The Formation of the Traditional Japanese Arts

The Age of the Samurai brought its peculiar tinge into the palette of the Japanese art. It was marked by the predomination of the Buddhist conceptions, warfare nobility, struggling, and philosophy, which found their reflection in the architecture, sculpture, gardens culture, painting, and ceramics. Moreover, the concepts of Wabi-sabi and Mono no aware appeared at the time. Therefore, the Age of Samurai left its significant marks in the Japanese art and culture.

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The Historic Leaders

According to Turnbull, the Genpei War of the 12th century fought between the Taira and Minamoto samurai clans caused the change of the reigning power in Japan. The Minamoto clan rebelled against the emperor. They were the winners in the conflict, who set up the hereditary military government of shoguns. The conflict resulted in the drastic reduction of the emperor power and establishment of the power of shoguns. Therefore, the power of warriors began to predominate. As Spackman describes, the 1st shogun was Minamoto Yoritomo, who ruled from 1192 to 1199.

According to Spackman, the Ashikaga clan descended from the Minamoto clan; it had many prominent leaders. Ashikaga Takauji, for example, was the first Ashikaga shogun who reigned during the Muromachi period from 338 to 1358. Ashikaga Yoshimitsu was the third Ashikaga shogun, who became known by the end of the Namboku-cho war and founded Kinkaku-ji (a Buddhist temple). Ashikaga Yoshimasa (ruled from 29 April 1449 to 19 December 1473) was the 8th Ashikaga shogun during the Onin War, ravaging Kyoto. Besides, Ashikaga Yoshimasa is known as a founder of the Ginkaku-ji Temple.

Therefore, the Genpei Civil War introduced drastic changes into the political system of the ancient Japan, putting limitations on the power of the emperor and transferring the real ruling to hereditary military power of shoguns.

The Religions

The predominant religion in the Age of the Samurai was Buddhism. Its branches: Kamakura, Shinran, Zen Buddhism, and Lotus Sutra grew popular, as well. With time, the Buddhism followers began living separately, in the temples. The elite made the monks experience corruption and disorder very soon. The drastic changes in the religious field occurred in the Kamakura period (1192–1333). The alternative doctrines appeared. Shinran, the founder of the Shinran Buddhism, considered the human being a weak creature that should completely rely on Amitabha Buddha. Shinran believed the deity to be a dynamic phenomenon, which could not be objectified (Namu Amida Butsu), in contrast to Amitabha Buddha being just the object of worship. Zen Buddhism was established by Eisai, who introduced the religion in Japan. The teacher claimed that a man could not rely on anybody, but oneself. According to the belief, every person has his/her inner Buddha, as well as the potential to become Buddha oneself. Zen Buddhism monks also emphasize the necessity of meditation. As a result of analyzing different Buddhist studies, Nichiren (1222–1282) distinguished Lotus Sutra (Saddharma Pundarika Sutraya Namah) as the most reliable text. Nichiren founded his school, the main idea of which was the belief that the inner life of Buddha reflected in people. One could get enlightenment by reciting the name of the sutra (Japan Buddhist Federation).

It is obvious that Buddhism has evolved from its initial form and bred several branches (Kamakura, Shinran, Zen Buddhism, and Lotus Sutra), which treated the traditional religion in their ways.

The Traditional Arts


In the Age of the Samurai, many castles were built; they were the strongholds, which aimed at restraining the enemy attacks. They were the multi-storey constructions that provided a command view of the battlefield and the opportunity to counter the attack from different heights. Here are some of the outstanding Japanese castles:

Himeji Castle is situated in Hyogo Prefecture; it was built in 1601–1609. The building belongs to the Momoyama period (1573–1615). The castle is one of the brightest examples of the samurai warfare architecture. As a rule, the buildings were multistoried. Constructing the castle atop the hill provided samurai with the widest view of a battle. The thick plaster walls were the firm shield against the musket fire and arrows. The building is surrounded by multiple paths with dead-ends.

In addition, among the prominent architectural constructions, one can find the following buildings:

  • Kinkaku-ji (Temple of the Golden Pavilion), a retirement villa of the shogun lord Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, Kyoto.
  • Osaka Castle (1583).
  • Great Buddha Hall. Nara. Nara period (710-904).


A great number of Buddhas were made in the period. The figure of Buddha Shakyamuni symbolized the deity adoration by the Buddhist sect, called Pure Land, which was popular in the Kamakura period (1185–1333). The adoration found its reflection in numerous clay and wooden figures of Amitabha Buddha.

The significant sculptures that belong to the Age of Samurai are:

  • Seated Buddha Amitabha. Japan. Heian period (794–1185).
  • Statue of Amida, Buddha of Light, Byodin.
  • Guardian deity, Todai-ji Temple.
  • Statue of the Gaijin, Toshodai-ji Temple.
  • Standing Bishamonten, late Heian period (900-1185).

Painting. Emakimono

A bright example of the on scroll painting (Emakimono) is Taming the ox by Sekkyakushi, (early 1400s, Japan, Muromachi period). It depicts a boy struggling with an ox. For the samurai culture, it is an example of the Zen concept, which is one of the Buddhism forms that were adopted by Japan from China in the 12th century. It symbolizes taming a man’s wild nature by pondering and meditation. It is a symbol of the warrior’s courage, which is one of the strains, characteristic to samurai, who perfected themselves through special practices. Among other well-known Emakimono scrolls, there are the following pieces:

  • The Buddhist deity Achala Vidhyaraja (Japanese: Fudo Myoo), 1200–1300. Japan. Kamakura period (1185–1333).
  • Samurai in battle. Edo period (1615–1868).
  • Portrait of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, 1599, by Seisho and their vassals. From 1639 until 1868, the country’s bor- Shotai. Japan. Edo period (1615–1868).
  • Minamoto Yoritomo. Undefined artist. Jingoi. Kyoto. 13th century.
  • A Shaka Triad. Nara. 14th century.


The Japanese garden symbolizes the beauty perception, typical to the national culture. According to Nitshke, it does not reflect the controversy between the natural and unnatural, but just the degree of their presence, which can be seen at the right angle, presenting the right view. The nature is considered the home of divinity.

A Japanese garden shelters trees, ponds, mountings, seas, and herbs, which have always inspired the poets. These elements were added to the garden landscape after 712 AD. Among the most significant Japanese gardens, one can name Mito Kairaku-en, Kanazawa Kenroku-en, and Okayama Koruaku-en, which have unique historical value.


Japanese ceramics, known as raku, has its unique history. Thomas Hoower in the book History of Zen describes the manner of the raku making that differed from all the other crafts. The raku was invented in the Kyoto Zen Center. Besides, it is associated with traditional religion. Kyoto had no history of own ceramic production before this invention. Choiro, a Korean workman, who produced the roof tiles, noticed that the tiles logic was ideal for the wabi-cha tea ceremony. Choiro decided to apply the fire technique, used in the tile production, for making crockery. He made a couple of tea bowls and was rather impressed. In the course of time, he developed a technology that concerned making the mixtures of the necessary consistency and plasticity from different kinds of clays. The rough-sided bowls were put into the right shape with the help of a knife. Finally, the raku bowls were decorated with paints. In such a way, Japan crockery was born; with time, it became known worldwide as the raku.

The Tea Ceremony

The Japanese tea ceremony resembles meditation, i.e. being with oneself. It refers to some kind of spiritual cleaning. In the book Japanese Tea Ceremony, Dianne Dumas describes that the ceremony usually begins in the garden, in which the guests enjoy Tsukubai fountain. After that, they go to the roof to have a tea ceremony; they enter a very low door, which is so low that they have to crawl into the room. Before the entrance, they have to leave all the worldly thoughts behind the door. It symbolizes cleaning the mind from all the worldly standards. Later, the guests observe the pieces of art, displayed in the room. The Japanese tea ceremony has its pure, tranquil, respectful, and harmonic esthetics. Sen no Rikyu was the one to bring the principles of esthetics into the tea ceremony. He also designed a part of the Tatami tea room.

Therefore, the Japanese tea ceremony is a significant ritual, which reflects the spirit of the nation and contributes to its spiritual growth, as well as helps cognize the principles of esthetics and develop relationship with the Universe.

The Concept of Wabi-Sabi and Mono no Aware from the Heian (Part) Kamakura – Muromachi – Momoyama(Part) Periods

As Belsaw mentions, the concept of Wabi-sabi (侘寂) refers to viewing beauty in its imperfectness and incompleteness, taking things as they are. The notion is crucial among the Japanese esthetics values, which are contrary to the Western ones that focus on usability, comfort, and progress. The quality of the Western beauty is somewhat monumental and picturesque. On the contrary, Wabi denotes rustic and solitary beauty. The word wabi means simplicity and stillness. It can hardly be translated correctly, as it conveys a variety of emotions: loneliness, desolation, simplicity, and melancholy, among many others. As Koren mentions in the article “The Beauty of Wabi-Sabi”, the notion of Wabi appeared at the end of the 15th century (Muromati period (1336-1573) as a symbol of unhappy love. It was very popular until the mid-1600s. The term may refer both to natural and man-made objects. Wabi may correspond to a variety of notions and perceptions, which concern the personal outlook. Sabi refers to the beauty, which appears with age, like copper that turns green with time. The term appeared in the 8th century; it was widely spread until the 12th century. Sabi also refers to the change of the life cycles. Gradually, it also began signifying disenchantment in life. Japanese poets contributed to the notion and developed it to a poetical ideal. Therefore, Wabi–sabi is the essential concept in the Japanese culture, which means the intuitive perception of beauty, a Japanese esthetic ideal, which denotes disenchantment in love and existence.

The term Mono no aware (物の哀れ) may be literary translated as pathos to things or empathy to things. It denotes transitivity of the life phenomena and the emotions of regret, caused by their passing. People are conservative; they do not like changes. If changes occur, they feel out of safety. The emotion of sadness in such a case is denoted by the notion Mono no aware.


The Age of Samurai brought a great contribution to the Japanese culture. The age began with the first clan of shoguns (Kinkakuji was the first shogun), who limited the power of the emperor. Buddhism with its branches (Kamakura, Shinran, Zen Buddhism, and Lotus Sutra) dominated in the religious sphere. In terms of architecture, numerous castles were built. The most notable ones were Osaka and Himeji Castles. The significant Emakimono paintings included The Buddhist deity Achala Vidhyaraja, Taming the ox, Samurai in battle, and many other. Samurai were talented in sculpture; the known works are devoted to Buddha. The tradition of the tea ceremony, born at that time, symbolizes the Japanese esthetics and connection with the Universe. Raku Choiro contributed to the tea ceremony by bringing the principles of esthetics to it and developing a part of the tatami tea room design. The tea ceremony is associated with the Japanese gardens, which symbolize adoration of nature. The significant gardens reflected the Japanese history. In such a manner, the Age of Samurai was a unique and fruitful period in the Japanese culture.


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