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The Influence of Zen in Japanese Art and Architecture

The Influence of Zen in Japanese Art and Architecture

Author: Ian McConnell
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This lesson will explore the influence of Zen in Japanese art and architecture.

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Tutorial

In introduction to Zen Buddhism, Japanese Zen gardens, and the Japanese tea house and tea ceremony.

Video Transcription

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[MUSIC PLAYING] Hello. I'd like to welcome you to this episode of Exploring Art History with Ian. My name is Ian McConnell. And today's lesson is about the influence of Zen in Japanese art and architecture.

As you're watching the video, feel free to pause, move forward, or rewind as often as you feel is necessary. And as soon as you're ready, we can begin.

Today's objectives are listed below. By the end of the lesson today, you will be able to identify and define today's key terms, describe the elements within Zen gardens, identify examples of Zen gardens, describe elements of the Japanese tea ceremony, and identify examples of Japanese raku ware.

Key terms, as always, are listed in yellow throughout the lesson. First key term is Zen-- Japanese, translated absorption or meditative state. Zen emphasizes the attainment of enlightenment and personal direct insights through the Buddhist teachings. Wabi-- an aesthetic of refined simplicity influenced by Zen Buddhism. Sabi-- the beauty that comes with age, could refer to a person who has grown wise with experience or an object that is weathered but beautiful.

Tatami-- a traditional Japanese mat used on the floor, traditionally made of rice straw. Tokonama-- a Japanese term referring to a recessed space used to display objects in a room. Raku ware-- a type of ceramic with a low fire glaze associated with traditional Japanese pottery.

Zen garden-- a garden in the Japanese tradition in which the elements-- rocks, plants, et cetera-- serve as an aid to meditation. And Sen No Rikyu-- a Buddhist teacher who profoundly influenced the development of the tea ceremony and tea house in Japan. The big idea for today is that Zen gardens are designed to aid in meditation.

Our time frame today covers the 15th and 17th centuries, specifically ranging from 1450 through the end of the 17th century.

We'll be traveling to Kyoto, Japan, today. There's Kyoto. Now, Zen Buddhism is much less rigid and much simpler in its structure than other forms of Buddhism. Now, Zen is the Japanese word for meditation. But the ideas of Zen Buddhism originated in China, eventually making its way over to Japan and increasing in popularity during the 12th century.

Now, at its very core, it is Buddhist, as the overall goal is to achieve enlightenment through the rejection of worldliness. But the means by which this is achieved is unique. Zen Buddhism rejects scriptures, devotional practices, et cetera, in favor of meditation. The belief is that the Buddha nature lies within everyone but is clouded by ignorance. Meditation alone can lead to sudden awareness.

Now, it's a very individualistic approach to religion and a form of religion that remains popular in Eastern and Western countries. I'm thinking of Richard Gere, in particular, who originally practiced Zen Buddhism before switching to a Tibetan form. It should be no surprise then that the Zen gardens are designed with the intention of aiding in the practice of meditation.

The Rock Garden at Ryoan-ji is an example of a tool designed specifically for use in meditation. The gravel and large stones can function as an aid in meditation and they're very active in raking the gravel into harmonious designs or imaginary forms like islands and an ocean or river can aid in contemplation. Rock gardens like this are tools for both passive and active meditation.

Now, the Moss Gardens of Saiho-ji are part of a larger complex that was originally created as a pure land Buddhism temple. It eventually converted to a Zen temple. The moss gardens shown here border a pond that's shaped like the Japanese character for mind, which I'll show you right here. Here's the Japanese character for mind.

Now, these gardens are also an example of dry landscape gardening. Similar to the mentality behind Chinese gardens, these were contrivances that were intended to appear natural. The entire area is a place of serenity and peace and escape from the reality of the world and an embodiment of the spirit of Zen Buddhism.

The importance of tea to the cultures of China and Japan is tremendous. Entire traditions have been developed around the activity of tea drinking. The Japanese tea ceremony is one of these traditions, which started in Zen temples in Japan as an exercise in-- you guessed it-- meditation. The Momoyama period of 16th century Japan saw the ceremony reach new levels of involvement and refinement.

The most important tea master of this period was the master Sen No Rikyu. He helped in defining the ritualistic practices of the tea ceremony and created the first independently standing tea house in Japan, a version of which is shown here-- or a version of a tea house anyways. The tea houses were very clean and simple in their design and layout. One of the most notable features is the use of straw mats called tatamis, as shoes were forbidden indoors.

Now, the ritual differs in ways from place to place. The process begins in a waiting room where the hands are washed and mouth rinsed. Next, participants enter the small intimate room on their hands and knees through a small opening, which was intended to create a sense of humility and equality among the participants, as well as marking a change of environment from ordinary to ceremonial. Now, there are a number of formal elements I'm going to scoot over but the next stages involved a small meal and a ceremonial drinking of the tea from the same bowl as all the other participants.

Now, the use of vessels during the ceremony is very important as is their aesthetic, which is intended to convey a refined rusticity called wabi. Now, this was another idea of Sen No Rikyu who felt the emphasis should be placed on inherent beauty rather than material worth, an important metaphor for the participants of the tea ceremony. The aesthetic also conveys the importance associated with age, a philosophical idea known in Japan as sabi.

Now that we've reached the end of this lesson, let's take a look at our objectives to see how we did. Now that you've seen the lesson, are you able to identify and define today's key terms? Can you describe the elements within Zen gardens? Can you identify examples of Zen gardens? Can you describe elements of the Japanese tea ceremony? And can you identify examples of Japanese raku ware? Once again, the big idea for today is that Zen gardens are designed to aid in meditation.

And that's it. Thank you very much for joining me today. I'll see you next time.

Notes on "The Influence of Zen in Japanese Art and Architecture"

Key Terms

Zen

Japanese, translated absorption or meditative state. Zen emphasizes the attainment of enlightenment and personal direct insights through the Buddhist teachings.

Wabi

An aesthetic of refined simplicity influenced by Zen Buddhism.

Sabi

The beauty that comes with age, could refer to a person who has grown wise with experience or an object that is weathered, but beautiful.

Tatami

A traditional Japanese mat used on the floor traditionally made of rice straw.

Tokonama

A Japanese term referring to a recessed space used to display objects in a room.

Raku Ware

A type of ceramic with a low fire glaze associated with traditional Japanese pottery.

Zen Garden

A garden in the Japanese tradition in which the elements (rocks, plants, etc.) serve as an aid to meditation.

Sen No Rikyu

A Buddhist teacher who profoundly influenced the development of the tea ceremony and tea house in Japan.

Citations

Image of Japan Map Creative Commons http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Japan_(orthographic_projection).svgImage of Moss Garden at Saihoji Temple, Kyoto, Creative Commons, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Saihouji-kokedera01.jpg; Image of Garden at Saihoji Temple, Kyoto, Creative Commons, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Saihouji-kokedera02.jpg; Image of Rock Garden at Ryoanji, Kyoto, Creative Commons, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Kyoto-Ryoan-Ji_MG_4512.jpg; Image of Tea Ceremony Water Jar, Photo by Chris73, Creative Commons, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Black_Raku_Tea_Bowl.jpg; Image of Japanese Tea House, Public Domain, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Museum_f%C3%BCr_Ostasiatische_Kunst_Dahlem_Berlin_Mai_2006_017.jpg

 

TERMS TO KNOW
  • Zen

    Japanese, translated absorption or meditative state. Zen emphasizes the attainment of enlightenment and personal direct insights through the Buddhist teachings.

  • Wabi

    An aesthetic of refined simplicity influenced by Zen Buddhism.

  • Sabi

    The beauty that comes with age, could refer to a person who has grown wise with experience or an object that is weathered, but beautiful.

  • Tatami

    A traditional Japanese mat used on the floor traditionally made of rice straw.

  • Tokonama

    A Japanese term referring to a recessed space used to display objects in a room.

  • Raku Ware

    A type of ceramic with a low fire glaze associated with traditional Japanese pottery.

  • Zen Garden

    A garden in the Japanese tradition in which the elements (rocks, plants, etc.) serve as an aid to meditation.

  • Sen No Rikyu

    A Buddhist teacher who profoundly influenced the development of the tea ceremony and tea house in Japan.