Monday, 24 August 2009

Samurai Arts of War and Peace

This summer I visited the Asian Art Museum in San Fransisco and their exhibition "Lords of the Samurai". It will run through September 20, so there is still time if you happen to be around.

On display is armors, weaponry, paintings, lacquer ware, ceramics and costumes from the private collections of the Hosokawa clan, pre-eminent on Japan's southern island of Kyushu, that dates back 700 years. Lots of good stuff, rare and beautiful. Much of it have never been shown outside of Japan before.

I really don't agree with the idea of war lords combining culture (bun) and arms (bu), balancing domination and authority with mastering artistic and spiritual pursuits. Still it's interesting to get to explore the ethics and core precepts of their culture.

There doesn't seem to have been any notable ikebana masters in the Hosokawa family, but some of them were heavely into tea ceremony. Hosokawa Sansai (1563-1646) was one of the family's most important tea practitioners. He was one of seven disciples of Sen Rikyu (1522-1591), the tea master who perfected the Way of Tea. Among the chado utensils exhibited is a tea bowl attributed to Raku Chojiro (died 1589) the first generation of Japan’s most famous family of ceramic artists, the Raku potters.

Another lord of the clan, Hosokawa Shigekata, was a visionary social reformer. He founded a garden for the propagation and study of medicinal plants. In one of the exhibition rooms there is a collection of detailed paintings of different varieties of peonies.

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