THIS BOOK SURVEYS THE ORIGINS and development of traditional Japanese decorative motifs. Working within the chronological framework of the Japanese art-historical periods, from the neolithic to the present day, the author selects the representative motifs of the time and discusses their origins, variations, and applications to the various art forms of each era. In those instances where patterns have remained continuously in use over many centuries, the author attempts to show how their characteristics were altered to suit the changing tastes of the successive periods. He adds a separate chapter on traditional textile motifs and family crests, which are in a sense capsulized versions of basic designs.
The author is emphatic in establishing the connection between traditional design motifs and the objects on which they made their appearance, whether they be lacquer ware or ceramics, paper scrolls or architectural fittings. Good decoration cannot be isolated from the objects whose appearance it enhances. The Western reader may well note the paradox that what Western art history has chosen to identify as "decorative arts" the Japanese would insist are "utilitarian arts." Decoration in the West has always been considered of a lesser order than the fine arts, as though it were somehow frivolous or unnecessary. The Japanese attitude toward design and decoration is very different. The very richness and abundance of Japanese decorative motifs may be explained in part by the conviction that their role of ornamenting daily life is a vital one. Any object derives its identity from its use, rather than its presence standing on a shelf or hanging on a wall, and to the Japanese the decoration of the object is as integral to its use as the actual function it serves.