It’s been so hectic these last few weeks that I’ve barely had time to breathe, let alone open my beautiful bundles of haori that have patiently waited for my attention for almost two weeks now. But hectic as its been, I still squeezed in the time to enjoy the Kazari exhibition at Kyoto City Museum before the show closes.
Kazari is a Japanese word meaning “adornment” and this exhibition was devoted to the history of the Japanese penchant for adorning object surfaces with beautiful and intricate designs and then arranging those objects to adorn public and private spaces. The world of Japanese design is so often renowned for it’s brilliant minimalism and yet intricate elaborations of surface design also play a strong role as shown by the items selected for inclusion in this exhibition.
The elaborate Jomon pottery shown at left dates back some 10,000 years to the earliest hunter-gathering societies of pre-historic Japan. Although its peaked and coiled form may defy practicality and its uses remain uncertain, this vessel is but one of the hundreds of such archeological finds from that era.
In contrast, the Arita porcelain jar shown at right was produced several millenia later in the 18th century Edo period, yet it reflects an equal penchant for elaboration. In this case, however, the form has been simplified while intricately painted glazes provide the design interest.
With dozens of examples in each category, there is of course no way to reprise the entire exhibition for you here on my little blog — pottery and porcelain, saddles, swords and armor, lacquered boxes, hair ornaments and altar pieces, each decorated exquisitely with painstaking attention to the finest detail. But of course, my favorite pieces in any show are always the textiles. Below are a few of the exquisite little embroidered pouches. The two sets shown immediately below feature bamboo and chrysanthemum designs, respectively, would have been used by a man to carry his tobacco and pipe in elegance and style.
The purse at right might have been carried to Tea ceremony. Notice the the tiny carved bird that forms the clasp in perfect complement to the embroidered swallow.
And of course, kimono. With so many many many gorgeous examples it was hard to choose a favorite. This one from the early 20th century features birds among bamboo in the snow, dyed and accented with embroidery.
But the intent of this exhibition was more than simply a display of beautiful relics. Rather, the emphasis lay on the transformative nature of Kazari. In the preface to the catalog, the curator writes, “We are delighted to be able to present to you the timeless world of kazari, where functionality, beauty, the sacred and the secular collide to form an unexpected unity. The act of kazaru (adorning) momentarily lifts one’s spirits from the everyday realm. Efforts to adorn (kazaru) have at times revealed a surprising disregard for practicality but have proven to be a profound motivating force in Japanese culture.”
And even though I had an insufficient amount of time to spend surrounded by such beauty, I went away uplifted.