Friday, August 28, 2015

"Then said Jesus unto them" - An Example of Japanese Ukiyoe Prints


An Example of Japanese Ukiyoe Prints

Once there was a very unique a Japanese ukiyo-e print artist called Sya-raku.  He produced his works only in 10 months from 1794 to 1795 in the Edo era when the samurai shogun governed Japan.

His works were unique even to Japanese fans of ukiyo-e print art or pictures of everyday life in the Edo Period.  At the time, the kabuki play was one of big entertainments for citizens of Edo, the political capital of Japan at the time, which is now Tokyo.  Accordingly, ukiyo-e print artists depicted kabuki actors with enthusiasm.  Their works were sold well like pictures of movie stars of today.  Sya-raku also portrayed kabuki actors.  However, he did not try to simply make those actors look good and cool, but he emphasized characters and personalities of actors even to a degree where they looked odd or ugly.

And, since Sya-raku soon disappeared after 10-month professional activities, his works were somewhat forgotten and neglected.  Meanwhile, the samurai regime fell through a civil war, putting an end to national isolation of Japan.  And, westernization of the Japanese society started in 1860s.

As Japan opened the nation, Japanese art works came to be widely introduced into Europe and the US.  In this trend, ukiyo-e print art became very popular among artists and art fans in Europe.  And, German collector Julius Kurth wrote a book about Sha-raku in 1910, in which he appraised Sharaku's portraits as high as those of Rembrandt and Velázquez.

Responding to high reputation of Sha-raku in Europe, Japanese turned anew their eyes to Sha-raku and discovered extraordinary artistic merit in his works.  Today, Sha-raku is admitted to be one of the greatest artists in the samurai-ruled Edo Period when Japan was governed by the Tokugawa shogun between 1603 and 1868.  And, the most popular print of Sha-raku's works was the one titled Third-Generation Otani Oniji Acting Guy Edo-be.

Third-Generation Otani Oniji Acting Guy Edo-be

In a certain kabuki play, this guy called Edo-be is going to attack a subordinate samurai, called Ippei, to rob him of money.  His determination to do evil is well depicted in his face and hands.  This print, produced in early days of Sha-raku's activities, is regarded as the best of his 150 works.

The most controversial point in this work is the hands of Edo-be.  Some critics say that Sya-raku failed to express the hands well in proportion.  Others say that Sya-raku was not good at drawing human hands.  Or, even a notable Japanese artist once said, "It is an unbelievable mistake.  Sha-raku was a poor portrait artist, though his works are so impressive."  However, in other works, Sya-raku depicted hands of kabuki players so well.

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Sya-raku could draw hands of men well.  But why did he present such deformed hands in Third-Generation Otani Oniji as Guy Edo-be?  To know truth, we have to understand that this work was originally produced in a pair with First-Generation Ichikawa Omezo Acting Guy Ippei.

First-Generation Ichikawa Omezo Acting Guy Ippei

While Edo-be is ready for attacking Ippei, Ippei is also preparing for a fight, drawing a sword.  Facing the sword, Edo-be must feel extreme danger, trembling and shuddering.  But his will to carry out an evil act is so determined.  Under this mental conflict, Edo-be's hands start to shake nervously.  This movement is what Sya-raku wanted to express.  So, it looks rather natural when the prints are shown side by side.

三世大谷鬼次の奴江戸兵衛 市川男女蔵の奴一平

The mystery is now solved.  Sya-raku presented the strange formation of Edo-be's hands on purpose; it is not a mistake or a failure.  It shows a dynamic and nervous motion of Edo-be's hands before Ippei's sword being drawn.

Today, some experts support this view.  Even a psychologist named Iwao Akita has strongly argued this idea, even asserting that Edo-be is a self-portrait of Sya-raku himself (  They argue that these deformed hands make this work the most valuable one among Sya-raku's works.  The hands so disproportionate and amateurish are a result of exerting genius by Sya-raku.

There are many things in this world that could be only fully understood in a pair with their other half.  If there is a mystery in something, it may be well solved when viewing it in a pair with its other half.

For example, the Kingdom of God may be well understood when thinking about it in a pair with the hell or this real world contaminated by money and human desire.

In addition, there has been another mystery about identity of Sya-raku who disappeared from the ukiyu-e print market after only 10-month engagement.  But it is now widely believed that Sya-raku was a samurai who served a certain samurai lord as an expert in Noh dramas.  The Japanese  dramatic art Noh is sometimes called No-gaku.  And the same kanji letter meaning music, fun, or easiness applies to both raku of Sya-raku and gaku of No-gaku.  Sya means copying.

This samurai was named Saito Jyuro-be.  Sya-raku's full name was Tojyu-sai (or Tosyu-sai) Sya-raku.  And, Saito Jyu of the samurai name can be simply transposed to Tojyu-sai that means a goodman of an east country.

Finally, I think it is also a mystery why in a work Tosyu-sai Sya-raku depicted a samurai holding a sword in an impossible manner.  Spatial configuration of his right hand and fingers is strange.  With the thumb and the index finger touching each other at their tips in such formation, you cannot hold a sword.


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Joh 8:28 Then said Jesus unto them, When ye have lifted up the Son of man, then shall ye know that I am he, and that I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

"O ye of little faith?" - The Ji-syu School of Japanese Buddhists

The Pacific Coast 100 km west of Tokyo

The Ji-syu School of Japanese Buddhists

There was once a Buddhist saint in Japan who traveled and preached like Christ Jesus, leading his disciples and wearing rags.

In 1274 and 1281, Mongolians or descendants of Genghis Khan who had occupied China to establish the Yuan dynasty in 1271, tried to invade Japan, in vain twice.

At the time Japan was ruled by the first samurai regime established by Minamoto-no Yoshitomo and his clan called Genji and succeeded by his successor, the Hojyo clan.  These samurais set the political capital of Japan in Kamakura, 80 km west of present-day Tokyo, while the Emperor still presided ritually in Kyoto 500 km west of Kamakura.

Though Yoshitomo was a shogun, the head of the samurai class, Hojyo chiefs did not suceed power as a shogun but deputy of the shogun.  The Hojyo clan controlled all over Japan, except Hokkaido and Okinawa, from Kamakura.  Their rule continued from about 1190 to 1333.  This samurai regime was uniquely appraised by its brave and successful wars against invading Mongolians and accompanying Koreans.  The wars are emphatically taught in history class in Japanese schools as "Mongol Invasion Attempts," since typhoons called kamikaze contributed to the victory of the samurai government of Kamakura.

In March 1282, a band of poor people led by a Buddhist priest in rags approached a checking point before the city of Kamakura.  Then, samurai guards came to stop them, telling them sternly that beggars and tramps were not allowed to enter Kamakura.  And, a samurai leader hit the vagabond-like priest twice with a cane.

At the time Kamakura was the most prosperous city in East Japan, but it was full of poor people in addition to samurais and merchants.  The Kamakura government was restricting inflow of people into the city.

Now, the shabby Buddhist priest being hit twice by the cane said to the samurai, "I have been preaching for poor people traveling the nation.  But I thought the future of my mission was dependent on my missionary work to disseminate nenbutsu (Buddhist invocation and prayers to the Buddha) in Kamakura, the center of the nation.  But if it is impossible, I will rather die here."

Then, the samurai leader said, "It is not banned to preach outside Kamakura."  Accordingly, the Buddhist priest and his band moved to the sea coast around Kamakura to practice their version of the Buddhism: Chanting namidabutsu only could even save souls (without knowing contents of Buddhist scriptures).

This Buddhist priest was called Ippen, a samurai-turned Buddhist priest.  Ippen traveled from West Japan to East Japan, preaching his version of Buddhism.  He taught farmers and other poor people to practice nenbutsu for salvation.  Ippen did not try to become a high-ranking priest who resided in a big temple and received a high title and rank from Buddhist authorities in Kyoto or Nara, the traditional cultural and religious center of Japan.

While preaching to poor farmers, Ippen came to adopt a method of dancing and chanting nenbutsu.  This method was called Odori Nenbutsu (dancing prayers to the Buddha).  Followers and believers were dancing and chanting in an opening or on a makeshift stage in a village all day long.  He led a band of 20 or so followers to visit local villages mostly between Kyoto and Kamakura.  But almost in every village they visited they were welcomed by farmers and they practiced their mission.

Today, successors of Ippen continue their mission as the Ji-syu denomination, though they have temples and do not travel any more to villages for practice the chanting and dancing.

From a cultural point of view, Ippen's mission was very significant as some of his disciples painted scenes of Ippen's mission work in pictures.  They were compiled in a picture scroll.  They showed customs, costumes and manners of living of ordinary people 800 years ago.   Such material is traditionally rare in Japan.  Realistic description had not been so popular and common in Japan till modernization started in Japan in 1860s.  Though the Picture Scroll of Ippen was created for a religious reason, it is a very precious historic work.

What I pay attention to is that like the Kamakura government fought invading Mongolians twice, it also hit Ippen, trying to enter Kamukara, twice.  It means, in my interpretation, that though Japan or samurai rulers could expel foreign powers to secure it, subsequently they had to fully tackle the Japanese versions of the Buddhism, which Ippen's Ji-syu represented, that were emerging actively in the Kamakura era.

However, samurais seem to have failed to fully respect the Buddhism as Ippen was rejected by Kamakura samurais.  And this failure had a significant influence in following eras in the Japanese history.  It was related to the coming of the age of provincial wars in Japan (1457-1615) and the national seclusion under the Tokugawa samurai regime (1639-1854) to prevent an influence of Christianity on the Japanese society.

Last night, I had a dream in which somebody turned my attention to Ji-syu.  So, I wrote some here concerning Ippen, the founder of the Jisyu Buddhist school.

In addition, "Ji" of Ji-syu is expressed with a kanji character that means time in Japanese; "Syu" means a school or a denomination.

Ippen leading his band and facing samurai guards before Kamakura (Ippen Picture Scroll)

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Dancing and chanting nenbutsu for the Buddha on a makeshift stage (Ippen Picture Scroll)

Illustration of dancing and chanting nenbutsu for the Buddha

Dancing and chanting nenbutsu for the Buddha in the Edo era (the 17th to 19th century)

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Mat 8:26 And he saith unto them, Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith? Then he arose, and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

"Lord, save us: we perish" - A Reversed Image of a Reversed Object

Island on the Pacific Coast 100 km west of Tokyo

A Reversed Image of a Reversed Object 

I was sitting in a fast food shop, reading a newspaper.

Behind my chair was a wall on which a round clock was hung.  And, there on the wall opposite me was a mirror.  I watched the mirror to see the clock just fully reflected on its surface.  Numbers of the clock looked opposite, and the second hand was moving counter-clockwise in the mirror.  I happened to realize that I had never observed that the second hand of a clock in the mirror was rotating fully 360 degrees counter-clockwise.

There is nothing inside the mirror.  Light is just reflected on its surface very honestly, so that an image looks opposite horizontally.  We are seeing an image of an object reflected by the surface of a mirror.  That reflection makes the object opposite horizontally to the original object.

If we observe any event by ourselves, we can comprehend it as it is.  But if we learn the event from somebody else while he is reflecting the event in his mind, we may judge it based on an image of the event reversed by him.

I was watching the image of the clock horizontally reversed.  But, if I had not realized the very existence of the mirror, I might have believed that this shop had a clock horizontally opposite to normal ones.  With just one simple device called a mirror, something that does not exist in this world comes to emerge as if it did exist.  And, if we do not realize existence of the mirror, we cannot judge if it is real or not.

When we judge the world and any human matters, we may make a similar mistake.  Everything we conceive in the world is reflected by many and various mirrors.  We have to know what kinds of mirrors exist around us or between us and the society.

But what if a mirror itself was reversed?  It could show what we want to see as it is.  Then there might be rather confusion; we have to make a difference between a real object and its image.  But what if a real object was reversed?

Then I read a column in the newspaper on the desk in front of me.

Once in an entrance interview to a naval academy of the Imperial Japanese Navy, a unique question was asked: if a rope circling the earth was prolonged by 3 meters (9.8 feet or so), how high it will be above the ground to circle the earth without a slack.  Each applicant was requested to calculate the answer in his head.  The answer is 48 cm (19 inches)

So, if you add only 3 meters to 40,075 km of a rope running on the ground around the earth, you can have an influence on every point on the earth by automatically lifting the rope by almost 0.5 meters.  This scale of 3 m is what an individual can handle, though it is impossible to manipulate the whole length of 40,075 km.  Even Columbus would be find it difficult with an egg in his hand.

Subsequently, I folded the newspaper and left the fast food shop where I paid 100 yen ($1) for a cup of iced coffee and another 100 yen for an apple pie bar.  Each custom usually paied 500 yen or more for foods and a drink.  But, a shop staff girl saw me off with a polite attitude just like she had showed it when she took order from me.  

So, I thought that if a homeless man had 200 yen, he could at least take iced coffee and an apple pie bar.  And, I believe that shop staff would show pleasant attitudes to him, since he is going to pay 200 yen.

And, in the fast food shop, when the homeless man saw a mirror, he might find him very rich.

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Mat 8:24 And, behold, there arose a great tempest in the sea, insomuch that the ship was covered with the waves: but he was asleep.
Mat 8:25 And his disciples came to him, and awoke him, saying, Lord, save us: we perish.
Mat 8:26 And he saith unto them, Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith? Then he arose, and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

"he asked him if he saw ought" - A Summer Trip with a Hidden Angel of Death

Pacific Coast around Tokyo

A Summer Trip with a Hidden Angel of Death

I was thinking about life and death sitting in a train.  And, a decent old man with a summer hat and mourning dress-like dark clothes was sitting on an opposite couch, reading a book.

I was thinking that God should send an angel of death to a man destined to soon face his own death prior to his death.  Then he has to stand before God for the final judgment.  Most of people would be condemned to the hell.  Subsequently Satan should appear to such people, requesting their souls since they must have sold their souls for wealth and happiness in this world to Satan.  I wondered if Satan would rather appear before the last judgment or immediately after their death.

I was sitting in the train for almost one and a half hours.  Finally, the decent old man got off the train.  I was thinking how anyone can design elementary particles, electrons, and photons (light) so that they form atoms, molecules, chemical compounds, rocks, stones, clouds, plants, animals, and finally human beings that have souls working above the material world.  Only God can design such physical conditions to create living things and human beings eventually.

In the train, almost every passenger was using smart phones.  Only children and parents were happily talking to one another, since they are in summer holidays.  Therefore, a great amount of electric magnetic fields and radio waves were flying, floating, and vibrating in the air of the car of the train where I was sitting.  Then I started to think how can our brains produce souls and spirits to imagine God, Heaven, angles, and other spiritual entities with belief and confidence.

Our material brains must be a kind of smartphones.  On the display of a smartphone, we can retrieve a picture of, say, Mt. Fuji, through Internet connection.  It can be live images of the mountain being taken by a video camera set around Mt. Fuji and being sent to the smartphone in real time.  Mt. Fuji is a real thing.  But its image on the display is not a real thing.  However, we can check a real state of Mt. Fuji in real time.  This scheme can apply to Heaven and our brains.  Heaven is a real entity, existent in the spiritual universe, and we can see it in our brains like a smartphone showing Mt. Fuji.

Watching landscapes along a railway line out of the window, I thought that the summer always comes every year while many people are dying every year.  However, I didn't see any ominous things in this journey, though a train delayed for 13 minutes in a 2-hour return trip to home.

When I got back home, a TV program presented a documentary about the new volcanic island in the process of building up, covering and absorbing adjacent Nishinoshima Island in the Pacific Ocean 1,000 km south of Tokyo.  A scientist said it was not an ordinary process of creation of a volcanic island.  It is a rare case that the process of creation of a volcanic island resembles that of creation of a continent, since this volcanic island contains light rocks like a continent though volcanic islands are usually made of heavy rocks.  Accordingly, this new volcanic island would not sink into magma to disappear in the ocean eventually.  Japan is expected to have a new territory in the Pacific Ocean near the Ogasawara Islands.

The volcano of this new-born island looks like a miniature version of Mt. Fuji, though Mt. Fuji does not emit smokes like this new one.  However, a million years later, present Mt. Fuji might be gone after a big eruption, while this new volcano becomes 4,000 meters high to be a successor of Mt. Fuji for the future Japanese.  Indeed, it was undersea volcanic activities one million years ago that paved the way for building up of Mt. Fuji, though it was 100,000 years ago that Mt. Fuji was actively and decisively formed.  

Finally, it is not unlucky to live and die in a country where Mt. Fuji exists, I reckoned.

In addition, I saw a little angel like a small child in the train, and she said, "Where are you going?" watching me walking an aisle in a car.  I said in the mind, "I read the Bible which indicated a place."

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Mar 8:22 And he cometh to Bethsaida; and they bring a blind man unto him, and besought him to touch him.
Mar 8:23 And he took the blind man by the hand, and led him out of the town; and when he had spit on his eyes, and put his hands upon him, he asked him if he saw ought.
Mar 8:24 And he looked up, and said, I see men as trees, walking.