Japan’s time-honored aesthetic values

©原哲夫

花の慶次 -雲のかなたに- Hana no Keiji -Kumo no Kanata ni, lit "The Flowery Keiji: At the Other Side of the Clouds"

Kabukimono (かぶきもの also spelt 傾奇者 or 歌舞伎者, kabukimono) appeared between the end of the Muromachi era (1573) and the beginning of the Edo period (1603) personified basara – furyu. In many cases, they were self-proclaimed samurai but actually jobless outlaws dressed in flamboyant clothing, combining colors such as yellow and blue and often accessorizing by wearing kimonos meant for women as cloaks, or velvet lapels. They also often had uncommon hairstyles and facial hair, either styled up in various fashions, or left to grow long. Their swords would often be unusually big and have fancy hilts.

Some true samurai, busyo (武将, Busyō, warlords) of the Sengoku Period (戦国時代, Sengoku jidai, Warring States Period, roughly from the middle of the 15th century to the beginning of the 17th century) were seen as kabukimono. For example, Nihon Zuihitsu Taisei, an Edo period essay called Nagoya Sanzaburo, a busyo in the 16th century, a kabukimono.

A manga,Keiji (花の慶次 -雲のかなたに, Hana no Keiji -Kumo no Kanata ni- lit "The Flowery Keiji: At the Other Side of the Clouds") depicts one of the other real busyo, Maeda Kei’jirō (alias) of the Sengoku Period. Sengoku Basara: Samurai Kings (戦国 BASARA) is an anime and manga series also portray such warlords.

Derived from action video games, it doesn’t necessarily along with the real history and teems with weird characters and futuristic gadgets; it spawns new phenomenon, reki-jyo( 歴女), woman history buffs who is mad originally about busyo in the Sengoku Basara, then history in general.

Another works featuring a gang - yakuza or bad boys including First of the North Star( 北斗の拳, Hokuto no ken lit Fist of the Big Dipper), drawn by the same cartoonist - fall into the category. A common theme underling here is the relentless diehard battles with powerful foes and the glitter that overlaps with the image of violence and death.

歌舞伎 Kabuki
a traditional Japanese theatrical art

Iki

助六, (Sukeroku) enbodies iki in Edo. on click from 0:45:07

Kabuki, a traditional Japanese theatrical art - it has influenced anime and manga in many ways - derived from a dance drama called Kabuki-odori(dancing) that Okuni (出雲の阿国, Izumo no Okuni) (1572?-?), formerly a shrine maiden, first started performing in the dry riverbeds of Kyoto in 1603, dressed up in man’s costume and makeup of kabukimono, and eventually led to the creation of the Kabuki theatrical form. Kabuki has grown up to be a performing art today through a series of remaking: that is, adding new stories and characters to the original plot in keeping with changes in devotees’ reaction. Naturally, it has reflected an aesthetic sense of the era, and that of in the late Edo period was iki ().

Iki - no equivalent term in other languages - describes qualities that are aesthetically appealing seen in a personal trait, posture, behavior or outfit, including: refined, tasteful, low-keyed; mature, self-composed, thoughtful; candid, unpretentious, unposed, indifferent, humble; straightforward, daring. “To personify iki, one must possess an inviolable dignity and grace, commonly expressed in words such as inaseいなせ dashing, spirited’, isamiいさみ, chivalry’, and denpō伝法,show-off bravado’ ,” Kuki noted. He added, “We observe that a special characteristic of iki that distinguishes itself is that coquetry is spiritualized by way of ikiji ‘pride and honor,' which is, in turn, born of idealism.”

Whereas wabi-sabi was for aristocrats, warriors and wealthy merchants, iki was originated in the sentiments of chonin (町人, chōnin, urbane commoners) of Edo (江戸, edo, old Tokyo under the Tokugawa Shogunate rein ) and Kamigata (上方, kamigata, Kyoto - Osaka area). Shūzō Kuki (九鬼 周造, Kuki Shūzō, 1888 - 1941, Japanese academic and philosopher) asserted in his book The Structure of Iki (1930), iki constituted one of the essential values of Japanese culture and it was more influential in forming post-modern Japanese culture than “wabi - sabi”. “The aesthetic sense underlies Japanese pop culture today is iki,” says Okuno.

 Iki and 野暮 yabo

Iki &Yabo
©1992 二馬力・GNN

Donald Curtis in Porco Rosso (紅の豚, Kurenai no Buta, lit. Crimson Pig)

(C)Studio Ghibli,Hayao Miyazaki

Zenigata in LupinⅢ, (ルパン三世, Rupan Sansei)

The kabuki play Sukeroku came on for the first time in 1713 embodied iki. Handsome and strong, Sukeroku was a hero of the common people in Edo. Aubrey and Giovanna Halford wrote in The Kabuki Handbook, "The hero, Sukeroku, is an otokodate with all the qualities of courage, resourcefulness, bravado and physical charm which the lower classes admired.…he epitomized all the aspirations of the humble, romantic townsfolk. He even went so far as to wear a head-band dyed with a certain purple dye which, because of the enormous cost of importing it from China, only the Shogun himself had hitherto been accustomed to use…. it gave dramatic expression to a certain stirring of the social consciousness of the common people."

We can see this typical pattern of iki and yabo casting in anime and manga today. In Hayao Miyazaki’s Porco Rosso (紅の豚, Kurenai no Buta, Crimson Pig), Porco Rosso and Madame Gina are iki, and Donald Curtis is yabo. By the same token, Arsène Lupin III of Lupin III (ルパン三世, Rupan Sansei) and his colleagues including Fujiko Mine are iki, and Inspector Zenigata is yabo. Kuki pointed out, “The opposition of iki and yabo is one that is value neutral in itself and does not embody value judgment. Whether to favor iki or choose yabo is a matter of taste.” The gray areas - blurring of lines between good and evil and so on - that characterize Japanese anime and manga in general today has inherited from traditional performing arts like kabuki.

—ODAKANE Fuji

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