The wonder of rain in traditional Japanese art

The wonder of rain in traditional Japanese art

The wonder of rain in traditional Japanese art

Rain has a special significance for the Japanese, so much so that they have at least 50 words for it. Rain also features in many Japanese woodblock prints and paintings. Such works not only celebrate the beauty of rain. They reflect the way the Japanese regard nature and everything in the universe.

James T. Ulak, an American curator of Japanese art, notes in a Britannica article:

Another pervasive characteristic of Japanese art is an understanding of the natural world as a source of spiritual insight and an instructive mirror of human emotion. An indigenous religious sensibility that long preceded Buddhism perceived that a spiritual realm was manifest in nature… The cycle of the seasons was deeply instructive and revealed, for example, that immutability and transcendent perfection were not natural norms. Everything was understood as subject to a cycle of birth, fruition, death, and decay.

In the twilight rain
these brilliant-hued hibiscus . . .
A lovely sunset

Matsuo Basho

The Onmaya riverbank in the Eastern capital, 1832–1836
Colour woodcut
Utagawa Kuniyoshi (Japanese, 1798–1861)
Courtesy of Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Fishing Boat in Rain, early 19th century
One from a pair of hanging scrolls; ink and light color on silk
Okamoto Toyohiko (Japanese, 1773–1845)
Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston

Two Gallinules and Lotus Leaves in Shallow Water in the Rain, 20th century
Woodblock print; ink and colour on paper
Soseki (Japanese, active 20th century)
Photo © President and Fellows of Harvard College
Courtesy of Harvard Art Museums

Cotton Rose Mallows in the Rain, c. 1891–92
Album leaf; ink and color on silk
Okada Baison (Japanese, 1864–1913)
Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Tea-houses on the Bank of the Tadasu River in a Shower, Edo period (1615–1868)
Woodblock print; ink and colour on paper
Utagawa Hiroshige (Japanese, 1797–1858)
Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Night Rain at Karasaki (Karasaki no yau), from the series Eight Views of Lake Biwa (?mi hakkei no uchi), c. 1834
Woodblock print; ink and colour on paper
Utagawa Hiroshige (Japanese, 1797–1858)
Photo © President and Fellows of Harvard College
Courtesy of Harvard Art Museums

Night Rain at Makura Bridge (Makurabashi yau), from the series “Eight Views of the Sumida River (Sumidagawa hakkei)”, 1861
Colour woodblock print
Utagawa Hiroshige II (Shigenobu) (Japanese, 1826–1869)
Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago

Evening After Rain, 1926
Colour woodblock print
Hiroshi Yoshida (Japanese, 1876–1950)
Courtesy of Egenolf Gallery

~ Barista Uno

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Tales from the sea: A terrific trio of seashell poems

Tales from the sea: A terrific trio of seashell poems

Neapolitan Fisherboy (Pêcheur napolitain à la coquille), 1857–after 1861 [cropped photo]
Marble sculpture by Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux (French, 1827–1875)
Courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

According to scientists, the sound you hear when you place a seashell next to your ear is not the sound of the ocean. It is the ambient noise from the immediate surroundings which is amplified in the cavity of the shell. No matter, listening to the sound is a delightful experience for many. It has even inspired some poets who hear from the chambers of the shell, not just wind and sea, but the haunting tales they bear.

Sea-Shell Murmurs

by Eugene Lee-Hamilton (English, 1845–1907)

The hollow sea-shell, which for years hath stood
On dusty shelves, when held against the ear
Proclaims its stormy parents; and we hear
The faint far murmur of the breaking flood.
We hear the sea. The sea? It is the blood
In our own veins, impetuous and near,
And pulses keeping pace with hope and fear
And with our feeling’s every shifting mood.
Lo, in my heart I hear, as in a shell,
The murmur of a world beyond the grave,
Distinct, distinct, though faint and far it be.
Thou fool; this echo is a cheat as well,—
The hum of earthly instincts; and we crave
A world unreal as the shell-heard sea.

The Shell

James Stephens (Irish, 1880–1950)

And then I pressed the shell
Close to my ear
And listened well,
And straightway like a bell
Came low and clear
The slow, sad murmur of the distant seas,
Whipped by an icy breeze
Upon a shore
Wind-swept and desolate.
It was a sunless strand that never bore
The footprint of a man,
Nor felt the weight
Since time began
Of any human quality or stir
Save what the dreary winds and waves incur.
And in the hush of waters was the sound
Of pebbles rolling round,
For ever rolling with a hollow sound.
And bubbling sea-weeds as the waters go
Swish to and fro
Their long, cold tentacles of slimy grey.
There was no day,
Nor ever came a night
Setting the stars alight
To wonder at the moon:
Was twilight only and the frightened croon,
Smitten to whimpers, of the dreary wind
And waves that journeyed blind—
And then I loosed my ear … O, it was sweet
To hear a cart go jolting down the street.

A Shell.

by Walter R. Cassels (English, 1826–1907)

From what rock-hollow’d cavern deep in ocean,
Where jagged columns break the billow’s beat,
Whirl’d upward by some wild mid-world commotion,
Has this rose-tinted shell steer’d to my feet?

Perchance the wave that bore it has rejoiced
Above Man’s founder’d hopes, and shatter’d pride,
Whilst fierce Euroclydon swept, trumpet-voiced,
Through the frail spars, and hurl’d them in the tide,
And the lost seamen floated at its side!

Ah! thus too oft do Woe and Beauty meet,
Swept onward by the self-same tide of fate,
The bitter following swift upon the sweet,
Close, close together, yet how separate!

Frail waif from the sublime storm-shaken sea,
Thou seem’st the childhood toy of some old king,
Who ‘mid the shock of nations lights on thee,
And instant backward do his thoughts take wing
To the unclouded days of infancy;
Then, sighing, thus away the foolish joy doth fling.

Forth from thine inner chambers come there out
Low murmurs of sweet mystic melodies,
Old Neptune’s couch winding lone caves about,
In tones that faintly through the waves arise,
And steal to mortal ears in softest sighs.

The poet dreams of olden ages flowing
Through the time-ocean to the listening soul,
Ages when from each fountain clear and glowing,
Unto the spirit Naiad voices stole.

And still, from earth and sea, there ever pealeth
A voice far softer than leal lover’s lay,
Bearing the heart, o’er which its true sense stealeth,
Far to diviner dreams of joy away,
And to the wisdom of a riper day.

~ Barista Uno

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Great quotes about solitude for today’s maritime world

Great quotes about solitude for today’s maritime world

Fisherman, c. 1350, by Wu Zhen (Chinese, 1280–1354)
Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

“All the unhappiness of men,” wrote Blase Pascal, the 17th-century French philosopher, “arises from one single fact, that they cannot stay quietly in their own chamber.” The statement rings true especially in today’s hyperconnected world. Many people hate to be alone. They feel a constant need to be in the company of others, even if only virtually through their smartphones and social media.

Is solitude becoming passé? In the contemporary shipping world, the craving to be with the crowd manifests itself in the never-ending series of conventions; in the giving out of maritime awards; and in fund-raising dinners, company anniversasry parties and other social events. One would think that seafarers would get used to being away from their families. But no. They fret about poor wifi connection at sea.

Hence it comes that play and the society of women, war, and high posts, are so sought after. Not that there is in fact any happiness in them, or that men imagine true bliss to consist in money won at play, or in the hare which they hunt; we would not take these as a gift. We do not seek that easy and peaceful lot which permits us to think of our unhappy condition, nor the dangers of war, nor the labour of office, but the bustle which averts these thoughts of ours, and amuses us.

— Blase Pascal, Pascal’s Pensées, with an introduction by T.S. Eliot (1958)


The vain man is the loneliest of human beings. He is constantly longing to be seen, understood, acknowledged, admired and loved.

— Berthold Auerbach, On the Heights (1907)

The really sociable man, who is only happily himself when he is in company, is to me a very mysterious figure. That people should be able to live without privacy and solitude strikes me as extraordinary.

— Aldous Huxley, Proper Studies (1927)

But little do men perceive what solitude is, and how far it extendeth; for a crowd is not company, and faces are but a gallery of pictures, and talk but a tinkling cymbal where there is no love.

— Francis Bacon,”On Friendship”, Essays, XXVII (1612)

Le sage quelquefois évite le monde, de peur d’être ennuyé. (The wise man sometimes avoids the world, for fear of being bored.)

— Jean de La Bruyère, Les Caractères (1688)

I find it wholesome to be alone the greater part of the time. To be in company, even with the best, is soon wearisome and dissipating. I love to be alone. I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.

— Henry David Thoreau, Walden (1854)

Solitude, though it may be silent as light, is, like light, the mightiest of agencies; for solitude is essential to man.

— Thomas De Quincey, “The Affliction of Childhood”, Suspiria de Profundis (1845)

Solitude is a silent storm that breaks down all our dead branches; yet it sends our living roots deeper into the living heart of the living earth.

— Kahlil Gibran, Sand and Foam (1926)

Landscape with Figure, from an album of Landscapes and Calligraphy for Liu Songfu, 1895/96
Xugu (Chinese, 1823-1896)
Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago

In order to understand the world, one has to turn away from it on occasion; in order to serve men better, one has to hold them at a distance for a time.

— Albert Camus, The Myth Of Sisyphus And Other Essays (translated from the French by Justin O’Brien, 1955)

It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.

— Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self-Reliance”, Essays: First Series (1841)

I need to be alone. I need to ponder my shame and my despair in seclusion; I need the sunshine and the paving stones of the streets without companions, without conversation, face to face with myself, with only the music of my heart for company.

— Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer (1963)

By all means use sometimes to be alone. Salute thy self: see what thy soul doth wear. Dare to look in thy chest; for ’tis thine own: And tumble up and down what thou find’st there.

— George Herbert, The Temple (1899)

No se puede hacer nada sin la soledad. Me he creado una soledad que nadie sospecha. Pero el reloj dificulta hoy la soledad. ¿Ha visto usted algún santo con reloj? (Nothing can be done without solitude. I have created a loneliness that no one suspects. But the clock today makes solitude difficult. Have you seen any saints with a watch?)

— Pablo Picasso, as quoted in the Madrid newspaper ABC, 15 June 1932

It isn’t necessary that you leave home. Sit at your desk and listen. Don’t even listen, just wait. Don’t wait, be still and alone. The whole world will offer itself to you to be unmasked, it can do no other, it will writhe before you in ecstasy.

— Franz Kafka, The Zurau Aphorisms (translated from the German by Michael Hofmann, 2006)

I myself am best when least in company.

— William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night, Act I, Scene 4

When ships die: Reflections on shipwreck photos

When ships die: Reflections on shipwreck photos

Death comes in myriad ways to both men and ships. Some ships meet their end through an act of God; others, because of human folly. Many succumb to old age. As with people, some ships like the RMS Titanic are remembered long after their demise. Others just pass into oblivion.

“Everything has to come to an end, sometime.”

— L. Frank Baum, The Marvelous Land of Oz
Click on the images for a larger view:

ADOLF VINNEN. Bremen. 1520 tons. on the rocks near Lizard Point 1923
Photo credit: State Library Victoria

Some ships die young. The Adolf Vinnen was on her maiden voyage from Bremen, Germany, to Barry in Wales when a ferocious gale swept her against the rocks in Cornwall, England. She was wrecked on 9 February 1923 just a few weeks after her launch in December 1922. Fortunately, no lives were lost.

READ: ‘Adolf Vinnen’ – Last Great Sailing Ship Wrecked on Cornwall’s Coast

Costa Concordia
Photo credit: EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid
Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0) licence

The cruise ship Costa Concordia appears to sleep peacefully on its starboard side after it struck some rocks off the coast of Giglio Island in Italy. The 2012 disaster claimed 32 lives. Prosecutors in the subsequent trial of Captain Francesco Schettino said he was distracted by the presence on the bridge of a 26-year-old Moldovan dancer, who was his lover. The amorous skipper steered the ship too close to the shore to show off. What goes around comes around. Schettino got 16 years in prison for manslaughter, causing the wreck and abandoning ship.

Wreck of the Sagona (“Le Grec”)
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons user Waielbi
Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0) licence

Man can surpass Nature when it comes death and destruction. Nature kills blindly and at random. In contrast, humans often do it with malice and premeditation. The Sagona, a small cargo vessel loaded with wine, sank on 3rd December 1945 after hitting a sea mine. The wreck lies off the southern coast of Porquerolles island in France and is home to grouper and other sea creatures.

READ MORE about the wreck here.

HEREWARD: 1593 tonnes. Built P. Glasgow. 1877
Photo credit: State Library Victoria

Call it morbid curiosity, but humans are instinctively drawn to scenes of accidents and disasters. This was the case with the Hereward, a British clipper which ran aground in 1898 on Maroubra Beach, Sydney, at the height of a storm. A throng of people rushed to the site when news of the mishap broke.

Wreckage of the American Star (SS America), Fuerteventura, Canary Islands
Photo credit: Thomas Wollex
Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0) licence

The rust-covered American Star (formerly SS America) still looks majestic in this 2004 photo. She had nowhere to go, however. The 1940-built cruise ship was wrecked in the Canary Islands on 18th January 1994. ending a colourful career spanning 54 years. As the old adage goes, all good things must come to an end.

Read more about the ship here.

Shooters Island, Ships Graveyard, Vessel No. 84, Newark Bay, Staten Island (subdivision), Richmond County, NY
Photo credit: Library of Congress

No flowers nor candles for those that lie in a ship cemetery. The interred are forgotten, though some might be mentioned in history books and articles. The same thing can be said of deceased persons who don’t leave behind a legacy, only their DNA.

Ship broken up in Chittagong, Bangladesh (2008)
Photo credit: Stéphane M. Grueso
Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) licence

Some people may not believe in the afterlife. But for many ships, there is life after death. They are scrapped and their metals recycled. Parts of them (e.g., ship’s wheels and anchors) may end up in nautical stores and private collections. Those that were salvaged from historic ships along with relics on board may find their way to museums.

– Barista Uno

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How fares the shipping world in observing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?

How fares the shipping world in observing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?

United Nations photo Some rights reserved

Adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). is the foundational document for all human rights laws, including ILO Maritime Labour Convention, 2006. Any discussion on the rights of seafarers and other maritime workers must hark back to it.
So how has the shipping world fared in observing its tenets?

Not so well, to be honest. Of the 30 articles contained in the UDHR, six stand out as the most commonly breached by those who disregard the rights of seafarers, dock workers and others of their kind. Anyone who says a great deal of progress has been made to advance maritime rights is either misinformed or deluded.

Article 1

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

How can seafarers be equal in “dignity and rights” when they are treated like commodities? Take the case of Darya Wood, the 22-year-old  engineer cadet whose body was kept in the ship’s refrigerator after a fatal accident while the vessel continued to sail merrily for 17 days. The commodification of seafarers goes on in a myriad of ways.

Article 4

No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.

In Manila, manning agencies and some unions use cadets as unpaid office workers and domestic servants with the promise of deploying them as apprentice officers. This is a form of slavery. Not only are the cadets under great pressure to fulfill the 12-month shipboard apprenticeship, which is a prerequisite  for graduation. Many of them  have to work their ass off for months on end before they get the chance to sail.

Article 20

1. Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.
2. No one may be compelled to belong to an association.

There have been many cases in history of port operators preventing dock workers from forming unions or suppressing lawful strikes. It is a problem that stevedores around the world are still facing.

Article 23

1. Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
2. Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.
3. Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
4. Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

Poor shipboard accommodations and substandard crew wages are common breaches of ILO Maritime Labour Convention, 2006, and the UDHR. Those who report abuses to the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) are bound to be blacklisted. Equal pay for equal work? Tell that to the marines.

Article 24

Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.

Denial of shore leave in foreign ports, poor Internet connection on board, and absence of paid annual leave are not uncommon. They all go against a seafarer’s right to rest and leisure.

NOTE: The full text of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights can be downloaded here. Learn more about the UDHR and how it came about in this Britannica article: https://www.britannica.com/topic/Universal-Declaration-of-Human-Rights

~ Barista Uno

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