Timeless Beauty of Imperial Japan: Curated Works of Art by Laura Bordignon

Enter this month’s competition: scroll to the end of this blog post to find out how you could win a highly prized copy of Laura Bordignon’s publication Timeless Beauty of Imperial Japan.

Laura Bordignon, based in Berkshire in the UK, is a connoisseur of Japanese works of art. Laura first developed an interest in this subject in 1997; in particular, metalwork and okimono (decorative objects for display) from the Meiji period of which she now has significant knowledge. This talented curator regularly acts as a consultant to international clientele, advising collectors on how to expand or begin their collections. She’s also a specialist on how one should take care of these fine objects created by highly skilled Japanese craftsmen.

Laura was elected as a member of the British Antique Dealers’ Association (BADA) in 2000. She has been a council member since 2007 and she was the Regional Representative for Eastern England for BADA from 2007-2012. These are considered prestigious positions as the vetting process for applicants is based on their high level of expertise.

In 2010, she published an essential reference for collectors, dealers and scholars titled The Golden Age of Japanese Okimono with 200 photos from the Dr A.M. Kanter Collection.

Laura regularly exhibits at events in London such as The Open Art Fair on King’s Road, the BADA Collection on Pimlico Road, and the Winter Art & Antiques Fair at the Olympia Exhibition Centre in London.

Timeless Beauty of Imperial Japan is Laura Bordignon’s latest publication. This catalogue contains over 70 photographs showcasing her finest metalwork, silk art textiles, silver, and Shibayama (inlay of a design into ivory, wood or lacquer) objects. Various legends, myths, beliefs, and folktales are explained alongside the art throughout. They really add to the quality of the text and the appreciation of each piece. This is an invaluable reference for art collectors and connoisseurs. You can purchase a copy of Timeless Beauty of Imperial Japan from Laura’s website.



All of the Japanese artworks featured in this blog post are part of this publication. There’s so much to learn about Japanese culture in this book.

BRONZE VASE BY UNSHO

A bronze vase by Unsho on page 11 (which is strikingly beautiful in its simplicity) is inlaid with koi carp. They cleverly appear to swim beneath the surface.  These fish are admired all over the world for their vibrant colours, elaborate patterns, and high price tags. The Japanese believe koi carp are a symbol of a male child as well as good fortune and fertility.



Laura explains how every year on the 5th of May, Japanese families with a son born that year put up coloured carp streamers outside their homes. She goes on to say there are many legends associated with these aquatic beauties. “Dragon’s Gate Waterfall” tells the story of thousands of koi fish swimming upstream in the Yellow river against strong currents and how those that reach the top of the huge waterfall become dragons. A wonderful tale reminding us to continue to persevere when we’re trying to overcome major difficulties in our lives.

GOLDEN PHEASANT BY SHUBI (HIDEYOSHI)

The Japanese bronze figure below of a golden pheasant (Kiji 雉) on page 13 is naturalistically modelled with details worked in shakudo (gold and copper alloy), silver, and gilt, with inlaid glass eyes. It is signed in an oval reserve by Shubi (Hideyoshi) 秀美, Meiji period 1868-1912.

The pheasant in Japan is associated with the sun goddess, Amaterasu, and is a symbol of spring and imperial elegance.



SILVER HAWK BY SHOEIDO

Considered the world’s oldest field sport and often nicknamed “the sport of kings”, falconry has traditionally been favoured by the nobility, aristocrats and royals for centuries. This hobby is the art of rearing, training and flying birds of prey. It’s an expensive sport but fairs, centres, and historic homes have experts on hand who are more than willing to give visitors the opportunity to get close to these birds and fly them. The lucky few who have the good fortune to own a bird of prey will truly appreciate the silver hawk below.

This Japanese hawk perched on a lacquer stand on page 31 is embellished with gold hiramakie  (lacquer work) and takamakie (decorative) chrysanthemum flowers, foliage, scrolls and aogai (mother of pearl decoration). The details are in shakudo (gold and copper alloy) and pure gold with a detached silver cup bearing the kikumon chrysanthemum seal. It’s signed in an oval reserve under the tail feathers by Shoeido 松栄堂 and the mark of Jungin 純銀 (pure silver) and also signed under the cup, with a tomobako or wood storage box from the late Meiji period (1868-1912).



Takagari birds (hawks, falcons and eagles) were also popular in Japan with the nobility and samurai class and they were used as a measure of wealth and status. The tradition of falconry in Japan (takagari 鷹狩) is believed to date back to the 4th Century.

BRONZE FIGURE OF JUROJIN BY SEIUN

This Japanese bronze figure of Jurojin 寿老人on page 41 is the god of learning and longevity. He’s holding in his hand a sacred scroll worked in silver, gold, shakudo (gold and copper alloy) and shibuichi (copper alloy). He’s accompanied by a crane standing on one leg with details finely carved, signed in a rectangular plaque Seiun 晴雲 on a wood base inlaid with fine silver wire decorations, late Meiji period 1868-1912.

Kano Seiun I (art name Kano Ginzaburo) was born in 1871 and studied metalworking under the famous artist Oshima Joun. He exhibited bronze figures of sparrows at the Paris Exposition in 1900 and the 1914 Exhibition in Tokyo. One of his works is in the collection at the Tokyo National Museum.



Jurojin is one of the Seven Gods of Good Fortune known collectively as the Shichifukuju (Seven Happiness beings). This serene god has a snow-white beard and carries a sacred staff of learning with an attached scroll containing the wisdom of the world. He is often in the company of a crane, a white stag, or a turtle, all three emblems of longevity. They are very popular amongst the Japanese as they are considered benevolent friends whose origins derive from Buddhism, Chinese Taoism, and Shintoism.

UNSIGNED EMBROIDERY OF KINKAKU-JI

Anyone who has travelled to Kyoto in Japan will almost certainly have visited the famous Kinkaku-ji 金閣寺 or Temple of the Golden Pavilion.

This Japanese silk embroidery depicting Kinkaku-ji on page 45 is set in a landscape garden overlooking a large pond. It is worked in layers of long and short silk stitches with an original wooden frame, late Meiji period 1868-1912.



Kinkaku-ji is one of the most popular buildings in Japan, designated as a National Special Historic site with two floors covered in gold leaf and set over a large pond that reflects the pavilion.

BRONZE DANCING BOY BY MIYAO

This Japanese bronze dancing boy with a drum wears a festival headdress on page 67. The fine gilt details are worked on grounds of rich brown patination and signed on a rectangular gilt plaque, Miyao 宮尾. The wood lacquered base with foliate scrolls is dated Meiji period 1868-1912.



The Miyao Company founded by Miyao Eisuke had premises in both Tokyo and Yokohama and produced fine bronzes with a rich brown patina and gilded details. The Company exhibited at the National Industrial Exposition (Naikoku Kangyo Hakurankai) in 1881.

KORO INCENSE BURNER BY SADAMUNE

The Japanese silver shibayama (inlaid lacquer) koro (incense burner) on page 79 is inset with gold lacquer panels finely inlaid in mother-of-pearl, coconut shell, and coral with a design featuring birds and cherry blossoms.

The sides have been applied with writhing dragon handles and the domed cover has a kirin finial, signed in a gold rectangular plaque by Sadamune 貞宗, of the late Meiji period 1868-1912.

The kirin 麒麟 is a mythical creature which is shaped like a deer but looks like a dragon. It originates in Chinese mythology and is known as a qilin. It has cloven hooves and a flowing tail and symbolises goodness and purity.

The cherry blossom design on this incense burner is so pretty. The delicate petals really add to the overall presentation of the koro but there are other spectacular works of art featuring cherry blossoms in this publication which are also incredibly beautiful such as the silver chest of drawers by Shuzan on page 9. The two cloisonné enamel vases: one with a peacock perched on a cherry tree on page 21 and another with sparrows perched on cherry blossom branches in bloom on page 77. And a bronze inlaid vase with a slender neck worked in silver with shakudo cherry blossoms and taro leaves on page 75.

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On page 52, Laura explains to the reader how the fascination with Japanese art started a trend in the West known as Japonisme during the 19th century. The ukiyo-e woodblock prints; in particular, inspired the Art Nouveau movement and influenced impressionist painters like Vincent Van Gogh, Claude Monet and Paul Gauguin. The collection inside this publication of Timeless Beauty of Imperial Japan is so spectacular it’s bound to inspire modern-day art lovers, collectors, or connoisseurs and increase their appreciation of Japanese artworks and the artists from the Meiji period who created each and every masterpiece.

For more information on how to purchase any of the items above or if you’d like to see Laura Bordignon’s collection at an event please visit her website.

WIN A FREE COPY OF  TIMELESS BEAUTY OF IMPERIAL JAPAN BY LAURA BORDIGNON. Simply leave a comment below telling us your favourite Japanese work of art in this blog post. The winner will be announced here on the 30th of November 2022.

 

Thank You for Your Ongoing Support!

In the past 18 months, my husband Roy has had cataract surgery and two endoscopies, and he’s just had a laparoscopy to have his gallbladder removed. He’s recovering well so thank you to everyone who has shown us support at this time.

I’m taking a short break from writing and I’ll be less active on social media so I can look after him and just keep him company without distractions until late September/October 2022. In the meantime, be kind to yourself and others and take care during these difficult times ❤️❤️❤️

Review of “The Widow, The Priest and The Octopus Hunter” by Amy Chavez

“On this island, I have sat in the eye of a typhoon, seen how octopus are hunted, learned to dance under the moonlight, and wandered like the poet Basho on an ancient pilgrimage trail. I’m still content to watch lavender-colored sunsets from Shiraishi Beach in bare feet rather than a posh restaurant atop a grand building.” — Amy Chavez (The Widow, The Priest and The Octopus Hunter:” p. 213)

So many books have been written about Japan. Still, very few delve deeply into its cultural core to reveal the secrets the Japanese pass on from one generation to the next. Amy Chavez shares these hidden elements in her latest work of non-fiction. Readers can absorb and appreciate the memories and history of the inhabitants of Shiraishi, an island in the Seto Inland Sea where she has lived for 25 years. This eloquent wordsmith joins the ranks of prominent writers and Japanologists such as Donald Keene and Lafcadio Hearn with the publication of her book The Widow, The Priest and The Octopus Hunter. This is a collection of 31 portraits offering immense cultural value. It’s beautifully written and the interviewees are fascinating, endearing, wise but humble, and intrinsically Japanese.

All seven elements of culture: social organisation, language, customs and traditions, religion, the arts, forms of government, and economic systems are explored within the pages of this book. However, at no point or on any page does it read like a schoolbook or textbook. Although, students would be thrilled to scrutinize the passages on ghosts, a death by fugu puffer fish, and human sacrifices!

Shiraishi Island has just 430 inhabitants with an ageing population. The young have moved to larger islands or mainland cities like Osaka and Tokyo because “iconoclastic children and grandchildren value convenience over tradition” (p. 127). Even the local temple has become more of a hermitage rather than a place for people to gather because of depopulation. The schools are closing because of the lack of children. This is a significant loss because their events brought people together and strengthened community ties. There’s no hospital and the doctor only visits the island twice a week. The elderly who still live on the island are afraid of becoming muenbotoke, an abandoned spirit, with no one to look after their graves (p. 97).

Many Westerners see Japan as the land of Sony TVs, Honda and Toyota automobiles, the birthplace of manga and anime, a country filled with beautiful temples like Kinkaku-ji in Kyoto, and the grand metropolis that is Tokyo with the graceful Mount Fuji acting as a superb backdrop. Not many tourists think of visiting the islands like Shiraishi, a place full of culture with wonderful traditions like the sea ceremony, the insect festival, and the Obon festival when the islanders perform the Shiraishi Bon Dance. But this book by Chavez could facilitate a new way of thinking. Her description of the times she spends with her neighbours during the sakura season is very appealing and after reading such lovely prose others may feel inclined to visit or move to the island:

“Soon, the cherry trees will blossom and we’ll sip sake under their boughs. Someone will bring a guitar and we’ll all sing, and maybe even dance under the trees while perfect pink petals rain down upon us like snowflakes against the backdrop of the cerulean Seto Inland Sea.” (p. 222).

The stories and struggles in this book are interesting because the elderly all grew up experiencing island life. The Doll Maker, Okae, explains how there was no TV or any other form of entertainment when she was an adolescent, so they just talked and socialized for fun. The boys would practise yobai where they’d sneak into girls houses at night to fool around to keep themselves amused (p. 141).

When Tetsumi, a friend of Chavez and a gracious septuagenarian who runs the Otafuku inn, chats about her past she remembers the difficulties she faced with a fond sense of nostalgia. She tells Chavez there was little rice to go around, it wasn’t always grown in Japan, and even though the government distributed it, rice was scarce, and they had to make do with wheat and potatoes. They kept themselves busy just surviving. They had to carry tofu on bamboo poles on their shoulders over narrow mountain paths to the men who worked at the quarries for their lunch. People lived simply on fried food, tofu, and konnyaku. Even senbei rice crackers were sold individually. However, Tetsumi goes on to explain how the 1960s and 70s were more prosperous and people came to the island to stay at the inns and enjoy fresh sushi. The staff wore kimonos and sang enka songs but even then, jobs were scarce on the island and most people were either fishermen or farmers. These memories and the history of Shiraishi Island provide captivating stories for the reader to enjoy. Every account is distinctly unique and they’ll appeal to anyone who wants to explore a different side of Japan.


Chavez’s writing is personal but not purely subjective. She writes mainly of others with hints of her own life. This book proves she gives back to the community and integrates herself into island life wholeheartedly; breaking down the barriers one would expect for an outsider or murahachibu (those not accepted into the community). The photos in the hardback are a lovely and thought-provoking addition. Especially, the picture of Eiko sitting with the other war widows in front of the infamous Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, where it’s believed the souls of Japan’s war dead reside. Her book is definitely worthy of 5-stars and it’s a welcome addition to the world of Japan-related literature written in English.

“The Widow, The Priest and the Octopus Hunter” by Amy Chavez is published by Tuttle Publishing. It’s available to buy on Amazon and from all good booksellers.

In Praise of Tokyo and Cherry Blossoms: Stunning Photographs by RK

The sakura season has arrived! It’s an honour for me to feature an awe-inspiring collection of cherry blossom and Tokyo pics taken by the award-winning Japanese photographer Ryosuke Kosuge, better known as RK (アールケー). Scroll down and marvel at his dynamic images then head over to Instagram to check out his portfolio @rkrkrk and you’ll see why he has more than 700k followers.

RK is a graphic designer, DJ, and photographer who is fast becoming one of the most influential artists of the decade. He’s recognised as one of the primary creators of the “dense” genre which focuses on intensity and density in urban life.

Top models, well-known rappers, and a stream of celebrities have posed for him on the streets of Tokyo. RK has also worked with major international brands and he gets DMs on social media from world-famous Japanese designers who fly him across the world for photoshoots. He has been interviewed by prominent magazines like GQ and his pictures, taken all over Japan and in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Vietnam, and Singapore, are breathtaking.

Cherry Blossoms by RK


Sakura night light for Mount Fuji



Yamazakura cherry trees point the way for Fuji-sama pilgrims



Sakura illumination on a rural tea plantation



A weeping cherry tree frames the five-tier pagoda at Sensō-ji Temple



Reaching for the stars at Tokyo Skytree



Dreaming of cherry blossoms



Anyone for niku sushi in the moonlight under the cherry blossoms?



Raindrops fall gently on her wagasa umbrella in springtime



The transient nature of these falling petals reminds all of us to appreciate the here and now


A flower cannot blossom without sunshine, and man cannot live without love



Timeless beauty



Cherry blossoms and eroticism in a yokocho alleyway


Tokyo by RK



Midnight battle at Sensō-ji Temple in Asakusa



A ‘Sunshine Girl’ toasts Tokyo Tower



Hanging out with a Neo Tokyo explorer



Vinyl umbrella parade under a neon sky



Red blot on the Shibuya Shamble Crossing



Reckless abandonment on a pristine street in seedy Shinjuku



Feeling blue in Tokyo



Survivor Geek in Wonderland



Otsukaresama 



Bird’s eye view of the tracks



Old and new school



Squinting on the kaleidoscopic escalator at Tokyu Plaza Omotesando Harajuku



Ojousama aspirations at Prada in Minami-Aoyama



Maximizing space in technicolour Japan-style



Snack bars galore



Time slip into the 1950s



Rashomon effect


Check out RK’s full portfolio on Instagram @rkrkrk. All photographs are © copyright 2022 Ryosuke Kosuge, RK.