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aesthetic: A branch of philosophy dealing with the nature of beauty, art, and taste and with the creation and appreciation of beauty (as opposed to utility, moral, or emotional content). In Japan, aesthetic expression usually centers on the appreciation of nature.

asymmetrical: Not the same on the right and left sides or the top and bottom of a composition. The asymmetry and open space of Japanese art can create a sense of movement and change, and can suggest emotion.


calligraphy: The art of beautiful writing. In East Asian countries, calligraphy has been practiced as a major form of aesthetic expression since the development of the Chinese written language. Calligraphy can seem like a complicated art form to enjoy if one cannot actually read the Asian language, yet the dynamic visual expression can be riveting. More than reading the words, it is experiencing the dance of lines and forms that creates the beauty of calligraphy.


enamel: A vitreous (glassy or transparent) substance made from silica, a hard mineral substance found in various natural soils.


glaze: A layer of clay or minerals in liquid form that coats pottery to give the surface a protected and luminous finish after being fired. For colored glazes, oxides of different metals are used.


Impressionism: An art movement and style of painting that began in France during the late nineteenth century. Impressionist artists attempt to depict a candid glimpse of their subjects, which often were nature scenes. The leaders of this movement were Camille Pissarro (French, 1830–1903), Edgar Degas (French, 1834–1917), Claude Monet (French, 1840–1926), and Auguste Renoir (French, 1841–1919). Japanese art was a strong influence on the Impressionist painters. With surfaces of flat paint and disregard for one-point perspective, Japanese art introduced radical cropping and empty foregrounds to Impressionist artists.


kimono: A T-shaped style of clothing that is worn wrapped across the front like a jacket, the left side over the right. Although the word "kimono" was invented in the Meiji period (1868–1912) when foreigners asked Japanese people to name their native style of dress, kimono-like garments have existed for two thousand years. The word "kimono" comes from kiru (to wear) and mono (a thing or things).


sashiko: Firemen's coats were made of several layers of thick cotton cloth quilted in a method called sashiko, which means "to pierce." In sashiko, strong cotton thread is stitched through all the layers of fabric, binding them together. This process makes the final product much stronger and more durable, which was important for hardworking firemen. Sashiko was used throughout Japan, primarily by women, and may originally have been a recycling technique, providing a way to piece back together small torn or weakened bits of fabric. Sashiko stitching is typically applied with white cotton thread on a dark, indigo-dyed fabric. Today sashiko is used primarily for decorative, rather than practical purposes.

Soga Shōhaku : Eighteenth-century artist Soga Shōhaku (1730–1781) was an eccentric and rebellious Japanese painter. He studied Chinese ink paintings but his true inspiration came from the Soga school, which was known for its dynamic composition and brushstrokes. His use of offbeat subject matters gave him his popularity. The most unique aspect of Shōhaku's work is his broad, simple, powerful brushstrokes.


Tokugawa: The Tokugawa were a military family who ruled Japan as shoguns (military dictators) from 1603 to 1868. Founded by general and politician Tokugawa Ieyasu (ee-ah-yah-soo) (1543–1616), the Tokugawa regime was a powerful and strict feudal government. The Tokugawa period was also called the Edo period because Edo (an old name for Tokyo) was the capital. Tokugawa shoguns were great patrons of the arts, and under their leadership many forms of art flourished, creating one of the most dynamic and innovative periods in Japanese art.


Ukiyo-e: Ukiyo-e (you-ki-yoh-eh), or "pictures of the floating world," is the name given to colorful woodblock prints that express a sense of transience or evanescence in the world of everyday life, especially the pleasures of the theater, dancing, love, and festivals. Ukiyo-e artists employed bright colors and exciting designs to satisfy the contemporary tastes of the wealthy merchant class.The flat, decorative colors and lively designs were later to influence many Western European artists.


Zen Buddhism: A Japanese sect of Buddhism, also called Chan in China. The name Zen derives from the Sanskrit dhyana, which means "meditation." Zen was first introduced into China by the Indian Buddhist monk Bodhidharma, and later into Japan. Zen teaches that one may achieve enlightenment, the goal of all Buddhists, by direct intuition through meditation. The Zen influence on Japanese aesthetics ranges from poetry, calligraphy, and painting to the tea ceremony, flower arranging, and gardening. Its emphasis on action rather than theory and on direct vision of nature rather than interpretation and rationalism were profound ideas for artists.

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