The Culture of Ornament in Japan: Talk by Hashimoto Mari


Watch a recording of the event in the player above.

Explore the role of ornament in Japanese aesthetics with a special talk by leading art writer Hashimoto Mari, curator of Japan House London's current exhibition Kumihimo: Japanese Silk Braiding by Domyo.

Art from Japan is often associated with restrained expression, appreciation of simplicity and the significance of empty space, with its image outside of Japan being mostly shaped by Zen aesthetics. In her richly illustrated talk Hashimoto Mari shines a spotlight on a lesser-known aspect of Japanese visual culture – its indulgence in the abundant and the flamboyant.

The speaker traces this tendency back to the Heian period, in the 12th century CE, when the tendency towards excessive decorativeness and splendour became dominant, dictating the interiors of Buddhist temples and imperial rooms alike. An inclination to lavish ornament, form and colour can be observed in sacred art, such as Buddhist sculpture and heavily decorated sutra scrolls.

The talk also provides numerous later examples to illustrate the topic, such as masterpieces of chashitsu – or tea house – architecture. The comparison of Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s lavish Golden Tea House and the modest Tai’an designed by the great tea master Sen no Rikyū allows the speaker to show that both concepts are, in fact, equally deeply rooted and significant in Japanese culture. Kumihimo – decorative silk braiding featured in the current exhibition – provides yet another example of an affinity for conspicuous and pronounced beauty.

About the speaker

Hashimoto Mari is a writer and editor who specializes in Japanese arts. She is the vice-chairperson of EISEI BUNKO, a public interest incorporated foundation and a visiting professor at the Kanazawa Institute of Technology. With articles in newspapers and magazines, an arts show on NHK, and ‘Niconico Art Museum’ videos on Niconico (Dwango’s video-sharing platform), she has established a reputation for explaining Japanese arts in a fun and easy-to-understand way. Recent publications include Decorating Japan (Iwanami Shoten), Following Japanese History with Art (three volumes) (Chōbunsha), Appreciating Japanese arts in Kyoto – Kyoto National Museum (Shūeisha Creative), Kawari Kabuto: A Cool Design from the Sengoku Period (Shinchōsha). In addition, she co-wrote SHUNGART and 100% Hokusai! (both from Shōgakukan) and edited A Complete Collection of Japanese Art (Volume 20) (Shōgakukan).