Monday, June 30, 2008

Simple art of serenity

"DESIGN the pond with respect to its position in the land, follow its request; when you encounter a potential site, consider its atmosphere; think of the mountains and waters of living nature and reflect constantly upon such settings."

So wrote Tachibana no Toshitsuna towards the end of the 11th century, in Sakuteiki, perhaps the world's earliest gardening manual.
Inspired by themes of Buddhism, which arrived in Japan from China in the 5th century, Japanese gardens honour the balance between nature and humanity. The principals of Japanese garden design derive from an observation of nature: gardens may be a symbolic re-creation of a landscape through the placement of just a fewrocks or may represent, in miniature, a complete landscape.

Throughout his life Shiro Nakane, one of Japan's foremost landscapers, has been acutely aware of the country's most revered and respected gardens. The son of Kinsaku Nakane, who restored many of the country's greatest gardens after the deprivations of World War II, Nakane grew up in the ancient Japanese capital of Kyoto, amid the post-war restoration of the city's treasured temples, shrines and gardens.

His personal library is the repository of the pictorial records of the rebuilding of these great gardens, sites now well known to garden lovers across the world: the Katsura and Shugakuin imperial gardens, the gold and silver pavilions and the revered moss garden, precious sites that hadbeen neglected during the war, when survival took precedence.

The different elements that contribute to the success of the Japanese garden - often painted with such a light hand that they are difficult to articulate - are influenced by the principals set out in Sakuteiki. Scale is important in the creation of a restful garden, and a balance of one-third active - that is, planted - space and two-thirds passive is considered optimum to engender a sense of calm. The relationship of a garden to its environment - the borrowed scenery, or shakkei, perhaps distant mountains, or simply a tree in a neighbour's garden - is crucial.
Shiro Nakane adds three essential elements: the stone lantern, the water basin and the pine tree. "The pine tree has been a feature since the 11thcentury, but the water basin and stone lantern were used only from the 16th century," he says.

The plant list employed in Japanese gardens is not extensive: judicious use of a restricted palette contributes to the peaceful atmosphere so central to them; the colour green is a key factor.
Contrary to popular belief, Nakane says, flowers are also important in Japanese gardens as they reflect the changing seasons. Early spring finds hillsides covered in cherry blossom - revered as central to ideas of elegance, delicacy and the melancholy of fleeting beauty - and azaleas about to bloom in hues of cerise, purple and pink.

Two species of pine are most often used and signify endurance: the Japanese black pine (Pinus thunbergia), and the red pine (Pinus densiflora), which may be shaped through the decades to create layers of elegant, horizontal limbs that drape long needles.

The outstretched arms of a Japanese weeping maple, with its fine, filigreed leaves, might be reflected in still water and Osmanthus fragrans, native to Japan, is greatly prized for its scent, along with gardenias and daphne. Pieris japonica is revered, flowering in spring with cascades of white bells, often arresting against a carpet of emerald green moss.
Winding paths, set with stepping stones placed to temper the pace of a journey, are softened with kidney weed, Dichondra micrantha. Paths that flank a lake may be edged with small-leaved box, with miniature bamboo or mondo grass.

Japanese gardens fall into different categories, although several styles may be embodied in a single garden. Dry gardens, or dry landscapes - karesansui - are derived from a Zen Buddhist focus on meditation, the path to self-awareness. Temple gardens were intended to be more striking, many built by shoguns as a display of wealth and power.
Stroll gardens, such as Shugakuin, were often created by the ruling elite as personal pleasure grounds, while tea gardens were incorporated into the grounds of temples and embodied ideals ofdiscipline.

Nakane and his staff are engaged in the continual monitoring of Kyoto's most important gardens: at Shugakuin, his firm has completed a full inventory of plants. "We even counted the pebbles," he recalls. "All 153,000."

Along with a minimalist respect that eschews waste, Nakane explains that history and time are crucial to the unique nature of the Japanese garden. "Our national aesthetic says that Japan should stay until everything is covered in moss," he explains. "Long tradition is important. We do not change for change's sake."

http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,23932256-13223,00.html

Thursday, June 26, 2008

A dream realized


At Zbraslav Chateau, a visionary Asian art exhibit

By Tony Ozuna
For The Prague Post
June 18th, 2008 issue

Part two of the monumental exhibition “Figural Painting of East Asia” at Zbraslav Chateau has been extended for two weeks, until June 22. In its entirety, the exhibit spans centuries of Chinese and Japanese figural painting, from the beginning of the first millennium to the 20th century.

The exhibition is a tribute to Lubor Hájek (1921–2000), the founder and director (from 1952 to 1986) of the National Gallery’s Oriental Art Collection, who organized the same show at Brno’s Dům umění (House of Art) in 1980.

Hájek had intended the exhibition to be accompanied by an extensive catalog that he spent years preparing, writing the texts and doing the layout for reproductions of 180 works chosen mainly from the National Gallery’s special collection of Asian art (most of which are stored in a depository due to their fragility). Unfortunately, there weren’t enough funds to realize this integral complement to the exhibition.

Now, eight years after Hájek’s death and 28 years since the original show, his dream has been realized. The current director and curator of the Collection of Asian Art, Helena Honcoopová, has reconstructed the exhibition and finally had Hájek’s catalog published, with financial help from the Japan Foundation and the Tiang Ting-Kuo Foundation of Taiwan. Though the text is only in Czech, it contains some fine-quality reproductions.

Lubor Hájek was a Czech pioneer in the history and philosophy of Asian art. A student of Indology and comparative religion at Charles University after World War II, he taught himself the history of Asian art, beginning with his tenure as an editor for the Czech magazine New Orient. In 1951, he was authorized by the National Gallery to establish a new state collection of Oriental Art, and practically single-handedly built a very basic collection into the current holdings of some 12,000 pieces, particularly strong in the ancient art of China.

Hájek remains unique, without peers in his time or since. He was the last of the Czech Orientalists, meaning he had a broad knowledge of Asian art and history from various regions and periods, rather than being a specialist, like the vast majority of today’s scholars. This was to his advantage, giving him the necessary basis for objective comparisons.

Moreover, Hájek was a philosopher whose elegant essays compared the development of Asian art with developments in European art. Unfortunately, most of his publications were written for export and not made available locally, including the original text for the catalog. Thus, his scholarly contributions were overlooked in his own country.

There are visual delights in every section of this exhibition, which in its entirety was originally divided into nine sections (five devoted to Chinese art and four to Japanese works). For instance, from the section “Classical Tradition of Figural Painting,” there is a fine painting of Chinese polo players on brown silk, originally created by Zhao Mengfu (1254–1322) but presented here in a copy from the 17th–18th century. And Magnificent Horses (done in ink and pigment) from around 1600 is a masterpiece.

There are also grand Chinese portraits from the 1500–1800s done in elegant detail and color. These were commonly made by having family members describe the features of deceased ministers to professional portraitists, like criminal investigative sketches are done today.
Most of the display on the second floor of the exhibit is devoted to Japanese art, specifically the figurative tradition of Yamato-e (classical Japanese pictures), with folding screen or panel paintings of courtesan beauties, as well as a section of an erotic scroll (shunga) from around 1800 showing three positions from the Manual of Love-Making.

In the section “Written Idea and Ink Play” in the main salon, there are some remarkable works in which Chinese masters from the 17th and 18th centuries combine thin brush work (for fine or playful detail) with rougher or more flowing sections of finger painting.

Even if you missed the first part of this exhibition, the second half is worth seeing, filled with the National Gallery’s usually hidden treasures of East Asian figural painting, displayed in the unique arrangement of sections determined by Hájek. It is smartly incorporated within the context of the permanent installation of Asian art (one of the largest such displays in Europe) and the special two-year exhibit “The Art of Korea,” on loan from the National Museum of Korea until 2009.

Until June 29, you can also see “Art for Daily Life,” a special traveling show of handmade contemporary Japanese crafts from the Japan Foundation’s collection, including regionally unique types of ceramics, metalwork, lacquerware, wood and bamboo crafts, paper and more.
The National Gallery’s vast collection of Asian art will remain at Zbraslav Chateau for only another year, after which it will be moved from the Baroque chateau — a former monastery designed by Santini — to a much smaller exhibition space in Kinský palác on Old Town Square (600 square meters compared with the current 2,400 square meters), as the chateau will revert to private ownership. Try to visit this remarkable oasis of Asian art, just 15 minutes by bus from Smíchov, while it’s still possible.

http://www.praguepost.com/articles/2008/06/18/a-dream-realized.php


Monday, June 16, 2008

Mount Fuji Ukiyo-E




Mt. Fuji off Kanagawa

Hokusai (1760-1849) created "Mt. Fuji Off Kanagawa" (popularly known in the West as "The Wave") as part of his subscription series, "Thirty-Six Views of Mt. Fuji," completed between 1826 and 1833. This is one of the best-known Japanese woodblock prints, and with others of this period inspired the entire French Impressionist school. James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1903, of "Whistler's Mother" fame) was strongly influenced by the strong lines and bright colors of Japanese prints.


You can buy a poster of this beautiful woodblock print on Amazon:






Mount Fuji in Clear Weather. This is often also known as "Red Fuji".






Scenic Mount Fuji

Source:
http://ifaq.wap.org/posters/fujioffkanagawa.html
http://www.csse.monash.edu.au/~jwb/ukiyoe/hokusai.html

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Balinese arts troupe to visit Japan

Denpasar, Bali (ANTARA News) - A 13-member Balinese arts troupe is slated to leave for Japan on Sept 3 for a three-week long mission.

"They will conduct a series of art performances in a number of Japanese cities from Sept 3 to 20," I Nyoman Budi Artha, chief of the Pusaka Sakti Batuan dance gallery in Gianyar, said on Monday.

A travel agent which had so far dealt with Japanese tourists to Bali would sponsor the mission, he said.

"The Balinese arts troupe`s mission is aimed at entertaining the Japanese people as well as at promoting Bali`s tourism in Japan," he said.

The arts troupe was the winner of the third prize of the Batuan Art Festival (BAF) held at Batuan village in Gianyar district, Bali, from May 29 to June 2, he said.

http://www.antara.co.id/en/arc/2008/6/2/balinese-arts-troupe-to-visit-japan/

Monday, June 9, 2008

Videogame guru Miyamoto - still ahead of the curve

Father of Donkey Kong, Mario, Zelda and, most recently, the Wii, Nintendo's Miyamoto still approaches his work like a humble craftsman

It's OK to liken Shigeru Miyamoto to Walt Disney.

When Disney died in 1966, Miyamoto was a 14-year-old schoolteacher's son living near Kyoto, Japan's ancient capital. An aspiring cartoonist, he adored the classic Disney characters. When he wasn't drawing, he made his own toys, carving wooden puppets with his grandfathers' tools or devising a car race from a spare motor, string and tin cans.

Even as he has become the world's most famous and influential video-game designer - the father of Donkey Kong, Mario, Zelda and, most recently, the Wii - Miyamoto still approaches his work like a humble craftsman, not as the celebrity he is to gamers around the world.

Perched on the end of a chair in a hotel suite a few dozen stories above Midtown Manhattan, the preternaturally cherubic 55-year-old Miyamoto radiated the contentment of someone who has always wanted to make fun. And he has. As the creative mastermind at Nintendo for almost three decades, Miyamoto has unleashed mass entertainment with a global breadth, cultural endurance and financial success unsurpassed since Disney's fabled career.

In the West, chances are that Miyamoto would have started his own company a long time ago. He could have made billions and established himself as a staple of entertainment celebrity. Instead, despite being royalty at Nintendo and a cult figure, he almost comes across as just another salaryman (though a particularly creative and happy one) with a wife and two school-age children at home near Kyoto. He is not tabloid fodder, and he seems to maintain a relatively nondescript lifestyle.

Mario, the mustached Italian plumber he created almost 30 years ago, has become by some measures the planet's most recognized fictional character, rivaled only by Mickey Mouse. As the creator of the Donkey Kong, Mario and Zelda series (which have collectively sold more than 350 million copies) and the person who ultimately oversees every Nintendo game, Miyamoto may be personally responsible for the consumption of more billions of hours of human time than anyone around. In the Time 100 online poll conducted this spring, Miyamoto was voted the most influential person in the world.

But it isn't just traditional gamers who are flocking to Miyamoto's latest creation, the Wii. Eighteen months ago, just when video games were in danger of disappearing into the niche world of fanatics, Miyamoto and Satoru Iwata, Nintendo's chief executive, practically reinvented the industry. Their idea was revolutionary in its simplicity: rather than create a new generation of games that would titillate hard-core players, they developed the Wii as an easy-to-use, inexpensive diversion for families (with a particular appeal to women, an audience generally immune to the pull of traditional video games). So far the Wii has sold more than 25 million units, besting the competition from Sony and Microsoft.

In an effort to build on this success, Nintendo released its Wii Fit system in North America May 19. It is a device that hopes to make doing yoga in front of a television screen almost as much fun as driving, throwing, jumping or shooting in a traditional game.

In a global media culture dominated by American faces, tastes and brands, video games are Japan's most successful cultural export. And on the strength of the Wii and the DS hand-held game system, Nintendo has become one of the most valuable companies in Japan. With a net worth of around $8 billion, Nintendo's former chairman, Hiroshi Yamauchi, is now the richest man in Japan, according to Forbes magazine. (Nintendo does not disclose Miyamoto's compensation, but it appears that he has not joined the ranks of the superrich.)

"Without Miyamoto, Nintendo would be back making playing cards," said Andy McNamara, editor in chief of Game Informer, the No. 1 game magazine, referring to Nintendo's original business in 1889. "He probably inspires 99 percent of the developers out there today. You can even say there wouldn't be video games today if it wasn't for Miyamoto and Nintendo. He's the granddad of all game developers, but the funny thing is that for all of his legacy, for all of the mainstay iconic characters he's designed and created, he is still pushing the limits with things like Wii Fit."

Started as a staff artist

Miyamoto graduated from the Kanazawa College of Art in 1975 and joined Nintendo two years later as a staff artist. The original Donkey Kong was a prime force in gaming's early surge of popularity, along with arcade classics like Space Invaders, Asteroids and Pac-Man.

He rose quickly at the company, and his name has been synonymous with Nintendo since the 1980s, when the original "Mario Bros." games helped save the industry after the collapse of Atari, maker of the first broadly popular home console. When Atari failed amid a slew of unpopular games, Nintendo rekindled faith in home gaming systems; the Nintendo Entertainment System, released in the West in 1985, became the best-selling console of its era.

Since then Miyamoto has been directly involved in the production of at least 70 games, including recent hits like Mario Kart Wii, Super Smash Bros. Brawl, Super Mario Galaxy and Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. Miyamoto supervises about 400 people, including contractors, almost entirely in Japan. The popular new installments in classic game franchises have maintained his credibility among core gamers even as he has reached out to new audiences with mass-market products like the Wii.

Through all his games, his designs are marked by an accumulation of care and detail. There is nothing objective about why a goofy guy in blue overalls like Mario should appeal to so many, just as there is nothing objective in how Disney could have built a company on talking animals. Rather, the reason I stood in line at a pizzeria more than 20 years ago to play Super Mario Bros., the reason Miyamoto is almost a living god in the game world, is that his games have some ineffable lure that inspires you to drop just one more quarter (or, these days, to stay on the couch just one more hour).

Just as a film is not measured by the quality of its special effects, a game is not measured merely by its graphics. This concept is lost on many designers, but not on Miyamoto. And just as a film buff might prefer to watch an old black-and-white movie instead of, say, "Iron Man," even Miyamoto's earliest games hold up as worthy diversions. (The story of two men battling for the world record in Donkey Kong was made into a film, "The King of Kong," last year.)

"There are very few people in the video game industry who have managed to succeed time after time at a world-class level, and Miyamoto-san is one of them," Graham Hopper, a Disney veteran and executive vice president and general manager of Disney Interactive Studios, said in a telephone interview. "The level of creative success that he has achieved over a sustained period is probably unparalleled."

Given that its roster of characters includes not only Mario and Donkey Kong but also Princess Peach, Zelda, Bowser and Link, it's easy to imagine that Miyamoto designs his games around those characters.

The truth is exactly the opposite. According to Miyamoto, gameplay systems and mechanics have always come first, while the characters are created and deployed in the service of the overall design. That means a focus on the seemingly prosaic basic elements of game design: movement, setting, goals to accomplish and obstacles to overcome.

"I feel that people like Mario and people like Link and the other characters we've created not for the characters themselves, but because the games they appear in are fun," he said. "And because people enjoy playing those games first, they come to love the characters as well."

Moving into realism

Miyamoto's work is evolving from a reliance on invented characters and fanciful, outlandish settings like Mario's Mushroom Kingdom or Zelda's mythical Hyrule. With games like Nintendogs (inspired by his pet Shetland sheepdog), Wii Sports, Wii Fit and coming next, Wii Music, Miyamoto is gravitating toward everyday hobbies: pets, bowling, yoga, Hula-Hoop, music. It is as if an artist who had mastered the abstract had finally moved into realism.

It has proved the perfect strategy as Nintendo reaches out to nongamers who may not care to understand why this frantic plumber keeps jumping on top of turtles, or why that gallant fellow in green has to keep rescuing the same princess over and over. At this moment, when consumers crave the ability to shape and become a part of their entertainment, whether through MySpace or "American Idol," the latest star in Nintendo's stable of characters is you - or rather Mii, the whimsical avatar Wii users create of themselves.

With a track record like his, it would be foolish to bet against him. When it comes to the Walt Disney of the digital generation, no one knows fun better.

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/05/31/MNIG10T8KT.DTL

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

10 Japanese Customs you Must Know Before a Trip to Japan

If you know these key Japanese customs, you’ll get closer to the locals and see beneath the surface of Japan.
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1. Addressing Someone, Respect

Bowing is nothing less than an art form in Japan, respect pounded into children’s heads from the moment they enter school. For tourists, a simple inclination of the head or an attempt at a bow at the waist will usually suffice.

The duration and inclination of the bow is proportionate to the elevation of the person you’re addressing.
For example, a friend might get a lightning-fast 30-degree bow; an office superior might get a slow, extended, 70-degree bow. It’s all about position and circumstance.

In addition to bowing, addressing someone properly is key. Just as a “Dr. Smith” might feel a little insulted if you were to refer to him as “Smith”, so would a Japanese if you do not attach the suffix “san” to their last name, or “sama” if you are trying to be particularly respectful.

Usually children are content with just their first names, but you can add the suffix “chan” for girls and “kun” for boys if you like.

2. Table Manners

Some simple bullet points here:
- If you’re with a dinner party and receive drinks, wait before raising the glass to your lips. Everyone will be served, and someone will take the lead, make a speech, raise his drink, and yell “kampai!” (cheers).

- You will receive a small wet cloth at most Japanese restaurants. Use this to wash your hands before eating, then carefully fold it and set it aside on the table. Do not use it as a napkin, or to touch any part of your face.

- Slurping noodles or making loud noises while eating is OK! In fact, slurping hot food like ramen is polite, to show you are enjoying it.

- You may raise bowls to your mouth to make it easier to eat with chopsticks, especially bowls of rice.

- Just before digging in, whether it be a seven-course dinner or a sample at a supermarket, it’s polite to say “itadakimasu” (I will receive).

3. No Tipping

There is no tipping in any situation in Japan – cabs, restaurants, personal care. To tip someone is actually a little insulting; the services you’ve asked for are covered by the price given, so why pay more?

If you are in a large area like Tokyo and can’t speak any Japanese, a waiter or waitress might take the extra money you happen to leave rather than force themselves to deal with the awkward situation of explaining the concept of no tipping in broken English.

Just remind yourself: a price is a price.


4. Chopsticks

Depending on the restaurant you decide upon for that evening, you may be required to use chopsticks.

If for some reason you aren’t too adept with chopsticks, try to learn before passing through immigration. It’s really not that hard.

One false assumption among many Japanese that’s slowly being dispelled by time is the “uniqueness” of Japan. Japan is an island nation; Japan is the only country that has four seasons; foreigners can’t understand Japan; only Japanese can use chopsticks properly.

I cannot count the number of times I’ve been told I use Japanese chopsticks with skill and grace, despite the fact I’ve seen three-year-olds managing just as well.

If you’re dining with a Japanese, don’t be surprised if you receive a look of amazement at your ability to eat like a Japanese.



5. Thresholds

Take off your shoes at the entrance to all homes, and most businesses and hotels. Usually a rack will be provided to store your shoes, and pair of guest slippers will be sitting nearby; many Japanese bring a pair of indoor slippers just in case, though.

Never wear slippers when you need to step onto a tatami mat (used in most Japanese homes and hotels; the standard unit of measurement for area even today), and be careful to remove the toilet slippers waiting for you in the bathroom.

It is extremely bad form, for example, to reenter the main room of a house wearing slippers that have been running across dirty linoleum.

6. Masks





SARS is long gone, though I did happen to see a “SARS Preparation Kit” during my brief stay in a Japanese hospital.

Nevertheless, sterilized masks, like the ones you’d see in the emergency room, are commonly used by salarymen, office ladies, and municipal workers to protect other people from their germs.

Rather sensible when you think about it, as masks do not protect the wearer so much as the ones around him. The reason could be anything from a slight cold to simply being worried about exposing other people; don’t let it concern you on your Japanese vacation.

7. Conformity

When groups of high school students in Japan were asked to identify the dangers facing children today, the majority agreed on the number one threat: individualism.

Japanese society is focused on the group. Western cultures are focused on the individual.
Does this mean that the Japanese are nothing more that worker bees in a vast hive of steel and concrete? Certainly not, but their presentation of such individual qualities are carefully calculated and given in doses.

Drawing attention to yourself as an individual is a huge no-no: don’t blow your nose in public, try to avoid eating while on the go, and don’t speak on your cell phone in crowded public areas like trains or buses.

The main problem with this is that foreigners simply can’t avoid standing out; we stick out like sore thumbs no matter how long we’ve been here, or how much we know about Japanese culture and society.

As a result, being in Japan gives foreigners the status of D-level celebrities: you’ll get glances, shouts for attention, calls to have pictures taken with people, requests for autographs (happened once to me on a southern island), and overall just more awareness of being a “stake that sticks out”.

8. Bathing





Public bathhouses are alive and well in Japan.
Sento, or neighborhood bathhouses, can be found from the largest area in Shinjuku to a small town on the island of Shikoku.

Onsen, or hot springs, are very popular as weekend excursion resorts.

Unlike in western cultures, the Japanese bath is used after you have washed and rinsed, and feel like soaking in extra-hot water for 10, 20, 30 minutes. It’s an acquired taste to be sure, but can be very relaxing.

If you happen to be invited into a Japanese household, you will be given the honor of using the bath first, usually before dinner. Be extra careful so as to not dirty the water in any way; the sanctity of the ofuro (bath) is of utmost importance.

Take the time to visit a sento if you have the opportunity. These are places without barriers, without regard to skin color, age, or language… well, they are separated by sex with the exception of some mixed-bathing areas.

Lying in the hot water and slowly listening to my heart beat slow down is a time when I feel most attuned to Japanese culture.

9. Speaking English

Japanese will generally assume you are a native English speaker until you prove otherwise.

Even during a short visit, you’ll see:
-A group of schoolchildren in neatly pressed Prussian uniforms walking across the intersection, shouting “Hello! Hello! Herro!” as they assess your foreign features

-A random person just walking up to you and asking “Where are you from?”
Friendly? Certainly. But I can see how constant celebrity status might get confusing or frustrating for travelers who don’t speak English.

Although you may speak some or fluent Japanese, the default language of choice is English.

Many Japanese will insist on using their own English language ability, however limited, to converse with foreigners, in spite of the fact that the person on the opposing end may have more knowledge of the local tongue.

10. Safety

Every Japanese person I have met warns me to be safe in my travels, to take care of my belongings. Every foreigner tells me not to worry, nothing can go wrong, nothing will be stolen.

This may be based on individual experience, but there are other issues:

- The fear of crime in Japan is high, especially among Japanese citizens.

- Murders happen. I repeat, murders happen. People are attacked, robbed, assaulted, raped, beaten, and swindled

However, Japan’s low crime rate is evident when you see businessmen who have missed the last train sleeping outside on a park bench, or a group of 5-year-old boys walking by themselves for over a kilometer to make the starting bell at school.
Source:

Monday, June 2, 2008

Celebrating the kimono

BY SHARON SCHLEGEL
Special to the Times

The kimono, a fashion classic with a fascinating history, is very much alive.
Right now, fashion-minded shoppers can find "kimono-sleeved" blouses on sale, a hot spring item, while lingerie designers consider the short, kimono-style wrap robe a staple of intimate apparel.

But an up-close look at the beauty of the traditional floor-length kimono, which emerged in Japan in the eighth century as both an all-purpose everyday garment and a robe for special occasions, is a lot harder to come by.

Through July 20, 85 original and breath-taking kimono (the plural is the same as the singular) are on display, in all their brilliance of color and riotous range of pattern, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art's new Perelman Building. The exhibit, "Fashioning Kimono: Art Deco and Modernism in Japan," has been brought to U.S. shores for the first time by Swiss collector Jeffrey Montgomery. It dates from the early to mid-20th century, when the kimono was at its height of its creative design, its patterns heavily influenced by Europe's budding Art Deco and Art Nouveau movements.

Included are a wide range of artfully woven and hand-painted silks: from watercolor-like Japanese pastoral scenes, which typically include cranes and bamboo, to oversize florals, abstract patterns and bold geometrics, which jump out at you like 1960s Op Art.

The unusual color combinations and freedom of design are stunning. One typically fanciful stylized floral pattern pits orange and pink rose-like flowers, set inside gold six-pointed stars, against a background of magenta. A 1910 stencil-printed silk weave boasts enormous white and yellow camellias, with long, languorous green or blue leaves, all set against a brilliant red.
A 1930s example looks like intertwined strands of DNA: mingled vertical lines of yellow, red and white, in bold contrast to a black background. The pattern seems totally contemporary, but was actually influenced by European Cubist art of the time.

As the exhibit's title indicates, the explosion of interest in what European artists and designers in the early to mid-20th century called "Orientalism" was matched by the strong influence of European Art Deco and Modernism on Japanese kimono patterns.

Also not to be missed are nine rare men's kimono, with a whole different dynamic. These are each of solemn black silk -- on the outside. But they are propped open to reveal linings covered with calligraphy or gorgeously hand-illustrated scenes: battlefield encounters, processions of feudal lords, boats passing under Mount Fuji.

The idea, explains Kristina Hoagland, the exhibit's curator and the museum's associate curator of textile and design, was to modestly "hide your extravagance" by placing the intricately inked adornment out of sight, inside the kimono.

Japanese sumptuary laws frowning on public display of wealth, she says, encouraged the idea of hidden beauty in male apparel. Hoagland compares the custom to the wearing of designer labels on the inside, as they used to be through the 1950s, lending pride to the owner and his "in the know" class of friends alone.

Montgomery, who gathered the collection over 30 years, recently described his first glimpse of them, at the exhibit's press opening.

"I felt an extraordinary energy, and a relation to both Art Nouveau and Art Deco in many of them. I'm still taken by their beauty, but when I first found them, they were being discarded."
That was the result of changing values after World War II. Prior to that, the kimono was proudly seen as Japan's national costume. After the war, when Japan sought to Westernize, the kimono was no longer welcome. Thousands of kimono were tossed away or burned. The era of the "living" kimono, when the garb was worn routinely, ended.

Yet the kimono's international fashion influence did not. It had started as early as 1910, when French fashion pioneer Paul Poiret helped bring women out of stiff-boned corsets and into softer silhouettes, using wide, loose sleeves, and cocoonlike wrap coats, clearly kimono-inspired. Although the kimono remained in post-war use in Japan for ceremonial occasions alone, at the turn of the 21st century, a new generation of Japanese women rediscovered it. Today, women in their 20s and 30s in Japan are sometimes seen sporting a kimono at graduation ceremonies, or even wearing them as coats.

Meanwhile, a growing interest in vintage kimono has helped unearth precious originals long packed away and preserved.

This gorgeous exhibit shows clearly that while today's high-speed world may be a recent phenomenon, the interplay of cultural influence between nations is hardly brand new.

http://www.nj.com/living/times/index.ssf?/base/living-1/1211861141253740.xml&coll=5