Japan’s maritime spirit embodied in art

Second largest shipowning country after Greece1. Second largest shipbuilding country after South Korea2. Japan is a maritime nation indeed. More than economics, however, it is art as exemplified by Katsushika Hokusai’s famous 1831 woodcut print The Great Wave off Kanagawa (pictured above) that helps define the Japanese maritime spirit.

We have always been impressed by Japanese aesthetic. The Japanese have a highly developed, refined artistic sense. It shows in many facets of their culture — from pottery and scroll painting to ikebana (art of flower arrangement) and chanoyu (tea ceremony). This artistic mindset is born of a oneness with Nature, a deep spiritual tradition and a strong national identity. Small wonder that traditional Japanese marine and landscape art has gestalt, a certain wholeness, and exudes a sense of harmony and tranquil beauty. Take these three paintings:

Hiroshige_Boats_in_an_inlet
Famous Views of the 60 Provinces – 18. Bay at Kominato in
Awa Province
(1853-1856)Utagawa Hiroshige

Tawaraya_Sotatsu_-_Waves_at_Matsushima_Waves at Matsushima (circa 1600–40) — Tawaraya Sotatsu

Keisai Eisen_a-ferry-boat-on-the-sumida-river
Ferry Boat Crossing the Sumida River (
circa 1840) — Keisai Eisen

Their special affinity with Nature explains in part why the Japanese are such sticklers for tidiness. They keep their rivers, lakes and parks clean. But even as they adore Nature’s  beauty, the Japanese, who are no strangers to typhoons and tsunamis, also respect its power as portrayed in this two-panel screen painted during the Edo period (1615–1868):

Ogata-Korin_Rough-waves
Rough Waves (circa 1704–1709) — Ogata Korin

Japanese marine art is not just an expression of the nation’s soul. It also serves as a window to Japanese culture and history — be it the centuries-old practice of whaling or the 14th-century death of a samurai during a naval battle.

Hokusai_Whaling_off_GotoWhaling off the Coast of the Goto Islands (circa 1833-1834) — Katsushika Hokusai

Utagawa Kuniyoshi_the-death-of-nitta-yoshioki-at-the-yaguchi-ferry
The death of Nitta Yoshioki at the Yaguchi
ferry, circa 1845–1846 — Utagawa Kuniyoshi

Looking at these Japanese masterpieces, we cannot help but rue the virtual absence of marine art in the Philippines. Although they call themselves a “maritime” nation, Filipinos have no real affinity with the sea. The sea is just a source of livelihood (fishing and ship manning) and a source of danger (thanks to wreckful typhoons and the infamous 1987 Doña Paz ferry disaster). We won’t delve into the aesthetic sense of the Filipinos or their national identity. There is painfully little to be said about that. It’s better to just drink tea and read about Zen Buddhism. ~Barista Uno

 

(1) The Japanese-owned fleet, including national-flag vessels, totaled 3,986 units aggregating 230.7 million DWT at the start of 2015, according to UNCTAD figures. Top-ranked Greece boasted 4,017 ships totaling 279.4 million DWT.

(2) According to Clarkson Research Services, South Korea accounted for 41% of the global newbuilding market in the 1st quarter of 2015 with orders totaling 2.31 million Compensated Gross Tonnage (CGT). It was followed by Japan with 28.9% share or 1.62 million CGT.

 

 

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