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In Japanese Design, Asian art expert and author Patricia J. Graham explains how Japanese aesthetics based in fine craftsmanship and simplicity

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Japanese Design. Art, Aesthetics & Culture is ambitiously aimed at a wide audience, covering anybody with an interest in Japanese design, art and culture. Newcomers to this subject will find the chronology of Japanese history and notes on Japanese names and words very useful. Students and enthusiasts will gain much from the clearly explained historical backgrounds, which build up an essential framework for a better understanding of the complex variety of aesthetics in Japanese design. The subtle differences and intricacies are highlighted and examples given in the beautifully photographed illustrations. Collectors and scholars will also appreciate the wonderful range of the illustrations which each contain detailed reference information. I envisage that this book will be used as an invaluable guide and reference source for both experts and beginners alike.

The author, Patricia J. Graham is a former professor and museum curator specialising in Japanese art. She is a research associate at the University of Kansas, lectures widely and serves as a professional consultant and certified appraiser of Asian art for institutions, businesses and private collectors. The recipient of various fellowships, among her many publications are two books: "Faith and and Power in Japanese Art, 1600 – 2005″, and "Tea of the Sages: The Art of Sencha".

The book is separated into three chapters with a comprehensive appendix which includes a glossary, end notes, acknowledgements, further reading and an index.

The first two chapters deal with the aesthetics of Japanese design and their cultural parameters. Both of these sections are well written and very informative with fascinating illustrations that exhibit the incredible beauty, depth and variety of Japanese art and design.

The first Chapter lists and explores the unique aesthetics of Japanese design as follows:

  • Katsura Refined Rusticity in Architectural Design
  • Shibui Subtle Elegance
  • Wabi and Sabi Rustic and Withered Elegance
  • Iki Stylish, Sophisticated Elegance
  • Miyabi and Furyu Opulent and Stylish Elegance
  • Karei Sumptuous Elegance
  • Kabuku and Basara Outlandish Elegance
  • Ma An interval in Time and Space
  • Notan The Dark – Light Principle
  • Mingei Japanese Folk Crafts
  • Rinpa Decorative Art of the Korin School
  • Kazari Modes of Decoration and Display
  • Japanese Design A Visual Primer Featuring Contemporary Arts
Comprehensive and explained in easy to understand terms, the varied and at times, seemingly contradictory elements, are brought together to paint an authoritative picture of Japanese art and design. The origin of the terminology is particularly interesting and highlights both the acceptance and misuses of these words in the West.

Chapter Two starts with an exploration of religious values and their effect on Japanese design, focusing on the aesthetic dimensions of Shinto and the influences of Buddhism.
We then look further into Design in Japanese Culture, which is described in great detail with more exquisite full colour illustrations. Ten key characteristics of Japanese society are identified that have nurtured the creativity of designers, crafts makers and artists over the centuries.

  1. Relationship between fine arts and crafts
  2. Emphasis on craftsmanship and technological innovation
  3. Beauty in miniaturization and detailed workmanship
  4. Importance of artistic lineages and teamwork
  5. Linkages between literary and visual arts
  6. Appreciation of changing seasons
  7. Rituals order daily life
  8. Penchant for emotional extremes
  9. Distinctions in local and regional culture
  10. Fashion consciousness inspires innovation
The third chapter is less engaging for the non professional or enthusiast. It introduces the early promoters of "Artistic Japan" from the 1830s to the 1950s. The chapter describes these twenty eight individuals and the influential texts they authored which introduced the West to Japanese aesthetic and design principles; the most well known probably being the great architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The biographies of these men are presented in groups defined by their professions or fields of expertise, Artists and art professors, Art dealers, Scientists and physicians, Industrial designers and architects, Journalists, Philosophers, Art historians and critics. The legacy of these early writers is summed up in the conclusion of this section.

My one main criticism is that too many pages are devoted to this last chapter. The book however is a real gem. The illustrations alone being worth the cost in yen.

A paragraph from the book reads; "The Japanese sensibility often possesses an intuitive emotional appeal, whether it's a silk kimono, a carefully raked garden path, an architectural marvel, a teapot, or a contemporary work of art. This allure has come to permeate the entire culture of Japan. It is manifest in the most mundane utensil and snack food packaging as well as in Japanese architecture and fine art".

Japanese Design. Art, Aesthetics & Culture does an excellent job in transcribing this sensibility onto the page. It is an important book to have for anybody with more than a passing interest in Japanese culture.

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Patricia J. Graham
Year of publication
Number of pages
JPY 2700

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