Monday, March 14, 2011


By Hirokazu Kosaka

On the bullet train. 12:57:24 I arrive at the Kyoto train station on time.  On my left stands an 8th century five-story Buddhist pagoda and on my right a cab with an automatic door and a five-inch Sony TV on the dash board, waiting for me to enter.

I arrive at my family's 800 year old home where my father greets me from his gravel garden.  He points to the upper corner of the eaves of the house. There I perceive the spider, which I have known from my childhood.  My great-grandfather told me once that this spider hails from a line of spiders that can be traced to a 17th century ancestor. 

This image is from a collaboration between Hirokazu Kosaka and the Butoh performer Oguri in a dance performance of the story by William Faulkner, Caddy! Caddy! Caddy!, Redcat Theater in Los Angeles, March 2007.  Holding threads in his mouth from the spools visible behind him, Oguri steps from the stage and out onto the backs of the audience chairs, leaning into his face and balancing as he pulls from the spools behind him.

The word Verandah originates from an old Sanskrit term that means to “meet.”  In Japanese the word is “engawa” (縁側)which is written with two Chinese characters, en (relation, fate) and gawa (side, edge).

The verandah space plays a dual role, belonging at once to both exterior and interior, a space in-between.  The verandah is a space between spaces where man encounters nature - Verandah is neither a color of black or white but one of infinite shades of grey. Verandah is not a Yes or a No, but infinite maybes. The verandah is a kinesthetic space in which there is reciprocal exchange for multiple sensory perceptions of phenomena, and homogeneous in the sense that there is neither more nor less. The verandah is here understood as a reference to a whole, which can be grasped through certain parts and aspects, requiring both at once this presence and absence.

It is often suggested that Verandah space is for one who is prepared to awaken and in confounding the self and garden is capable of gesture, of expression and finally , spiritual experience.

In The Hidden Dimension anthropologist Edward T. Hall writes:
The difference between the West and Japan is not limited to moving around the point vs. coming to the point, or the stressing of lines as contrasted with intersections. The entire experience of space in the most essential respects is different from that of Western culture. When Westerners think and talk about space, they mean the distance between objects. In the West, we are taught to perceive and to react to the arrangements of objects and to think of space as”empty.” The meaning of this becomes clear only when it is contrasted with the Japanese, who are trained to give meaning to spaces to perceive the shape and arrangement of space; for this they have a word,ma. The ma, or interval, is a basic building block in all Japanese spatial experience.*

Conjuring up concepts of time and space, the Japanese word for this is jikankukan (時間空間), four separated Chinese characters and yet inseparable and ever conjoined. Ji (time) kan (space)ku (sky)kan (space) coexist without a conjunction "and” between two entities to separate them. It is a concept familiar to many scholars of the Japanese arts and it is a major element in the formation of the Japanese space.  Space is one of most talked about high branches of Japanese art and vastly reveals the intimacy of the cultural life of Japanese people. 

This long verandah is at Rengeo-in Temple in Japan - there are 1,000 statues of Kanzeon lined up inside that can viewed from the verandah, and archers shoot their arrows the entire length of it.

My mother serves us wonderful meals of miso soup in beautiful lacquerware with a cap on it. When we remove the cap to admire the reflection of steam gathering on the underside of the cap, my mother always gasps and says, “How wonderful the verandah looks today!”.  She is expressing that it is similar to the verandah after the Spring rain where portions of the verandah are covered with a sheen of water and where the garden is reflected as though the garden is floating on it.

Tanizaki Junichiro in his lovely book  In’ei raisan  陰翳礼讃 (In praise of Shadows) writes about the in-between of the spaces of the Yokan (sweet bean cake):
And when yokan is served in a black lacquer tray within whose dark recesses its color is scarcely distinguishable, then it is most certainly an object for  meditation. You take its cool, smooth substance into your mouth, and it is as if the very darkness of the room were melting on your tongue; even undistinguished yokan can then take on a mysteriously intriguing flavor”. And Tanizaki continues to praise the shadowing; “A degree of dimness, absolute cleanness, and quite so complete one can hear the hum of a mosquito.  I love to listen from such a toilet to the sound of softly falling rain, especially if it is a toilet of the Kanto region, with its long, narrow windows at floor level; there one can listen with such a sense of intimacy to the raindrops falling from the eaves and the trees, seeping into the earth as they wash over the base of a stone lantern and freshen the moss about the stepping stones.**

According to the Saijiki (歳事記, a commentary of seventeen-syllable verses, the four seasons are divided in to many as seventy- two sub-seasons.The saijiki venerates sensitivity toward the seasons through the expressions and inhabits ones different sensory inspirations.  In terms like , spring rain, Spring mist, hazy vernal moon, rainy season, dew, breeze in the pine tree, Summer doyo, harvest moon, chirping autumn insect, red maples leaves, autumn showers, snowy view, etc.  Thus the Verandah does not end with the wooden platform but enhances the seventy-two seasons for our human senses.

In Frolicking Monkeys and Frogs, 2010, Hirokazu recreates from memory the frolicking animals from what is believed to be the oldest manga, the 12th century Chojyu-Jinbutsu-Giga (Animal Person Caricature) painted by Toba Sojo.  In a telephone interview he explains: "I make my own ink with charcoal, and you can get different tones, ...rice burning soot is lighter, soy bean is dark.  About twenty years ago my grandfather died and I asked for the soot and made ink from it. When I write I use my grandfather's soot, and for the last twenty years I've been making my own ink from charcoal, from all kinds of things."  While he was still alive Hirokazu's grandfather explained to him that sumi paintings are fire and water paintings.

The notion of verandah has much in common with the aesthetic of traditional masters of Japanese ink paintings who understood that which is left out is equally, if not more important, than that which is included. The monochrome shades of carbon ink painting are interrelated observation platforms like the verandah that inhabits different sensory psyche, which participates in molding the unconscious mind.

Traditional ink paintings do not exist to tell you who they are but do invite the telling of who I am. The ink that is used for these paintings is created from charcoal, which is a byproduct of fire, and the mixture of fire and water that creates the ink coexists in the painting.  In our monastic home, we use charcoal not just for painting and fuel but to de-humidify the space, to purify the space from unwanted bad spirits and disease.  Charcoal thus becomes a filter of light, sounds and spirits.

Although the traditional garden has many angles of the visual perspectives in general, the ink paintings share the same spiritual perspective contemplations.

Hirokazu Kosaka is here performing for the New Years Eve celebration Kotohajime at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center of Los Angeles.  Hatsuya is the purification ritual of shooting the first arrow of the New Year.  Hirokazu Kosaka is a master of kyudo, and you can read about this here. Before any performance when the curtain raises he will stand offstage and shoot eight to ten arrows across the stage with the thought that in the viewers subconscious he has attenuated their vision, drawing a line on the back of their retina, to prepare the viewer for the experience of the remaining performance.

The most interesting usage of this verandah space is the Kyudo dojo (Japanese archery hall) which consists of sha-jo (shooting hall), a large verandah in position beside a twenty eight meter long flat garden space, and a mato-ba (target space) at the arrow receiving area. The target is called appropriately kasumi -mato (hazy target). The Kasumi mato is fifteen inches in diameter and consists of three black concentric circles of varied width. The target is made of paper, which is tightly stretched on to a wooden frame so as to form of a paper drum. When the piercing arrow strikes the target the sound is ingenuity,  impressive in reflecting deep sensitivities to the music of nature.  At this moment the sound of the target serves to resonate the archers mind and spirits. From the archers shooting area, the kasumi mato looks as though the dimness of the full moon has been covered by a passing veil of clouds.  Perceptions and sensitivities of appreciation are directed toward the smallest detail, as in a carefully manicured archer’s target.

I cannot go further without remarking on the major contribution to this art of archery in a lovely little book Zen in the Art of Archery by Eugen Herrigel.  In the introduction to the book Daisetsu T. Suzuki the suggests:
One has to transcend technique so that the art becomes an “artless art” growing out of unconscious.
In the case of archery, the hitter and the hit are no longer two opposing objects, but are one reality. The archer ceases to be conscious of himself as the one who is engaged in hitting the bull’s eye which confronts him. This state of unconscious is realized only when, completely empty and rid of self, he becomes one with the perfecting of his technical skill, though there is in it something of quite different order which cannot be attained by any progressive study of art. ***

An American contemporary music composer, John Cage, talks about these kinds of in-between sounds in his compositions.  He writes:
It was through study of Buddhism (Through study with D.T.Suzuki) that I became, it seemed to me, less confused. I saw art not as something that consisted of a communication from the artist to an audience but rather as an activity of sounds in which the artist found a way to let the sounds be themselves. And in their being themselves to open the minds of the people who made them or listened to them to other possibilities than they had previously considered. To widen their experience; particularly to undermine the making of value judgments….
I am also involved now in a kind of music I call music of contingency..
An instance is filling a conch shell with water and then tipping it so that it will gurgle and then amplifying that gurgle as I do in a piece called “Inlet.” One can’t see inside it, as those chamber within the shell are producing these gurgles while the water moves from one chamber to another. I can’t see inside it, so though I can tip it one way and get a gurgle, I don’t necessarily get one when I repeat my action. The shell gurgle when it is ready to do so. I find that situation very interesting where the person is both necessary and out of control. ****
There are also brief quotations from the Japanese composer, Takemitsu Toru talking about this in-between space:
In the ma (pause, interval) rhythm of Japanese music, the intermittent spelling of sound is perfect completion in itself. The event of sound heard by our ears are harmoniously linked by ma. Ma undergoes dynamic changes depending on the accidents of performance, and the sound is constantly being reborn in new harmonies. The role of the performer then is not only to playthe music but also to listen to it. The performer always tries to hear the ma. Hearing a note is as practical an act as sounding one, and eventually it becomes impossible to distinguish between the two……Because of the perfection  and complexity of the sound of a note, it can create ma, a metaphysical continuance of dynamically tense silence. As seen on a melody of No music, an organic relationship is not found in ma (pause) between sound and silence, but rather an intense antagonism founded on intangible balance grows between the two. In other words, the Japanese sensitivity which grasped the complexity of a sound, the perfection of polished note, created the original concept of ma. The soundless silent ma is recognized as a balance against a complex note , and is filled with immeasurable sounds.

Hirokazu Kosaka: "I accumulated five tons of construction debris and brought it to Mexico to be turned into charcoal, less than a ton, and made a huge stage with a dancer and a trumpet player, and a Butoh dancer danced on that.  I also had a ceramic artist creating tea bowls for me and he made a hundred tea bowls with a crackling glaze and just before the performance, about five minutes before, he brought all the cups from the kiln, red hot, and put them in the center of the stage with a microphone on them, and as they were cooling these hundred cups made a symphony in high and low keys of this crackling.  It was about one hour."

The most important garden I encountered was in 1958, when I was eight years old. My father took me to a monastery for training and discipline. This 17th Century Buddhist monastery was in Wakayama prefecture and belonged to the Shingon sect. During the training, I was shown a large screen monochrome painting of a rainbow.  I was asked to view it for few weeks and soon it disappeared into the closet.  I was never to see it again until my visit to the monastery in 1980. I was given the training again and the rainbow screen reappeared after twenty years hiatus and one day, later in the afternoon, as the sun was about to go down behind the mountain, the head priest called me to have tea with him by this rainbow painting. I sat near the painting in an ear-splitting silence, overlooking the garden and suddenly this monochrome rainbow started to change with chromatic shades of warm reds. I had solved the riddle of the missing colors in the rainbow. The color was coming from the maple leaves that surrounded the temple. At that time of the year all the leaves turn brilliant shades of red, and at certain time of the day everything is illuminated by them.

A brief word is in order about the art of landscape gardening, where beauty is so hidden as to be found and appreciated only by those who look deeply for it. It’s delightful in concealing something so secret in the garden to be discovered by a keen observer many hundreds years later.

Another garden which I observed was in Wakayama prefecture of  Kii peninsula where I was invited in the course of doing research on old gardens of the Edo period. It was an old dilapidated Buddhist edifice of the Shingon sect built in the late 18th Century.

This temple was built on a promontory which over looked the great Pacific Ocean. The building was in fact suffering from the great Kansai earthquake in the late forties and was in a large construction stage.  The foundation of the tea hut (Cha-shitsu) and tea garden (Cha-seki) was still visible and a few of the roji and stepping-stones were available for our academic appetite. The surface of the composition had significantly weathered in time, but some glimpses of the period design remained visible. The water basin was carefully measured and cleaned. One of the observers caught a glimpse of a fallen stone near the water basin and meticulously started to measure the stone. Hundreds of drawings were soon gathered and became the subject of study.

The garden appears to have been planned with two viewpoints regarding this central stone, that of the water basin and that of the newly found vertical stone at front of the water basin. The measurement of the square cubicle in both the water basin stone and the vertical stone were precisely the same size. One cut square contains water and the other one sees through. When one stands to wash his hands in the water basin he also is introduced to another source of greater water, the Pacific Ocean seen through the window of the vertical stone. Immediately one is awakened to another plane of consciousness and transcends this natural scale to microcosm and macrocosmic world within one's universe. Perhaps this is a notion of non-ego where one is to get rid of even his own shadow, the last element of his individual personality is totally submerged. Then he is able to leave behind the vista of the garden and enter the tea chamber.

A significant amount of traditional secret gardens survive today and if permission is granted by the owner you are to be congratulated due to very high order of secrecy. Many years ago I was fortunate to be granted a permission to view this unusual garden titled August 15th: 8:30pm. I arrived at this garden on August 15th around 7pm and sat by the verandah which over looks the garden in the dimness of Summer night. Around 8pm, the sky became lighter and unceremoniously a full moon appeared at the crevice of geosynclining mountain just outside of the garden. The sea of gravel and protruding rocks increased visibility and intensified as the moon ascended atop of the garden. And around 8:30pm, I was over joyed by the appearance of the acute angles of the shadowing from the rock formations. The sea of sun breached white-pebbles, the textured stones, the chiaroscuro of moonlight and shadows. The shadow was writing the Chinese ideogram of mind  or kokoro.  The circularity of this performance had poetry to it but also a slightly absurdist sense of humor.

The Chinese ideogram or kanji is essentially a picture symbol and there is much visual appreciation of it.  The Chinese ideogram has been used by traditional calligraphers and it is usually usually quite impossible to appreciat the works unless you directly see the character written on paper with myriad of sumi ink.
In this case the ideogram was writing poignantly on a sea of white gravel with the help of the moon light and shadow of the ancient stones.

Many years ago I was given a Japanese architectural teaching by one of the traditional carpenters in our household. I was taken to substructure of our ancient building and was introduced to thirty large wooden columns sitting on a large stone buttress.

The carpenter gestured for me to look carefully at the bottom of these columns to see an indentation of marks created by our ancestral carpenters. All the identical scratched marks on the stone and the wooden column were not aligned but were a few inches apart from each other. He explained that when these columns were cut in the forest they were marked in for the cardinal polarity of directions and all were placed to face the eastern directions. In time all thirty columns and supporting substratum had turned almost two inches to the south-western direction, and continue to turn as eternal meditation.

Hirokazu describes this piece: "Four Ming Dynasty jars were made for me, I designed the motif and asked for the original copy, these are three feet high and two feet wide, a musician made a sound piece with the sound of the crushing charcoal from the dancer above.  When  was a kid I cleaned the stage of the Noh theater and sometimes the Noh people would ask me to clean underneath, underneath the stage they have 25 jars embedded into the ground so the sound of the voice or the sound of the foot on the stage echoes inside." Also relevant might be that beneath his family temple is a room of sand from the four significant locations of Buddha's life, where he was born, where he became enlightened, where he taught and where he passed into Nirvana.  Visitors to the temple circumambulate here. Hirokazu explains as well that when you enter the monastery for three months and three times a day you must eat charcoal to cleanse your body, and that the temple itself is built on a bed of charcoal.

* Edward T. Hall, The Hidden Dimension, NY: Anchor, c. 1966, p. 153.
**  Tanizaki Junichiro, In Praise of Shadows, Harper and Seidstecker, trans., ME: Leete's Island Books, c.1977. 
***  Eugen Herrigel, Zen in the Art of Archery, NY: Pantheon Books c. 1953, introduction by D.T. Suzuki.
**** John Cage, Zero, p. 73
***** Takemitsu Toru, Ma c. 1978.

In In Between the Heartbeat the background is a curtain of electric blankets sewn together, and there are IBM copy machines made heavy enough to have one person standing on each.  The glass is an inch thick to support the Butoh dancers standing on top of the machines.  The light beam from the copy machines coursed across the stage and up-lit the bodies of the dancers above them.   Two huge searchlights would then beam onto the stage, turning the bodies of the dancers a sheer white.

About the artist:  Hirokazu Kosaka was born in Wakayama Japan in 1948, into a family of Shingon priests, for which he began training at an early age.  Hagyuji Temple belongs to his family and is in the mountains of Shikoku Island.  Kosaka has divided his life between Los Angeles and Japan, and is known in the states as both an artist and as a priest.  He is the Artistic Director of the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center in Los Angeles. This coming fall he will be performing at the Getty Museum as a part of the exhibit Pacific Standard Time: Crosscurrents in L.A. Painting and Sculpture, 1950–1970.

Hirokazu Kosaka at Haguyji Temple in Japan.

No comments: