Kakemono: Japanese Vertical Scroll Art

A kakemono (掛物, “hanging thing”), also known as kakejiku (掛軸, “hung scroll”), is a captivating form of Japanese art consisting of scroll paintings or calligraphy. It is meticulously mounted with brocade fabric edges on a flexible backing, allowing it to be easily rolled up for storage. Unlike makimono, which are unrolled horizontally on a flat surface, kakemono is designed to be displayed vertically, enhancing the aesthetic appeal of interior spaces. One of its prominent settings is the chashitsu, a teahouse where the choice of kakemono, along with its accompanying flower arrangement, plays a pivotal role in creating the spiritual ambiance of the tea ceremony.

Considerable effort is invested by the host in selecting the most suitable kakemono that aligns with the specific season and occasion. As a result, upon entering the tea room, guests are naturally drawn to the alcove to appreciate and examine the hanging scroll before engaging in customary greetings with the host.

In contrast to byōbu (folding screens) or shohekiga (wall paintings), kakemono offers a distinct advantage as it can be swiftly and easily changed to harmonize with the evolving seasons or the theme of a particular event.

Originating during the Heian period, the kakemono initially featured Buddhist imagery used for religious devotion or as a platform to showcase calligraphy and poetry. However, as time progressed into the Muromachi period, other themes gained popularity, including landscapes, flower and bird paintings, portraiture, and poetry.

By embodying elegance and grace, the kakemono continues to captivate art enthusiasts with its ability to transform the ambiance of a space. Through its ever-changing presence, it brings forth a sense of beauty and tranquility deeply rooted in Japanese culture.

Scroll Styles: Tatejiku and Yokojiku

In the realm of hanging scrolls, we encounter two distinct styles that serve different purposes. The first style is the Standing Scroll, known as Tatejiku, which features a height greater than its width. Tatejiku holds a special place in the Japanese tea ceremony as it is specifically designed for this purpose. Its vertical orientation and unique characteristics contribute to the aesthetic experience of the tea ceremony.

On the other hand, we have the Side Scroll, known as Yokojiku, which presents a width that surpasses its height. Unlike Tatejiku, Yokojiku is not deemed appropriate for the tea ceremony due to its horizontal format. These side scrolls are typically used in different settings and contexts where their distinctive characteristics are better suited.

Exploring Tatejiku: Calligraphy and Paintings

Within the Tatejiku style, we encounter two primary categories: calligraphy and paintings, each offering a unique artistic expression.

Calligraphy: A Multifaceted Artform

The first type of Tatejiku is adorned with exquisite calligraphy, which can be further divided into several subcategories: Bokuseki, Kohitsu, Shousoku, and Gasan.

Bokuseki: Treasured Writings by Zen Priests

Bokuseki calligraphy refers to the profound writings by Chinese Zen priests, and more recently, by priests of Daitokuji Temple in Kyoto. These sacred texts embody the spiritual essence and wisdom of Zen Buddhism, adding a contemplative dimension to the hanging scroll.

Kohitsu: Calligraphy from the Heian Period

Kohitsu calligraphy represents a distinctive style that emerged during the Japanese Heian period, between the tenth and thirteenth centuries. It encompasses calligraphic works written by emperors, court nobles, and women of that era. These elegant writings capture the essence of artistic expression prevalent during the Heian period.

Gasan: Letters and Poems by Tea Masters

Gasan calligraphy features letters and poems written by tea masters. These meticulously crafted writings were mounted on scrolls and contained “critical remarks” and insightful views on the tea ceremony. They provide a deeper understanding of the tea masters’ thoughts and their reflections on the profound nature of this cultural practice.

Paintings: Capturing Birds, Flowers, and Landscapes

The second type of Tatejiku comprises captivating paintings, which can be further divided into several subcategories: Kara-e, Suiboku, and Nanga. Each category explores different subjects and artistic techniques.

Kara-e: Scenic Depictions of Chinese Nature

Kara-e paintings showcase various scenes inspired by the mesmerizing beauty of Chinese nature. They present vivid portrayals of landscapes, capturing the essence of the natural world in a captivating and artistic manner.

Suiboku: Charcoal Artistry in Black and White

Suiboku paintings employ the use of charcoal to create striking black and white imagery. These monochromatic artworks embody simplicity and elegance, utilizing minimalistic techniques to convey profound artistic expressions.

Nanga: An Artistic Movement of Intellectuals

Nanga represents a notable school of Japanese painting that thrived during the late Edo period. Artists associated with Nanga considered themselves literati and intellectuals. While each artist possessed a unique style and approach, they all shared a deep admiration for traditional Chinese culture. This influence is reflected in their works, which often combine elements of Chinese artistic traditions with their own creative vision.

Through the dynamic interplay of calligraphy and paintings, Tatejiku scrolls enrich the artistic landscape with their diverse themes and expressions. They encapsulate the beauty of traditional Japanese art, inviting viewers to appreciate the

Hanging Scrolls with Calligraphy in the Tea Ceremony

In the traditional Japanese tea ceremony, hanging scrolls adorned with calligraphy hold a significant role. These scrolls, often crafted by renowned calligraphers, Buddhist monks, tea masters, or iemotos (headmasters), are carefully chosen and displayed in the tokonoma, the alcove of the tea room. They are selected based on their suitability for the season, time of day (such as early morning, morning, afternoon, or evening), or the specific theme of the ceremony. The host undertakes the responsibility of considering these elements to set the appropriate ambiance for the tea ceremony.

Every aspect of the tea ceremony is thoughtfully considered, from the selection of utensils and equipment to the presentation of sweets. The goal is to create a harmonious environment that showcases the individual beauty of each item used and displayed within the room. Calligraphic scrolls often feature well-known sayings, particularly those associated with Buddhism, poems, descriptions of famous places, or words and phrases connected to the tea ceremony. For instance, a typical scroll may bear the characters “wa kei sei jaku” (和敬清寂), which represent harmony, respect, purity, and tranquility. In some cases, a single character, like “kaze” (wind), might be chosen to convey the essence of summer.

Hanging scrolls can also feature paintings in addition to calligraphy, or a combination of both. These scrolls may depict images that align with the current season or relate to the specific theme of the ceremony. For example, rabbits could be chosen for a nighttime ceremony due to their association with the moon. Occasionally, scrolls are also placed in the waiting room, further enriching the overall ambiance of the tea ceremony.

Evolution of Japanese Hanging Scrolls: From Heian Period to Modern Times

The history of Japanese hanging scrolls can be traced back to the Heian period (794-1192), when Japan was introduced to Buddhism from China. Along with the religion, the style of hanging scrolls and paintings arrived in Japan. Initially, Buddhist paintings were brought by missionaries to disseminate their faith, and this influenced the development of hanging scrolls in Japan.

During the Muromachi period (1334-1573), Japan had already established its distinctive architectural style. This included the incorporation of an alcove called tokonoma in residential houses. The tokonoma served as a space that bridged art and daily life, and it became the primary display area for hanging scrolls and other artworks. This unique concept of connecting art with everyday living was a distinct characteristic of Japanese culture.

In the Momoyama period (1573-1600), notable figures like Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi had a deep appreciation for the tea ceremony (chanoyu). The tea ceremony was typically conducted in a room with a tokonoma, further reinforcing the importance of this architectural feature. The development of the tokonoma room style during this period also led to advancements in painting and mounting techniques, as hanging scrolls were integral to the tokonoma’s decor.

The Edo period (1603-1868) marked an era of peace and stability in Japan, allowing the country’s culture to flourish. Numerous renowned painters emerged and engaged in friendly competition, contributing to the popularity and refinement of scroll paintings. Hanging scrolls became increasingly sought after among the general public during this time.

After the Meiji period (1868-), Japan experienced significant societal changes, as people gained greater freedom to choose their occupations. This led to an increase in competition among painters, resulting in the advancement of their techniques. Prior to World War II and in the subsequent years, hanging scrolls were predominantly used as decorative pieces, showcasing the culmination of Japanese cultural evolution.

Today, we have the privilege of enjoying high-quality hanging scrolls produced after the Meiji Period, thanks to the continuous artistic development and refinement that took place throughout Japanese history.

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