of the dog family. It is also called a raccoon-dog because it resembles the North American raccoon.

There are many folk tales in Japan that involve the tanuki, as this animal, like the fox, is seen as a trickster who assumes various forms, often human, to get what he wants. A common disguise is that of a Buddhist priest or monk begging for food. In one tale, a kettle belonging to a Buddhist priest transformed itself into a tanuki. Tanukis are often shown with a sake (rice wine) bottle in one hand and an IOU in the other — a debt it never intends to repay.

Hokusai’sdrawing of two tanuki is a fairly realistic observation of two of the small canines in their natural habitat. The netsuke by an unknown artist is also more naturalistic than the usual folk representation of a tanuki, which is often depicted as a bawdy drunkard. This small jewel carved from ivory shows a realistic raccoon-dog seated on a sake bottle.

Gathering of Foxes at Oji from the series “One Hundred Famous Views of Edo”  

Printable Image
[Imagination 5-1]

Gathering of Foxes at Oji from the series “One Hundred Famous Views of Edo”
Ando Hiroshige (1797–1858)
Edo period (1603-1868)
Full-color woodblock print, ink on paper
USC Pacific Asia Museum Collection
Henrietta Hill Swope Collection, 1981.12.133

Fox and Puppy   Printable Image
[Imagination 5-2]

Fox and Puppy
Nagasawa Rosetsu (1755–1799)
18th century
Scroll painting, ink on silk
USC Pacific Asia Museum Collection
Gift of the Family of Elise Grilli, 1986.79.30 

Illustration of a Tanuki from the Manga, Vol. 14   Printable Image
[Imagination 5-3]

Illustration of a Tanuki from the Manga, Vol. 14

Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849)
1815
Leaf from a bound book, woodblock print, ink on paper
USC Pacific Asia Museum Collection
Gift of Mrs. Elizabeth Lowrie in memory of Mr. Robert T. Lowrie, 1978.16.278F page 31

Netsuke, Tanuki on a Sake Bottle   Printable Image
[Imagination 5-4]

Netsuke, Tanuki on a Sake Bottle

20th century
Ivory
USC Pacific Asia Museum Collection
Gift of the International Netsuke Foundation, 1991.79.24

6. Dragon Kings
This leaf from an album depicts a scene from a popular legend, Taishokan, in which a female diver steals a precious crystal ball from the Dragon King. On the boat, a group of court nobles look on with concern. In the legend, the Kaishokan, the highest ranking official under Japan's Emperor, was sent a special gift from his daughter, who had married the Emperor of China. The gift, a crystal ball containing an image of the Buddha, was seized on its way to Japan by the Dragon King. Determined to win back the crystal ball, the Kaishokan sent a woman diver after it. She succeeded in recapturing the ball from the dragon, but was killed in the attempt.

The painting has certainly been drawn from the artist's imagination. It is painted in the Tosa style, a very detailed, colorful style that was mainly employed in paintings for the Imperial Court in Kyoto. Some of the main characteristics of this style are the fine, even outlines, the strong mineral pigments and gold details, and the lack of perspective. This style was used in many Edo period Nara-e (Nara Pictures), illustrations of popular romances and legends, of which this is an example. They were painted by Buddhist painters in the ancient capital of Nara, so possess the same fine detail as many Buddhist paintings.

Kishi Ganku’s painting of a dragon coursing through storm clouds evokes traditional Chinese dragons. Although dragons reign underwater, they also fly and rule over clouds and storms. By allowing the ink to spread on dampened silk, the artist suggests the wispiness of clouds and fogs that cloak this dragon.

Hokusai sketches a more unusual dragon emerging from clouds in the sky. Not only do Japanese dragons cause thunderstorms, but the breath of a dragon also causes lightning or rain.

In the twentieth century, another large Japanese monster burst onto the world scene. In 1954, Toho Studios released Gojira, known world-wide as Godzilla. (The name Gojira derives from the English word “gorilla” and the Japanese word for “whale.”) A mutant spawned by a nuclear test, Godzilla mirrors Japanese anxiety about the atomic age. Like Japanese dragons, Godzilla emerges from underwater, breathing fire and bringing chaos.


Dragon Attacking Girl Diver  

Printable Image
[Imagination 6-1]
Dragon Attacking Girl Diver
Anonymous Artist
Early 18th century
Painting, ink, color, and gofun on paper
USC Pacific Asia Museum Collection
Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Jesse L. Greenstein, 1988.61.2

Dragon in the Clouds   Printable Image
[Imagination 6-2]
Dragon in the Clouds

Kishi Ganku (1756–1838)
circa 1800
Scroll painting, ink and color on silk
USC Pacific Asia Museum Collection
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. George A. Brumder, 1988.78.6B

Illustration of a Dragon from the Manga   Printable Image
[Imagination 6-3]
Illustration of a Dragon from the Manga

Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849)
1815
Leaf from a bound book, woodblock print, ink on paper
USC Pacific Asia Museum Collection
Gift of Evelyn and Eleanor Moles, 1982.27.7
Gojira   Printable Image
[Imagination 6-4]

Gojira
Ishiro Honda, director
1954
Feature Motion Picture
Courtesy Toho Studios

7. Blue Robot Cat
Doraemon (based on the Japanese words for “stray cat”) is probably the most famous manga character in Japan, seen in as many places and on as many products as Mickey Mouse or Snoopy in the United States. Not only are there Doraemon TV cartoons and manga, but fans of the blue robot cat may also purchase Doraemon candy, keychains, and yogurt.

The premise of the Doraemon cartoon series is that the clever blue robot cat was sent from the future to help Nobita, a little boy who seems to fail at everything he tries. Doraemon assists Nobita with clever gadgets that he pulls from a four-dimensional pocket. Unfortunately, Nobita’s greediness often makes these gadgets backfire. Doraemon’s only resemblance to a living cat is his whiskers — and his fear of mice.

Most Doraemon manga and TV cartoons pile on the slapstick humor, but there is a universal message in all of them: Even though Nobita turns the tables on bullies, he learns he must treat others around him with compassion.

Doraemon is crudely drawn and the cartoon’s linework is often slipshod and unsophisticated. In the spirit of the mythological animals depicted by traditional Japanese artists, however, this blue beast is delightful and firmly entrenched in Japanese cultural traditions.

Doraemon  

Printable Image
[Imagination 7-1]
Doraemon
by“Fujiko Fujio,”Abiko Motoo and Fujimoto Hiroshi
1970
Earless Blue Cat Robot
Copyright © Tentomusi Comics
Administered by Fujiko Pro, Tokyo


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