The Land of the Rising Sun.
A Pacific Ocean island, the far East, lying to the west of China. Japan translates as ‘sun origin’, or ‘sunrise’ ; it carries a rich and ancient cultural and textile history, characterised by detail and exactitude.
Japanese culture rose to Western attention in 16thC through the religious and economic activity of Portuguese and Spanish merchant traders and missionaries. Following a period of diplomatic withdrawal (the Tokugawa shogunate), contact was renewed by the mid-19thC and very soon its art, textiles and costumes came to be highly regarded, sought-after and emulated in Europe. Claude Monet’s appreciation for Japan and his collection of exquisite miniature paintings is evident in his work, perhaps particularly in the Japanese bridge he built over his famous lily pond.
Our understanding and general interpretation of Japanese style in architecture and interior furnishings and design is described as Zen: minimal, clean, neat, tidy, austere, calm and quiet, associated with our notions of Zen Buddhism and the symbolic tea ceremony.
Ritual and order lead to quiet contemplation. Traditional Japanese design is meaningful: gravel combed into spirals and circles; ikebana floral arrangement, using one or just a few flowers; the kimono, a garment for every occasion; shibori textiles woven in indigo and white; raiku wood fired pottery; Haiku poetry with its’ limit of 17 syllables.
Wabi-sab, the Japanese aesthetic, is difficult to translate, a phrase which describes a worldview – ‘the perfection of imperfection’, and the deep underlying value that this goes to the maker, to the object and to the user.
This concept underlies all tradition of hand crafting. Creating things that are well-made and used well, with meaning and quality–indeed, something that has been hand- made and withstood the test of time has a beauty that transcends monetary value.
From Japan we have among much else – glass beads, ribbons, Shibori weaves, Sashiko stitch work, Indigo dyed fabrics, pottery, bamboo, Shoji paper screens, paper folding, cherry blossom, moon watching, the Kimono, the Noh theatre, Tatami mats, bamboo, and beautiful fibres in pineapple, banana, abaca. And Haiku.