Japan and the Culture of the Four Seasons: Nature, Literature, and the Arts

Japan and the Culture of the Four Seasons: Nature, Literature, and the Arts

by Haruo Shirane


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Elegant representations of nature and the four seasons populate a wide range of Japanese genres and media. In Japan and the Culture of the Four Seasons, Haruo Shirane shows how, when, and why this practice developed and explicates the richly encoded social, religious, and political meanings of this imagery. Shirane discusses a wide array of representations of nature in the Japanese arts: textual (poetry, chronicles, tales), cultivated (gardens, flower arrangement), material (kimonos, screens), performative (noh, festivals), and gastronomic (tea ceremony, food rituals). He reveals how this kind of "secondary nature," which flourished in Japan's urban environment, fostered and idealized a sense of harmony with the natural world just at the moment when nature began to recede from view. Illuminating the deeper meaning behind Japanese aesthetics and artifacts, Shirane also clarifies the use of natural and seasonal topics and the changes in their cultural associations and functions across history, genre, and community over more than a millennium. In this fascinating book, the four seasons are revealed to be as much a cultural construction as a reflection of the physical world.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780231152815
Publisher: Columbia University Press
Publication date: 03/05/2013
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 622,138
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.90(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Haruo Shirane is Shincho Professor of Japanese Literature and Culture at Columbia University. He is the author and editor of numerous books on Japanese literature, including, most recently, The Demon at Agi Bridge and Other Japanese Tales; Envisioning The Tale of Genji: Media, Gender, and Cultural Production; Traditional Japanese Literature: An Anthology, Beginnings to 1600; Early Modern Japanese Literature: An Anthology, 1600–1900; Classical Japanese: A Grammar; and Traces of Dreams: Landscape, Cultural Memory, and the Poetry of Basho.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Historical Periods, Romanization, Names, Titles, and Illustrations
Introduction: Secondary Nature, Climate, and Landscape
1. Poetic Topics and the Making of the Four Seasons
2. Visual Culture, Classical Poetry, and Linked Verse
3. Interiorization, Flowers, and Social Ritual
4. Rural Landscape, Social Difference, and Conflict
5. Trans-Seasonality, Talismans, and Landscape
6. Annual Observances, Famous Places, and Entertainment
7. Seasonal Pyramid, Parody, and Botany
Conclusion: History, Genre, and Social Community
Appendix: Seasonal Topics in Key Texts
Bibliography of Recommended Readings in English
Selected Bibliography of Secondary and Primary Sources in Japanese
Index of Seasonal and Trans-Seasonal Words and Topics
Index of Authors, Titles, and Key Terms

What People are Saying About This

Steven Carter

The heart of the book is in its descriptions--grounded in careful exegesis according to what we know from historical sources--of prominent seasonal images associated with Japanese poetry and culture. It should be a valuable tool for anyone interested in Japanese poetry and literature and for those interested in art and art history, the tea ceremony, flower-arranging, clothing, cuisine, and a variety of other Japanese customs. Haruo Shirane's work offers a wealth of valuable information and many interesting and original insights.

Steven Carter, Stanford University

Kate Wildman Nakai

"Sensitivity to nature" is one of those commonplaces about Japanese tradition that because of its all-too-easy association with cultural nationalism tends to set many people's teeth on edge. This engaging and impressive study provides a welcome antidote. Drawing from literary, visual, historical, and religious sources, Haruo Shirane cuts through the clichés to uncover multiple, evolving, and sometimes surprising dimensions of the Japanese relationship with nature from early times to the present.

Kate Wildman Nakai, professor emerita, Sophia University

Joshua Mostow

A tour de force. Shirane synthesizes the long and complicated encoding of flora, fauna,toponyms and annual events of the Japanese landscape and calendar, untangling not onlytheir synchronic connections, but also their historical development from the 8th to 19thcentury, from the nightingale (hototogisu) as a harbinger of summer in the Kokinshû tocats' love-making as a topic for comic haikai verse in the Edo period. This book will beessential for anyone interested at all in virtually any genre of the traditional Japanese arts:poetry, costume, painting, noh theater, architecture, tea ceremony, flower arranging -- orJapanese sweets (wagashi)!

Joshua Mostow, University of British Columbia

Andrew M. Watsky

Japan and the Culture of the Four Seasons provides a compelling account of how Japan has appropriated, interpreted, and valued nature over the centuries. Shirane's wide-ranging study tracks the culture of nature in Japan, and especially waka's central role in constructing a vision of nature that impacted all the arts. In its breadth, depth, and accessibility, the book is of great value not only to scholars and students of Japan, but anyone interested in the intersections of art and nature.

Andrew M. Watsky, Princeton University

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