JAPANESE AESTHETICS: FURYU

May 9, 2010

 

Fūryū (風流)

 

            The Japanese aesthetic Fūryū (風流) was derived from the Chinese word fengliu, which literally translated meant “good deportment” or “manners.  After its “importation” to Japan in the eight century, the word came to refer more directly to the refined tastes of a cultivated person and to things what were associated with such people.  When applied in a more aesthetic sense, the word fūryū took on a reference to the refined, even elegant behavior of an sophisticated person.  As time went on, the word was applied to all things that were regarded as elegant, sophisticated, stylish, or artistic.

      By the twelfth century, with the evolution of semantics in Japan, fūryū  began to evolve into two distinct variations.  The first variation applied fūryū to more earthy, ostentatious beauty as marked in popular art forms.  In the second variation, people attempted to find fūryū in the beauty portrayed in landscape gardens, flower arrangements, architecture, and poetry about nature, normally written in classic Chinese.  It was this second “branch” of fūryū that in part gave birth to cha-no-yu or the tea ceremony, during the Muromachi Jidai or Muromachi Era (1333- 1573).

      During the Edo Period or Edo Jidai (1603 – 1868), a form of popular fūryū became evident through a style of fictional prose known as ukyo-zōshi.[i]  A second popular interpretation of fūryū became apparent in such art forms as haikai[ii] poetry and the nanga[iii] style of painting; an interpretation that advocated a withdrawal from all of life’s burdens.  An example of this version of fūryū may be found in the following poem by Bashō      :

the beginning of fūryū

this rice planting

song of the north.

 

      A more contemporary interpretation of fūryū, strongly influenced by Zen, lies in the two characters which comprise the term, 風流, wind and flowing.  Just like the moving wind, fūryū can only be sensed:  it cannot be seen.  Fūryū is tangible yet at the same time, intangible in the elegance which it implies; moreover, just like the wind, fūryū puts forward a wordless, transitory beauty, which can be experienced only in the moment:  in the next it is gone.  Interestingly, several styles of folk dances, yayako odori and kaka odori, have come to be referred to as fūryū or “drifting on the wind” dances and are quite popular.


[i] Ukiyo-zōshi (浮世草子 ) or “books of the floating world” was the first major genus of popular Japanese fiction, by and large written between 1690 and 1770, primarily in Kyōto and Ōsaka.  Ukiyo-zōshi style literature developed from kana-zōshi (仮名草子 ) [a type of printed Japanese book that was produced largely in Kyōto between 1600 and 1680, referring to books written in kana rather than kanji].  Indeed, ukiyo-zōshi was originally classified as kana-zōshi.  The actual term ukiyo-zōshi first appeared around 1710, used in reference to romantic or erotic works; however, later the term came to refer to literature that included a diversity of subjects and aspects of life during the Edo JidaiLife of a Sensuous Man, by Ihara Saikaku, is regarded as the first work of this type.  The book, as well as other passionate literature, took its subject matter from writings of or about courtesans and guides to the pleasure quarters.  Although Ihara’s works were not considered “high literature” at the time, they became extremely popular and were crucial to the further development and broadened appeal of the genre.  After the 1770s, the style began to stagnate and to slowly decline.

[ii] Haikai (俳諧 , meaning comic or unorthodox) is short for haikai no renga,  a popular style of Japanese linked verse that originate in the sixteenth century. Unlike the more aristocratic rengahaikai was regarded as a low style of linked verse intended primarily for the average person, the traveler, and for those who lived a less privileged lifestyle.

[iii] Nanga (南画  , or southern painting) also known and bunjinga  (文人画 ) , intellectual painting) was a somewhat undefined school of Japanese painting which thrived during the late Edo Period.  Its artists tended to regard themselves as an intellectual elite or literati.  The artists who followed this school were both unique and independent; yet they all shared a high regard for traditional Chinese culture.  Their paintings, most often rendered in black ink, but at times with light color, were inclined to represent Chinese landscapes or related subjects, much in the same form as Chinese wenrenhua or literati painting of the nanzonghua or Chinese “southern school” or art.

 Copyright 2010 by Tokugawa Hayato and Shisei-Do Publications.  All rights reserved.

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