The art of Japan
He is a regular at the museum’s weekend open manga studio, and he demonstrates some of the stylistic differences that give manga their impact. In one panel, for example, you see only the thunder god’s teeth. ‘Hiding part of the scene gives a stronger impression,’ Eiyu says. ‘The space which hasn’t been drawn is what the reader imagines.’ This is textbook manga, but it is also straight out of the playlist of Japan’s great woodblock printers.
Manga artists on the whole shun wordy speech bubbles and captions in every panel, believing it is tiring for the eye to have to switch constantly from pictures to small text. The strip moves fluidly from panel to panel, mixing different viewpoints, with a few manga ‘special effects’ thrown in, such as visible sighs and bursts of light to show sudden realisation. Manga’s already cinematic style makes for an easy jump to on-screen animation. And as Eiyu Kojima shows, it is one new art form in which Japan’s artistic heritage can live on.
- The Kyoto International Manga Museum is based in a former primary school near the busy downtown crossroads of Karasumadori and Oike-dori. Six years after the museum opened, local people still use its playing field for baseball and come here to vote in elections. In addition to its exhibitions and collection of around 50,000 manga titles, the museum runs a studio on weekends and holidays where visitors can watch artists at work.
- Manga tends to be divided by age group and gender – shonen and shojo manga for boys and girls respectively, and seinen and josei manga for men and women. Fantasy and sci-fi are always popular subjects, but manga is very broad: one series, Kami no Shizuku – which is beginning to appear in English translation as Drops of God – is devoted to wine tasting.
Even as Japanese kilns produced the finest export porcelain in the 17th and 18th centuries, the country’s master potters were creating rough-textured, oddly shaped bowls in humble colours – and being praised for it too.
For lovers of functional beauty, of rough textures and things unfinished – for many Japanese in fact – Jun Kawajiri’s workshop is deeply satisfying. It isn’t just the eclectic mix of glazed and unglazed pottery crowding every shelf that appeals, but the corrugated iron walls and roofs, and the wires snaking across the dusty floor to odd bits of machinery.
Jun is the 14th generation in a family of potters, a lineage that is not unusual in the world of Japanese arts. ‘I strive to do new things,’ he says. ‘But in the colours and glazes that I use, I am informed by the tradition of my family.’ He is equally at home creating smoothfinished vessels as he is making deliberately imperfect ones. For the first approach, he shapes a wettened cone of clay on a fast-spinning wheel, gradually turning a small dimple in the top into a bowl shape, which he smooths with a deerskin cloth and releases from its base with one quick draw of a taut wire. For his second work, however, he builds a bowl by hand from the base up with rings of clay, smoothed only a little with a wooden spatula.
In pottery, there is a delicate line between the unevenness of a beginner and the unevenness of a master. ‘When people try to make a pot unbalanced, it looks too unbalanced,’ Jun says. ‘It has to be a natural process. If you do it a thousand times rather than ten, you understand the way the clay wants to react.’
He is particularly interested in the role that Zen Buddhism played in developing this style of artful imperfection, since its teachings came to Japan from China in the 12th century. ‘You can see elaborate objects made for kings the world over,’ he says. ‘But Zen came in and shook things up, and allowed for an opposite end to balance this. It was a new kind of beauty.’