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THE PRIMITIVE ART OF JAPAN
THE origin of the Yamato race, who drove the aboriginal Ainos before them into Yezo and the Kurile Islands, in order to establish the Empire of the Rising Sun, is so lost in the sea-mists out of which they sprang, that it is impossible to divine the source of their art-instincts. Whether they were a remnant of the Accadians who mingled their blood with that of Indo-Tartaric nations, in the passage along the coasts and islands of south-eastern Asia; or whether they were a division of the Turkish hordes who found their way through Manchuria and Korea to settle early in the Indo-Pacific; or whether they were the descendants of the Ayran emigrants who pushed through the Kashmirian passes, to be lost amongst the Turanian tribes forming the Thibetans, Nepalese, Siamese, and Burmese, and to bring the added power of Indian symbolism to the children of the Yang-tse-Kiang valley, are questions still in the clouds of archćological conjecture.
The dawn of history reveals them as a compact race, fierce in war, gentle in the arts of peace, imbued with traditions of solar descent and Indian mythology, with a love of poetry, and a great reverence for womanhood. Their religion, known as Shinto, or the Path of Gods, was the simple rite of ancestor-worship — honouring the manes of the fathers who were gathered to the groups of Kami or gods, on the mystic mountain Takamagahara, the highland of Ama — an Olympus which had the Sun-Goddess as its central figure. Every family in Japan claims descent from the gods who followed the grandson of the Sun-Goddess in his descent upon the island, by the eight-rayed pathway of the clouds, thus intensifying the national spirit which clusters round the unity of the Imperial throne. We always say "We come of Ama," but whether we mean the sky, or the sea, or the Land of Rama (?) there is nothing, save the simple old rites of the Tree, the Mirror, and the Sword, to tell.
The waters of the waving rice-fields, the variegated contour of the archipelago, so conducive to individuality, the constant play of its soft-tinted seasons, the shimmer of its silver air, the verdure of its cascaded hills, and the voice of the ocean echoing about its pine-girt shores — of all these was born that tender simplicity, that romantic purity, which so tempers the soul of Japanese art, differentiating it at once from the leaning to monotonous breadth of the Chinese, and from the tendency to overburdened richness of Indian art. That innate love of cleanness which, though sometimes detrimental to grandeur, gives its exquisite finish to our industrial and decorative art, is probably nowhere to be found in Continental work.
The temples of Isé and Idzumo, sacred shrines of immaculate ancestrism, with their toris and rails so reminiscent of Indian torans, are preserved in pristine exactness by having their youth renewed every two decades in their original forms — beautiful in their unadorned proportions.
The dolmens, whose shapes are significant in their relation to the original stupa, and suggestive as the prototype of the lingam, hold stone and terra-cotta coffins of fine form, covered sometimes with designs of considerable artistic merit, and containing implements of worship and personal decoration, which display highly finished workmanship in bronze, in iron, and in various-coloured stones. The terracotta figurines placed round the burial mound, and supposed to represent more ancient human sacrifices at the grave, often attest the artistic ability of the primitive Yamato race. Yet the influx of the matured arts of the Hang dynasty of China, which reached us in this early stage, overwhelmed us with the wealth of an older culture, and completely absorbed our ćsthetic energy in a new effort on another and hugher plane.
What Japanese art would have been if our civilisation had stood bereft of this Hang influence, and of the Buddhism which reached us later, it is difficult to imagine. Who dares to conjecture what Greece might have failed to attain, notwithstanding her vigorous artistic instinct, had she been deprived of the Egyptian, the Pelasgian, or the Persian background? What would not have been the bareness of Teutonic art, if divorced from Christianity, and from contact with the Latin culture of the Mediterranean races? We can only say that the original spirit of our primitive art has never been allowed to die. It modified the tilted roofs of Chinese architecture by the delicate curves of the Kasuga style, in Nara. It imposed their feminine refinement on the creations of Fujiwara. It impressed the purity of the sword-soul on the solemn art of Ashikaga. And as the stream courses on under masses of fallen foliage, it still ever and anon reveals its brilliance, and feeds the vegetation by which it is concealed.
Apart from this, her unassailable original destiny, the geographical position of Japan would seem to have offered her the intellectual role of a Chinese province or an Indian colony. But the rock of our race-pride and organic union has stood firm throughout the ages, notwithstanding the mighty billows that surged upon it from the two great poles of Asiatic civilisation. The national genius has never been overwhelmed. Imitation has never taken the place of a free creativeness. There has always been abundant energy for the acceptance and re-application of the influence received, however massive. It is the glory of Continental Asia that her touch upon Japan has made always for new life and inspiration: it is the most sacred honour of the race of Ama to hold itself invincible, not in some mere political sense alone, but still more and more profoundly, as a living spirit of Freedom, in life, and thought, and art.
It was this consciousness that fired the warlike Empress Zhingo to brave the seas, for the protection of the tributary kingdoms in Korea, in face of the Continental Empire. It was this which dismayed the all-powerful Yodai, of the Zui dynasty, by calling him "Emperor of the Land of the Setting Sun." It was this which defied the arrogant menace of Kublai Khan in the full zenith of a victory and conquest that was to overpass the Ural ranges into Moscow. And it is for Japan herself never to forget that it is by right of this same heroic spirit that she stands to-day face to face with new problems, for which she needs still deeper accessions of self-reverence.
The simple old rites of the Tree, the Mirror, and the Sword. — The tree referred to is the Sakaki, or tree of the gods, upon which are hung pieces of brocade, silk, linen, cotton and paper, cut in special devices. The Mirror and the Sword form part of the Imperial insignia, handed on by the Sun-goddess to her grandson when he descended upon the islands. Shinto shrines contain nothing but a mirror. The Sword, supposed to have been taken from the tail of a dragon killed by Susasmo, the Storm-God, is specially worshipped at Atsuta.
The temples of Isé and Idzumo. — The temple of Isé is the shrine of the Sun-Goddess. It is in the district of Yamada, in the province of Isé, in Central Japan. The temple of Idzumo is the shrine of the descendants of the Storm-God, who were sovereigns of Japan before the descent of the grandson of the Sun-Goddess on the country. It is situated in the province of Idzumo, on the northern coast of Japan. The temples of Isé and Idzumo are built entirely of wood, and each has two alternative sites, on one of which it is rebuilt, in the exact original form, every twenty years. The style is suggestive of development from the architecture of the bamboo cottage, or the log hut, still to be seen in great numbers on the south-eastern coast of Asia. It does not suggest a tent.
The Kasuga Style in Nara. — The Kasuga style is a development of the Shinto style of Isé and Idzumo. It is characterised by very delicate curves, which take the place on the one hand of the straight lines of Yamato architecture, and on the other of the exuberant canvas-like curves of the Chinese.
The arrogant menace of Kublai Khan. — Kublai Khan, after his conquest of China, sent an embassy, calling upon Japan to surrender. A peremptory refusal was followed by an invasion of some of the outlying islands. Then, while the Japanese waited, guarding their coasts, a great cloud was seen to rise at night from the temple of Isé, and, in the storm which resulted, the fleet of the invaders, with its ten thousand ships and million men, was utterly destroyed, only three men escaping with their lives. This was the divine wind of Isé, and to this day each sect claims that it was raised by the power of its supplication. This is the only occasion in history on which the rulers of China adopted an aggressive policy towards Japan.