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Role of Nature in Japanese Art

The natural environment is a commonly featured theme in Japanese art.  Artistic styles, from early dynastic periods to contemporary times, show deep reverence for the natural environment. Natural features show up on a wide variety of media. Nature plays an important cultural and spiritual role.

Natural cycles are an important theme in Japan’s ancient religion, Shinto. Thus, artistic references to the seasons is a form of worship. Natural features such as trees, mountains, and rivers are sacred to Shinto adherents (Stanley-Baker 14). By depicting these features in works of art, the Japanese celebrate their environment’s divinity. Nature-themed art pieces are also viewed as gateways to Shinto transcendence. Thus, nature imbues Japanese art with elements of spirituality.

Japanese artists use nature to conceptualize the world. The most prevalent concept in Japanese art is change. Artists represent change using seasonal themes. Autumnal scenes, represented by yellowed leaves, are often followed by snowy scenes, showing winter (Graham 57). The transition between seasons signifies the certainty of change, a prominent Buddhist concept. By demonstrating the flow of time nature plays a crucial conceptual role.

Nature also plays cosmetic roles. The natural environment signifies beauty. Decorative motifs draw inspiration from societal attitudes on beauty. Artists from the Ado and Momoyama period, for example, decorated kitchenware using seasonal flowers (Stanley-Baker 47). Their Contemporary equivalents, on the other hand, decorate common household items using highly stylized caricatures of plants, geographical features, and animals. These references to the natural environment achieve culture-dependent aesthetics.

Nature plays a fundamental spiritual, conceptual and aesthetic role in Japanese art. Artistic references to the natural environment have long-running ties to Japan’s reverence and admiration for the environment. These trends have inspired western artists for millennia. The evolving relationship between nature and art will enable nature-themed art to remain relevant amidst changing cultural attitudes.

Works cited

Graham, Patricia. Japanese Design: Art, Aesthetics & Culture. Tuttle Publishing. 2014.

Stanley-Baker, Joan. Japanese Art.  Thames & Hudson. 2000.


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