Japan, Land of A Thousand Mysteries

November 24, 2015 by Carl Hallowell 0 comments
Japan, Land of A Thousand Mysteries


Kyoto art supplies

Kyoto art store

Japan is the jewel center of the arts. Stretching backwards into time, nothing has been undone, or taken away. The rich tapestry of symbols, of images, of virtues, has only been added to. Modern glass buildings spring up around Shinto shrines that are hundreds of years old. Uniformed schoolchildren bounce past monks under large, pointy hats. Bullet trains cut through the countryside, where trees shoot up in dense forests and farmlands unfold in aged plots. The maple leaf is as important as the skyscraper. A grain of rice is equal to a slice of sashimi. Everything locks together in a kaleidoscope of expression, of aesthetic beauty.

The stoic faces on the subway seem to meditate around us. The hum of the city is unstoppable, unending. The country opens up to us, pointing inward at itself, revealing to us these jewels. The red faced bartender is laughing, disappearing into the kitchen to return with another round. The help of a random passer-by, whoever is closest, is complete and extremely hospitable. The culture is beginning to show itself to us. The subtleties are unfolding like the brocade of a concubine’s kimono, extremely alluring, if you can catch a glimpse… The culture is the pictures, the iconography… The culture is the jewel…

This is what they mean when they say Americans cannot compose Japanese artworks or tattooing, this is what they say we cannot grasp. But a little taste of this superb menu goes a long way, for those who take the time to indulge… In my beginner’s opinion, from my beginner’s mind- we can seize the jewel, we can broadcast the mysteries of the east… It is just that we need to understand that it’s a feeling more than a picture… It’s a fable more than a photographic truth… It’s natural more than affected… It’s wild in it’s calmness and strong in it’s lack of strength. It is a world of pictures rooted in the floating world, the world of Indian buddhism, Chinese chan, pure Japanese Shintoism and Ainu legend. It is a picture whose story is truly worth a thousand words. The culture is the picture. I believe that if you can transmit that idea, you can perform the artwork.

Our travels finally take us to the old capital of Kyoto. The tiny alleyways are streets that existed before motorcars… The wooden structures all joined together like children holding hands… The resonance of the wood reflects off a stream that passes underneath the street; A maple leaf floats in a puddle on the sidewalk. A group of Maiko pass by in exquisite dress, they pause at the red laquer bridge to take a selfie… We wander into Kenninji by total accident… Or Divine wind as Fujin reigns here… We wear tattoos by Horiyoshi III of Yokohama by now… We are swimming in the Tao, completely here… Pulling out the map we walk along Sanjo street, trying not to bump our umbrellas against theirs, waiting at crosswalks opposite the others who wish to cross our way, then rushing towards them in a hasty fury that reminds one of the old front lines of war… But no one is harmed, as long as you watch where you are going, as the crowd is so thick.

Here we are! This art store is well over one hundred years old. In the window are arcane artist’s tools, this is the place… The store sign inside was painted by a famous Japanese artist from the 1800’s, it’s splendor bathes you in it’s light, baptizes you as an artist yourself… beneath it are cupboards crammed with powdered pigments, special adhesives and distilling agents are nearby… Huge brushes that could’ve painted the ceiling are hanging in the corner where another room opens up beyond your view, an old man can be heard coughing in there and you know that he is a great artist by the sound of his cough… The attendant is much younger, a lady, she does not cough… She is weighing out my pigment on a triple beam using a pair of chopsticks, her movements are delicate. The brushes are hidden in drawers that reach to the ceiling, standing there in awe, “Please sit down”, she says… The experience is like bartering at the gates of heaven… Anyone can come in this tiny place but really only a select few pass through this special door… It is like walking into a mandala and the jewel opens up to you again and you know that you are like the lotus, life is like the lotus, and Japan is the portal to the great river that runs throughout the universe…

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