The Art of Japanese Life
In this landmark three-part series, art historian Dr James Fox takes us on a captivating journey through the art and history of one of the world’s most enigmatic cultures. Travelling the length of Japan, from the rugged north to the tropical south, James climbs mountains, visits temples, strolls through falling cherry blossom and discovers dazzling modern cities. Along the way, James discovers for himself the importance of art and aesthetics to Japanese life, learning the secrets of brush-painting, block-printing, bonsai-trimming and the Way of Tea.
Dr James Fox explores how the artistic life of three great Japanese cities shaped the country’s attitudes to past and present, east and west, and helped forge the very idea of Japan itself. Beginning in Kyoto, the country’s capital for almost a thousand years, James reveals how the flowering of classical culture produced many great treasures of Japanese art, including The Tale of Genji, considered to be the first novel ever written. In the city of Edo, where Tokyo now stands, a very different art form emerged, in the wood block prints of artists such as Hokusai and Hiroshige. James meets the artisans still creating these prints today, and discovers original works by a great master, Utamaro, who documented the so-called ‘floating world’ - the pleasure district of Edo. In contemporary Tokyo, James discovers the darker side of Japan’s urbanisation, through the photographs of street photographer Daido Moriyama, and meets one of the founders of the world famous Studio Ghibli, Isao Takahata, whose haunting anime film Grave of the Fireflies helped establish anime as a powerful and serious art form.
In this final episode, Dr James Fox explores the art of the Japanese home. The clean minimalism of the Japanese home has been exported round the world: from modernist architecture to lifestyle stores like Muji. But the origins of this ubiquitous aesthetic evolved from a system of spiritual and philosophical values, dating back centuries. James visits one of Japan’s last surviving traditional wooden villages, and the 17th century villa of Rinshunkaku, and reveals how the unique spirit of Japanese craftsmen (shokunin) turned joinery into an artform – creating houses without the need for nails, screws or even glue. Exploring some of the traditional arts of the Japanese home (where even food and flower arranging have been elevated to the level of art), James also investigates attitudes to domestic culture in modern Japan, meeting photographer Kyoichi Tsuzuki, chronicler of Japan's crowded cities and tiny apartments.
Dr. James Fox journeys through Japan's mountainous forests, marvels at its zen gardens and admires centuries old bonsai, to explore the connections between Japanese culture and the natural environment. Travelling around Japan's stunning island geography, he examines how the country’s two great religions, Shinto and Buddhism, helped shape a creative response to nature often very different to the West. But he also considers modern Japan’s changing relationship to the natural world and travels to Naoshima Art Island to see how contemporary artists are finding new ways to engage with nature.