Friday, December 7, 2012

Edo Art

I've been active in the field of collecting shakuhachis for a few years and occassionally come across these very unusual gems.
Although the usual questions in flute purchases, like 'How old is this?', 'Who made it?' and 'How does it sound?' come to mind, I find myself posing a few more questions like 'Why did the maker put this time and effort into adorning this flute?', 'What is the significance of the images chosen?' and 'Did the maker of this flute do the carving, or was the carving done as an after thought?'
I've come to the conclusion that the carving is done for the sheer joy of representation and perhaps with a little bit of '...because I can' thrown in there.
The images carved onto into this flute are a full-bodied dragon (ryu) at the top entwined around a plant which may be a peony, Pine trees on the lower portion and Bamboo on the root.
The dragon is symbolically common in Japan where it first appeared around 638 ce in the Kojiki. It is typically thought in both Buddhist and Shinto lore to be a water god. The peony is a traditional symbol of good fortune, high honour, and the season of spring and was introduced into Japanese culture in the Nara period (8th century). The pine tree is native to Japan and has come to represent longevity, good fortune and steadfastness. Both Japanese and Chinese art associate the pine with virtue, a motif of winter and New Year, and as a premier symbol of long life and even immortality. Finally, bamboo represents strength of character. A man can undergo hard, difficult, tough times, for which he must adapt, but must never break, never lose his sense of self. A man must keep his essence no matter how bad the world is treating him.
Shakuhachi of this age were far less store-shelf commodities than they are now. Indeed, they were verging on the esoteric and truly represented dreams and aspirations of their creators. As such, they are interesting windows into the past both in terms of visual and audible aesthetic.

1 comment:

  1. Really nice work. Every time I see those special carvings on art crafts such as instruments or even a small rack, they make me think in two different ways.

    One is that those crafts men did a fine work like this for their customer's requests.

    The other is that they might have done it for their fun. They might have wanted to see how much they can do with their skills.