Design Motifs

By Saburō Mizoguchi; Louise Allison Cort | Go to book overview

6
Influence of Yüan and Ming Styles
Muromachi Period (1392-1568)

After the introduction of Zen to Japan during the Kamakura period, Japanese monks traveled regularly to China for religious studies, and returned with art objects from the continent. Later, with the establishment of trade relations with China during the Muromachi period, the flow of such items into Japan increased somewhat. But it was never large, and the Chinese objects found their way quickly into the hands of the small number of aristocrats. Treasured only in temples or the residences of the elite, the Yüan and Ming Chinese decorative styles reflected in these objects were not available to the majority of ordinary Japanese. Native artisans therefore had little opportunity to see foreign motifs and little incentive to learn the Chinese techniques of, for example, carved lacquer or brocade. Few such objects were made in Japan, and the demand for luxury goods was satisfied, for the most part, by trade with Ming China.

And yet, the influence of Yiian and Ming styles and designs gradually became apparent in the handicrafts of Muromachi Japan. This development was particularly pronounced during the so-called Higashiyama era in the mid-sixteenth century when Yoshimasa, the eighth Ashikaga shogun, encouraged the imitation of Chinese styles by Japanese craftsmen. The period takes its name from the hilly eastern section of Kyoto where the shogun and his retainers built their villas. The first revelation of Chinese influence during this period came in decorative motifs; only later did actual innovations of form or techniques of manufacture follow.

Chinese influence in the decorative arts was particularly apparent in lacquer ware. The type of carved cin

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