Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Review of Japanese Swords: Cultural Icons of a Nation
By Colin M. Roach
Reviewed by H. E. Davey
• Hardcover: 176 pages
• Publisher: Tuttle Publishing; Har/DVD edition (December 10, 2010)
• Language: English
• ISBN-10: 4805310359
• ISBN-13: 978-4805310359
• List Price: $39.95
Japanese Swords: Cultural Icons of a Nation is an exploration of the history, iconography, and metallurgy of Japanese swords. Colin M. Roach visited with top-artisans, historians, and martial arts specialists, in Japan and the USA, to produce a distinctive look at these ancient weapons, which he attempts to delve into from historical, iconographical, and technical standpoints. The book includes a foreword by swordsmanship expert Nicklaus Suino and a sidebar by Abe Kazunori, a high-level sword polisher. Japanese Swords also examines the work of top swordsmiths like Kawachi Kunihira and Gassan Sadatoshi, while delving into their lives.
Included are over 350 eye-catching high-resolution photos and a DVD. The visual impact and presentation of both the DVD and book are first-rate, although both could have benefited from more comprehensive editing. Readers interested in completing their library of Japanese sword books will want to take a look at this new hardback by Tuttle.
About the Reviewer: H. E. Davey, the Director of the San Francisco Bay Area-based Sennin Foundation Center for Japanese Cultural Arts, is the author of The Japanese Way of the Artist, Brush Meditation: A Japanese Way to Mind & Body Harmony, Japanese Yoga: The Way of Dynamic Meditation, and other works. He has practiced Japanese martial arts, including jujutsu and swordsmanship, since the age of five. His seventh-degree black belt is certified in Japan, and he has also studied sword polishing, appraisal, and restoration under Japanese experts. For more information about H. E. Davey and his classes in various Japanese arts, visit http://www.senninfoundation.com/.
Thursday, November 11, 2010
The Zen Art Book: The Art of Enlightenment
By Stephen Addiss and John Daido Loori
Reviewed by H. E. Davey
Paperback: 128 pages
Publisher: Shambhala; 1 Original edition (November 3, 2009)
Dimensions: 8.9 x 7 x 0.5 inches
List price: $21.95 (US)
When a Zen adept, or indeed any artist, puts brush to paper, the ensuing image is a picture of the state of his or her psyche. Therefore in Zen, artistic expressions are “lessons,” intended to cause the viewer to pause and reflect on ultimate reality.
In this book, forty well-known examples of painting and calligraphy by celebrated Zen teachers such as Hakuin (1685–1768) and Sengai (1750–1837) are reproduced along with observations that shed light on both the artwork and its symbolism. In essence, opposite the photo of the artwork, readers will find remarks by the two authors listed as “Zen Commentary” and “Art Comment.” The writers’ essays at the beginning of the volume present a foreword to the artistic and educational aspects of Zen art.
Mr. Loori’s treatise Art as Teacher is especially valuable to anyone exploring the deeper meaning of art, but readers should realize that while Zen is often cited for using art as moving meditation, many people in Japan practice crafts (like calligraphy) as meditation, and they do so without any affiliation with Zen. In short, Zen does not have a monopoly on meditative Japanese art. With that noted, Zen certainly does have a lengthy tradition of integrating its philosophy with art, something this book explains well.
The ink paintings (sumi-e) and brush calligraphy (sho) in The Zen Art Book display elements that are at times insightful, impenetrable, serious, funny, and beautiful. Although bigger, more complete, and more beautiful books on Zen art are available, The Zen Art Book is less expensive than these works, providing a concise and effective introduction to this topic and an illuminating introductory essay by Zen practitioner John Daido Loori.
About the Reviewer: H. E. Davey, the Director of the San Francisco Bay Area-based Sennin Foundation Center for Japanese Cultural Arts, is also the author of The Japanese Way of the Artist, Brush Meditation: A Japanese Way to Mind & Body Harmony, Japanese Yoga: The Way of Dynamic Meditation, and other works. He is a direct student of the famed calligrapher Kobara Ranseki Sensei, and he holds the highest rank in Ranseki Sho Juku calligraphic art. His Japanese calligraphy and painting has been in numerous exhibitions in Japan, where he has received multiple top awards. For more information about H. E. Davey and his classes in Japanese arts and forms of meditation, visit www.senninfoundation.com.
How to Wrap Five Eggs: Traditional Japanese Packaging
By Hideyuki Oka
Photographs by Michikazu Sakai
Reviewed by H. E. Davey
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: Weatherhill (October 14, 2008)
Dimensions: 10.1 x 7.2 x 0.9 inches
Retail Price: $30 (US)
This classic book was first available in 1975 and titled How to Wrap Five More Eggs. It was created by the late Oka Hideyuki, with exceptional photography by Sakai Michikazu. In many ways a “coffee table book,” this work’s striking full-page photos effectively portray the integration of classic Japanese aesthetics into daily life in Japan. How to Wrap Five Eggs is worth purchasing for the pictures alone, which comprise the majority of the book.
Time-honored Japanese packaging is an art that applies refined design and natural aesthetics to everyday objects. In Oka Hideyuki’s graceful presentation of the baskets, boxes, wrappers, and containers that were used in run of the mill, daily Japanese existence, readers are presented with eye-catching illustrations of an era prior to mass production in Japan. Principally constructed of bamboo, rice straw, hemp cord, paper, and leaves, all of the items revealed in the book come from natural substances. Through 221 black-and-white photographs of genuine models of long-established Japanese packaging—with notes on the genesis, materials, and use of every piece—the objects presented advocate looking into a rapidly disappearing craft, while they also remind us of our relationship to the natural world and the value of handicrafts that were at one time active and vibrant in scores of people’s lives.
In many industrialized societies, handmade objects are quickly fading away, and this is especially sad to see in Japan, a culture that once epitomized the idea that everyday items can be crafted and presented in a manner that adds meaning and beauty to our lives. Traditional Japanese culture at one time embodied the notion that how something is done is as important as the final outcome of a given action, and that how an object is presented and packaged is as important as the item in the wrapper. This philosophy of merging beauty with daily activities, and with commonly used objects, makes life better in countless ways, an idea we can all benefit from, and an idea well-presented in How to Wrap Five Eggs.
About the Reviewer: H. E. Davey, the Director of the San Francisco Bay Area-based Sennin Foundation Center for Japanese Cultural Arts, is also the author of The Japanese Way of the Artist, Brush Meditation: A Japanese Way to Mind & Body Harmony, Japanese Yoga: The Way of Dynamic Meditation, and other works. He is a direct student of the famed calligrapher Kobara Ranseki Sensei, and he holds the highest rank in Ranseki Sho Juku calligraphic art. His Japanese calligraphy and painting has been in numerous exhibitions in Japan, where he has received multiple top awards. For more information about H. E. Davey and his classes in Japanese arts and forms of meditation, visit http://www.senninfoundation.com/.