Friday, 16 June 2017

The Art of Japanese Life

How Japanese society prizes aesthetic values

Written by Ben Felsenburg

Though made of wood, the carved cicada is in every other respect true to nature, with tiny compound eyes and a ribbed back perfect in every detail. The centuries-oldBen-Felsenburg-colour-176 carving is an exquisite emblem of The Art of Japanese Life (Monday, BBC4, 9pm) explored by Dr James Fox in his erudite new three-part series.

The art historian’s fascination with a country he describes as a ‘parallel universe, a society so similar and yet so different from our own’ is fired most of all by the way in which aesthetic values infuse every part of Japanese life. You see what he means from the nation’s ancient creation myth: this is, after all, ‘the land of the eight great islands’ that were formed from the drops of rain which fell from the tip of a God’s spear.

The first episode is devoted to the culture’s deeply ingrained connections to nature, a relationship that through Shintoism merges into something akin to worship: witness the offering of food and drink left by a priest as a gift to a waterfall that courses 500 feet down. Perhaps it is no surprise that amid so many active volcanoes and frequent earthquakes the natural kingdom should be granted such honour. But tradition is now under attack, as Fox discovers how the irresistible onward rush of modernity is threatening to topple the past. With his faultless tailoring, this englishman abroad fits right in as a respectful and ever-curious guest and is a redoubtable defender of all that should be preserved.



RIPPER STREET (Monday, BBC2, 9pm)
Matthew Macfadyen is back as detective inspector Edmund Reid, on the trail of a new serial killer as the series returns.

BBC CARDIff SINGER Of THE WORLD 2017 (Saturday, BBC4, 7.30pm)
Classical music presenter Petroc Trelawny is joined by American soprano Angel Blue for the first of the two finals.

HOSPITAL (Tuesday, BBC2, 9pm)
follow the heroic work by the emergency services in the wake of the Westminster terror attack in the second run of this brilliant documentary series.

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