For its 1998 special autumn exhibition, the Asuka Historical Museum is presenting a contemporary project concerned with representation of ancient Japanese literature. To date the main activity of the museum has been focused on the study of archaeology and history and as such the present exhibition represents something of a departure for us.
The project proposed by London-based photographer John Tran and poet Paul St. John Mackintosh aims to recapture the traditional culture of Japan and the environment in which it has been developed, through photographic images of utamakura locations and the English interpretations of poems featuring utamakura. The project is being presented as an official event in the Festival UK98 promoted by the British Council and the British Embassy.
Although the Utamakura Sites project intends to cover the long history of waka from ancient times to the early modern period, the exhibition in Asuka mainly highlights the part of the project in the Man’yoshu era and/or Asuka region. Since the spring of 1998 the Asuka Museum and the Asuka Preservation Foundation have been providing support to the artists for accomplishing the work presented in this exhibition.
We believe it is a part of the Museum’s role to introduce Japanese culture to a wider global audience by assisting activity of this kind, and at the same time hope the exhibition will provide us with a good opportunity to contemplate our own culture and its background.
6th October 1998
Asuka Historical Museum President TANAKA Migaku
Asuka Preservation Foundation Director KUMA Takeshi
Explanatory Notes 7
Photographs and Waka Texts
2 Pond, Fujiwara no Miya
3 Site of Imperial Palace, Fujiwara
4 Wier, Asukagawa
6 Council Housing, Fujiwara Kyo
7 Wrecked Cars, Asukagawa
8 At the Foot of Kaguyama
9 Morning Mist, Asuka
10 Demolition, Asuka
11 Roadside works, Ohara
15 Road to Hase
16 Car Factory, Hinokumagawa
17 Bus Home by Yoshinogawa
19 Sunset, Katsuragawa
21 Kobe Steel Sports Hall, Iwaya
23 Container Park, Suminoe
25 Poster and Meat Cutter, Osaka
26 Naniwa, America Mura
27 Sumiyoshi Shrine
28 Detritus, Nagarabashi
29 Daimaru Building, Kobe
30 Earthquake Damage, Nagata-ku
32 Amanohashidate 1
33 Amanohashidate 2
Production of the Utamakura Site Project 83
*This catalogue contains the works of the photographer John Tran and the poet Paul St. John Mackintosh produced for their project “UTAMAKURA”. It is published for the autumn exhibition (6th October~23rd November 1998) promoted by the Asuka Historical Museum and the Asuka Preservation Foundation.
*The catalogue is edited by the responsibility of the members of curatorial section of Asuka museum. IWAMOTO Keisuke translated English texts in to Japanese.
* The Museum would like to express its gratitude to the following for their collaboration in the preparation of the exhibition:
INUI Haruo, INOUE Tadao, William R. CARTER, OTANI Teruko, SUGIHIRA Masami, SODA Susumu, Tamiko TRAN, NAKANISMI Tateo, NAKAMURA Shinichiro, FUJITA Raihaku, FUJIMOTO Kiyoshi..
A Portrait of Japan
For over 1,500 years, Japanese literature has been filled with a spirit of place, from the earliest praise-songs addressing the gods of mountain and field to the lyrics of refined courtiers contemplating the passing seasons. This spirit was crystallised in the utamakura, revered place names celebrated in poetry, with similar resonance to Arcadia or Parnassus in the Western tradition. Utamakura were celebrated for their beauty, their historical significance, their literary associations, their emotive connotations, or some purely associative quality. Generations of poets visited these sites (though sometimes only in imagination), adding layer upon layer of depth and complexity to their mystique.
Though venerated in the Japanese cultural tradition, the utamakura have fared less well in modern times. Some still survive as beauty spots; others have fallen victim to natural change or human environmental damage. Even the best-preserved sites are now, as often as not, cluttered with visitors, weighed down with viewing galleries and tourist restaurants, littered with the debris of contemporary consumerism.
The modern utamakura present a poignant, often harsh juxtaposition of ancient courtly beauty with modern mass culture; while sensibility to nature is a central precept of Japanese culture, the natural environment itself is either re-shaped according to urban or industrial needs, or revered and put on show to the extent that the natural sites become inextricably linked with the human activity that accompanies them. In either case a new aesthetic is necessary in order to appreciate the changing landscape without having to lapse into a sentimental nostalgia for defiled nature.
The History of Utamakura
Utamakura grew out of Japanese religion. The Shinto faith had from earliest times a strong focus on the spirit of place, thanks to its own variety of paganism and animism. The gods or spirits of rocks, streams, trees, lakes and all striking natural phenomena were worshipped by believers, and lauded in praise-songs designed to win their favour. Poetry was felt to be dear to the gods, so the deities of the natural world were naturally addressed with paeans to the beauty and majesty of their physical forms. Mountains above all were the recipients of poems, for the mountain peaks, nearest to the heavens, were regarded as the abode of the gods, and some mountains were conceived of as gods in themselves, ringed by torii gates and only approached after elaborate ritual purifications.
As in most countries, religion in Japan became intertwined with political power, and the consecration of an emperor's sovereignty over the land was encapsulated in the kunimi (land-viewing), a rite in which religious and secular splendour were combined through poetry. Ascending to a mountain top or viewpoint, the sovereign hymned the beauties of his land to confirm his possession, placating the gods and glorifying himself. One of the most well-known uta of poems (uta) of kunimi is represented here with an image taken at the base of Mount Kaguyama. The courtiers and gentry likewise celebrated the loveliness of their surroundings, as Japan’s growing wealth and sophistication raised them from clan chieftains to a stratum of cultivated nobles. Refinement and elegance took the place of piety in their songs, and delight replaced awe. As literary traditions began to supplant religious canons, aristocratic poets started to favour particular sites for their purely poetic virtues; connection with some well-known romance; celebrated beauty; or lucky associative coincidence of names in a literary tradition always dominated by puns, double meanings and homophones.
The founding period of classical poetry, enshrined in the first great poetry anthology, the Man’yoshu (Anthology of a Myriad Leaves, c.759), showcased both religious and aristocratic poetry. It also exhibited utamakura from across Japan, as the cultivated classes had not become so fixed in the capital as they later were. Later poets drew on the repertoire of utamakura from the Man'yoshu, often without ever having seen the places themselves, but the earlier writers had a closer relationship with the land.
With the foundation of the new imperial capital at Heian-kyo (modern Kyoto) in 794, the aristocracy found a centre where they lived in undisturbed peace for the next 350 years, and the utamakura they preferred were the sites of great beauty near the capital, or the evocative, romantic far-off places which they could name without visiting. The growing diversity and sophistication of their literature also meant that places once famous just for their beauty or religious associations now became worth mentioning because they appeared in previous literature: Suma on the coast near Kobe, for instance, gained extra significance because of its association with the exile of Genji, the gentlemanly paragon of Murasaki Shikibu’s unrivalled novel, The Tale of Genji (c. 1010). The gentry loved to pass their time with competitions and other games, so that the utawase (poetry competition), in which teams faced off and tried to cap their rivals with a better verse, became forcing-houses for poetic production, in which reputations were made or broken and the materials for the great imperial anthologies gathered. With ambitious courtiers increasingly in need of handy references and primers to equip them for these contests, compendia of utamakura were compiled, and the whole subject studied in greater detail.
When the peaceful heyday of the aristocracy ended in 1185 in bloody civil war, the old poetic tradition changed. The aristocrats, now helpless pawns of a new regime of provincial samurai warriors with its headquarters in Kamakura, were forced to cultivate their own literary heritage to enhance their residual status, and changed from dilettantes to professionals. Instead of a pastime, poetry became a vocation, and more sophisticated critical standards were developed. Utamakura were further codified, and the concept of honi (root meaning) was perfected, whereby any utamakura had to have its own fundamental image or association which had to appear in the poem featuring it. Mount Fuji, for example, was associated with smoke, because in the period of the Man’yoshu the volcano had still been active, and poets had to follow the old precedents, even though 500 years later Fuji was dormant and emitted nothing. Also, the new upsets and privations of the time sent some poets out of the capital into the provinces, where at last they could see the sites long celebrated in ignorance, and social upheavals opened poetry to new social classes. The great poet Saigyo (1118 - 1190) typifies all these trends: a samurai by birth, he became an itinerant monk, wandering further afield than any great poet for generations, and dedicating himself single-mindedly to poetry.
The arriviste samurai overlords, ambitious for cultural prestige to buttress their political supremacy, supported the old poetic traditions. Digests of codified utamakura became even more important to equip these new participants with the background knowledge they needed, and new literary developments expanded and enhanced utamakura. With the disastrous wars of the 1180s, Japan had more history in a short time than for centuries, and the memories of bitter fighting and tragic death recorded in the war epic Heike monogatari (Tale of the Heike, c.1220), deepened the associations of particular places. In the 14th century renga (linked verse), alternating verses strung together by several or many participants, took the cultural lead from the single poem, and lists of utamakura became essential parts of renga poetsi equipment, to ensure that they could work together with a standardized set of traditional names and associations. The noh theatre, a favourite form of the warrior class, also drew heavily on the utamakura tradition, as noh plays not only wove poems with their utamakura into their scripts, but also chose these celebrated places as sites for their dramas; and the favourite noh tales of revenants and ghosts seeking enlightenment added an extra air of poetic mystery to the utamakura.
When early modern Japan recovered peace and unity after 1600, the new haiku poets continued to use utamakura (though less than before), to add weight and literary significance to their brief verses. Also, tranquillity and prosperity gave Basho and other poets the first opportunity in centuries to tour the old utamakura sites in safety, adding a new layer of literary resonance to the accumulated heritage of the past, and a thriving self-confident society with a new capital at Edo (modern Tokyo) developed its own poetic places. But literature was the last thing on the minds of the modernizers who transformed Japan after the Meiji Restoration of 1868, and many sites were sacrificed to the impetus of industrialization. This process has continued unabated until the presentday producing landscapes that, through their variety, give us a profound cross-section of the country, cutting through layers of its geography, its history and its society.
Paul St John Mackintosh
Production of the Utamakura Sites Project
The project to document utamakura sites was originally conceived as a collaboration between two British-based artists to retrace the steps of Basho’s Oku no hosomichi (Journey to the North) and interpret the journey in words and pictures for an international audience. This original intention grew to encompass much older literary works going back to include work from the Man 'you period onwards. The images and translations contained in this exhibition represent a selection of work completed over the last three years and further documentation of sites in Kyushu, Shikoku and northern Honshu will continue in 1999. During the course of a six-month journey covering oku no hosomichi and other sites, between October 1998 and March 1999 a live website will exhibit work produced by the photographer as he journeys north of the Asuka region. The website is accessible through the British Councils UK98 Festival homepage: www.uk98.or.jp.
The prints created for this exhibition were produced using the extremely rare carbon process; a technique originally developed in 1855 by Alphonse Poitevin. Modern carbon prints, using computer scanning technology, render superior contrast and detail compared to prints produced using the normal silver gelatin process. A carbon print is also characterised by an overall matt image with a slight glossiness in the shadow areas. As carbon is an irreducible element, prints produced using this process are exceptionally stable and their archival qualities are expected to protect the image well into the 22nd century.
John Tran is a freelance photographer based in the UK who studied photography in Japan while working in Kobe between 1990 and 1994. Previous work includes slide photography of Japanese images for the Leicester Haymarket Theatre, UK production of David Henry Hwang's House of Sleeping Beauties, a selection of urban and rural landscapes for the literary magazine Stone Soup and a solo exhibition, “Rotten Suns,” sponsored by Ilford Ltd, at the Islington Arts Factory, London, documenting life in Vietnam after the lifting of the US trade embargo in 1994. A selection from the "Rotten Suns" series appeared in the July 1995 issue of Asahi Camera Magazine. He has most recently exhibited work at the Studio Theatre, West London.
Paul St John Mackintosh is a British poet, writer and translator, married to a Japanese citizen. His enthusiastically received first collection of poetry, The Golden Age, was published by Bellew Publishing, London, in May 1997. His translations from Japanese include Poems of Nakahara Chuya (1993) and Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids (1995) by the 1994 Nobel Prize-winner Kenzaburo Oe, which won a Japan Festival Award. He is an Executive Committee member of the Translators Association of the Society of Authors. He contributes regularly on Japan studies and literary and cultural topics to publications such as the Times Literary Supplement, Japan Forum, Arts of Asia and Verse, as well as to BBC Radio, newspapers such as the Financial Times and the Independent, and other forums.
Gerard Arnier founded the Omnimage company in London to produce the highest level of photographic printing using a variety of techniques. Working in platinum, carbon, photogravure and dye transfer, he has a wide range of skills. He is the originator of the modern black and white carbon printing technique using crystal raster scanning technology.
This project has been produced with the generous assistance of
The Asuka Preservation Foundation
The Asuka Historical Museum
The British Council, Japan
The Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation
The Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation
Toshiba International Foundation