Between Kawaii and Beautiful
This week, I went to see two very interesting exhibitions;
Exhibition of Japanese Embroidery of Shizuka Kusano
In this exhibition, you can see more than 170 pieces of great artworks which Shizuka Kusano created during her 40-year-career as an embroideress. It was surprising to know that she started embroidery as a hobby just because it was something she could do at home, something that did not disturb her work as a housewife and a mother.
After seven years, she started to teach embroidery at NHK Culture Center, which was her first social career outside home. Although it was not easy for her to work as a teacher and raise her children together at the same time, her passion to promote Japanese Embroidery, a traditional craft that she loved, motivated her for a hard work.
According to her, it was the embroidery that made her look into herself deeply and this creative activity has become an essential part in order to live her own life.
Colours, designs, fineness, concepts and thought behind designs are just breathtaking.
She created kimono with her embroidery to represent the characters in Japanese literary works, such as Genji monogatari (The_Tale_of_Genji, which means she visualized the literature with kimono.
Beside kimono you will also see Misu (Sudare) with her embroidery. Our imagination wide-spreads and we could even see in our brain an invisible lady who was loved by Genji behind Misu.
I was standing in front of her each work for quite a long time, I mean, I could not step away imagining how long she worked to create every piece, how deeply she thought to create the design, and how delicate the choice of the colour each threads were …
These are some of the pieces shown in the flier. Of course, you cannot see their fine and delicate beauty thorough photos and the screen of your computer. Those who can come to Tokyo or who are already in Tokyo, OUGHT to make a visit at the exhibition held in an event hall of Ginza Matsuya Department store to feel her world of beauty.
<For your reference>
Shizuka Kusano’s personal site: http://homepage3.nifty.com/yumeshishu/toppage.html
Japanese Embroidery in English (by Japanese Embroidery UK):
You can even get her book, The Fine Art of Kimono Embroidery http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/552031.The_Fine_Art_of_Kimono_Embroidery
‘Kawaii’ in Japanese Art in Yamatane Museum
I instinctively chose ‘Beautiful’ as the adjective for expressing the works of the great embroideress Shizuka Kusano and I will never use the adjective ‘kawaii’ instead of ‘beautiful’. I think this exhibition taught me the difference between ‘Kawaii’ and ‘Beautiful’.
So admiring every pieces of work you will notice the definition of “Kawaii” and “Beautiful”. The curator believes ‘Kawaii’ is for small kids and animals or something humorous.
Among all, a painting of a kid with a woman who sells insects in the cart stayed in my mind the most.
This is not the picture you will find in Yamatane Museum, but I put this picture just because I wanted to give you some ideas on how ‘insects selling’ was like. In Edo period, there used to be stalls in town (usually movable in cart) where insects such as Cricket (insect) species were sold because people loved to hear the chirping of these kinds of insects.
I noticed that the kid who was staring at the insects was Kawaii because he was innocent, just wanting to get the insects but maybe he did not have enough money to buy them. His innocence, ignorance, and self-indulgence accelerated him and he did not even hesitate to show his simple desire.
That is acceptable as he is a child. It is a privilege of children which prudent grown-ups don’t have.
On the other hand, the vender is a very sexy lady. We cannot see her face as it is hidden with a scarf-like cloth (tenugui) which covers her head, looking down. We can assume that she is not a woman with the epitome of happiness because at that time, in Edo period, the happiness of women is to be housewives and not working outside the house. We can expand our imagination toward her feelings. She may be thinking if she would give some insects to him for free although she has to earn money from… She may be distressed by a thought such as,
“Oh, if I had led a normal life I would have had a kid like him… If I had had enough money I would not have hesitated to give him some insects… Oh, how cute he is…”
Definitely this woman who is selling insects or a whole scenery is not an object modified by the adjective ‘kawaii’ but a kid is.
The concept behind Kawaii and Beautiful
In Japanese, Kawaii is written as 『可愛い』in Kanji (Chinese characters). 『可』 means ‘good for~’ or ‘-able’ and 『愛』 means love. To fully understand the concept of this word, we must not be satisfied with the only meaning. We have to go further. The concept of ‘love’ has changed in Japan. Before the Western religion and literature were introduced here, the meaning of ‘love’ had been ‘a desire to protect something/somebody’.
So, the word『可愛い』(kawaii) means something which gives you a feeling that you want to protect. This linguistic analysis satisfied me and I understood why I didn’t like to use the adjective ‘Kawaii’ to certain objects.
Language is changing with the flow of the time, but we cannot deny that the influence of the words’ original meanings still remain in the Japanese mind, maybe as subconscious of the Japanese. We sometimes choose the word without thinking. Of course, the quality of the vocabulary will influence the choice. But if words have a magical power as we, the Japanese have believed in from the ancient time as (Kotodama), we may have to be more careful with our choice of words… To me at least, these two exhibitions had a magical power. They led me speculate upon the means of the two absolutely different adjectives, ‘kawaii’ and ‘beautiful’, the first time in my life.