Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Things which will make me go back to Japan

The introduction to Werner Bischof’s ‘Japan’, which was the subject of my last post, is written by Robert Guillain who is described as the Far East correspondent of Le Monde. It is a fitting, poetic introduction to Bischof’s extraordinary photos. I particularly liked a section where he describes ‘Things which will make me go back to Japan’. Reading them, I realised that I do not have a list of ‘Things which will make me go back to England’. Having a Lithuanian father and English mother has smudged that feeling of belonging to one place. I feel more empathy reading Guillain’s list as any I might make for another place…  Here are a few things from his list that resonate with me:

I will go back – to put it at its lowest – to see Japan without the Japanese, that is for the sake of the country’s very individual local colour; for the astonishment of seeing the originals of those images of nature that the deft brushes of the Nipponese artists have painted on silk; for the pine-tree with its twisted branches, the flight of the wild geese over Tokyo bay, and the thatched villages in the misty valley at the foot of Fujiyama; for the blending of mountain and sea, and to watch the smoking volcanoes; for an island off Tokyo, which is a basket of red camellias floating on the edge of the Pacific…
I will go back to enjoy the strange Japanese way of life. The nudity of its comfort, its simplification of existence and its search for contentment in frugality and closeness to nature…
I will go back for the sake of the children, who are like live dolls; for the girls with their laughter, their Mongol eyelids, their brilliant black hair, their bare feet in wooden sandals and the pure metal of their hearts ensheathed in softness; for Japanese women, who seem to belong to a race different from that of the men, and are the country’s finest achievement…
I will go back to assure myself that the West can learn certain lessons from the East; I will go back, so that Japan may teach me the refinements of the artistic sense and the gift of communing intensely with the mystery of nature; to reacquire from the Japanese that respect for the past, and the people of the past, that we Westerners have lost; to confirm that no-one knows what politeness is until he has experienced Japanese politeness.

Image by Mattias

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Werner Bischof’s 'Japan'

I came across this photograph (click, gets big) quite haphazardly looking through the posters in a now defunct frame shop around 1998. I bought the poster and framed it and it has decorated my home ever since and will always have a place there as long as I live.
It was taken by Werner Bischof in 1952. To me it is a very powerful statement of the beauty of the visible in Japanese architecture and of the invisible in the Japanese soul. Is there a better example of architecture in perfect harmony with nature? And the photographer has perhaps instinctively so framed the photograph to enhance this harmony. See how the lines of the upper roof are a mirror image of the lines of the branch that reaches out to it. I never tire of contemplating this image and the period that it evokes so eloquently and wondering why I feel such affinity.
I had never heard of Werner Bischof so I searched on the web and found the book the photo came from (‘Japan’ Werner Bischof, Simon and Schuster, 1954) and I ordered it from a rare book dealer. When it arrived I was taken aback to read this beginning to the author’s profile:

This is a book the author will never see.
Werner Bischof finished his work on it in New York in February, 1954, sent the layout and captions off to Zurich, and departed by jeep for what was to have been a year’s photographic trip to Latin America. His trip ended abruptly on May 16th, high in the Peruvian Andes, when a car carrying him and two companions went over a 1500 foot cliff.

I was filled with sadness when I read this. How grateful we should be for each day we live, for how abruptly it may end. To the nostalgia evident in this photo was added the knowledge of the observer’s sudden end. What a loss we feel, when we open the book, for this photo is but the portal to an inestimable treasure of images of Japan by this great photographer.

Werner Bischof, one of the half-dozen most brilliant photographers of his generation, spent almost two years photographing every corner of Japan, every aspect of Japanese life. Out of the many thousands of pictures he took, the 109 most beautiful examples of his work have been assembled in this book.

You will search in vain on the web for these images, which is quite astonishing given their quality. The image above is to my knowledge the only one on the web and I hope I don’t get into trouble for it. But it is the shame of the world that his work is not better known and if this post and this photo introduce you to him then it will be a very great good and I hope I will be forgiven.

10 Places to Find Free Philosophy and Healing Courses Online

This is a guest post from Bailey Harris. Bailey writes about health insurance quotes and related topics for www.healthinsurancequotes.org.

If you have been looking for new ways to harness your inner strength and increase your health and happiness or if you are just interested in exploring philosophical topics, there are many different free classes that you can take online. Here are 10 free internet and email courses to check out in your spare time.

Classics in Western Philosophy - This free online course from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is designed to introduce students to Western philosophical tradition through the works of philosophers like Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Hume, and Descartes. Course materials include reading lists, lecture notes, assignments, exams, and other study aids.

Introduction to Ancient Greek Philosophy - Taught by Donald Kagan, Sterling Professor of Classics and History at Yale University, this free online philosophy course examines the development of Greek civilization. Free course materials include lecture transcripts and audio and video lectures.

Philosophy of Mind - This free online course from the University of California - Berkeley focuses on the nature of the human mind. The course consists of 32 audio lectures.

Environmental Philosophy - Norte Dame offers a free online course that focuses on environmental philosophy. Students are encouraged to explore the current environmental crisis and consider ways in which the crisis may be resolved. Free course materials include an ebook, video lectures, and discussion questions.

Philosophy and Death - This free online philosophy course is taught by Professor Shelly Kagan of Yale University. The course explores mortality and death from a philosophical standpoint. Free course materials include both audio and video lectures.

Meditation 101 - Phylameana lila Desy, the About.com Guide to Healing, offers a free introductory meditation course. A portion of the course is delivered via email each day for nine days.

Health U - Health U provides an entire library of free online health and healing courses. Some of the topics you can study include heartburn, insomnia, weight loss surgery, breast cancer, lymphoma, psoriasis, leukemia, and multiple sclerosis.

Principles of Human Nutrition - The John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health offers a free course on the role of nutrition in growth and health. Designed for self-learners, the online course includes lectures and a reading list.

Herbal e-Course - Created by a Community Centered Herbalist, this free online course provides an introduction to herbs and herbal remedies. The course is delivered via email and takes seven days to complete. You can also download a free ebook that explores 23 herbs and their uses.

Yoga Podcast Class - Hillary Rubin, a certified yoga instructor, offers free yoga instruction through video-based podcast classes. Each class takes approximately 40 to 60 minutes to complete.

Discover The Tale of Genji, the 11th Century classic of Japan (click image)

Discover The Tale of Genji, the 11th Century classic of Japan (click image)
Kiyomizudera Temple has a large veranda looking out over Kyoto and beyond