japanese landscape

Henry P. Bowie, On the laws of Japanese Painting. An introduction to the study of the art of Japan. With prefatory remarks by Iwaya Sazanami and Hirai Kinza, Toronto 1952 (Dover publications Inc.) (Republication of this work originally published by P. Elder and Company, San Francisco 1911). 


The law of YO HITSU requires a free and skillful handling of the brush, always with strict attention to the stroke, whether dot, line or mass is to be made; the brush must not touch the silk or paper before reflection has determined what the stroke or dot is to express. Neither negligence nor indifference is tolerated. 

An artist, be he ever so skillful, is cautioned not to feel entirely satisfied with the use of the brush, as it is never perfect and is always susceptible of improvement. The brush is the handmaid of the artist’s soul and must be responsive to his inspiration. p. 33

A distinguishing feature in Japanese painting is the strength of the brush stroke, technically called fude no chikare or fude no ikioi. When representing an object suggesting strength, such for instance, as a rocky cliff, the beak of talons of a bird, the tiger’s claws, or the limbs and branches of a tree, the moment the brush is applied the sentiment of strength myst be invoked and felt throughout the artist’s system and imparted through his arm and hand to the brush, and so transmitted into the object painted; and this nervous current must be continuous and of equal intensity while the work proceeds. p. 35

The use of sumi (YOBOKU) is the really distinguishing feature of Japanese painting. Not only is this black color (sumi) used in all water color work, but it is frequently the only color employed; and a painting thus executed, according to the laws of Japanese art, is called sumi e and is regarding as the highest test of the artist’s skill. Colors van cheat the eye (damakasu) but sumi never can; it proclaims the master and exposes the tyro.

The terms “ study in black and white,” “India ink drawing” and the like, since all are only makeshift translations and misleading. The Chinese term “BOKUGWA”  is the exact equivalent of sumi e and both mean and describe the same production. Ink is the very opposite of sumi both in its composition and effect. Ink is an acid and fluid. Sumi is a solid made from the soot obtained by burning certain plants (for the best results juncus communis, bull rush, or the sessamen orientalis), combined with glue from deer horn. This is molded into a black cake which, drying thoroughly if kept in ashes, improves with age. p. 39

In using sumi the cake is moistened and rubbed on a slab called suzuri, producing a semi-fluid. the well-cleaned brush is dipped first into clear water and then into the prepared sumi. When the sumi is taken on the brush it should be used without delay; otherwise it will mingle with the water of the brush and destroy the desired balance between the water and the sumi. p. 40-41

A canon of Japanese Art which is at the base of one of the peculiar charms of Japanese pictures, not merely in the whole composition but also in minute details that might escape the attention at first glance, requires that there should be in every painting the sentiment of active and passive, light and shade. This is called IN YO and is based upon the principle of contrast for heightening effects. The term IN YO originated in the earliest doctrines of Chinese philosophy and has always existed in the art language of the Orient. It signifies darkness (IN) and light (YO), negative and positive, female and male, passive and active, lower and upper, even and odd.


The law of form, in art called KEISHO or KAKKO, is widely applied for determining not only the correct shape of things but also their suitable or proper presentation according to circumstances. (…) It regulates the shape that objects should take according to conditions surrounding them, whether seen near or far off, in mist or in rain or in snow, in motion of in repose. p. 49-50

Landscapes are known in art by the term SAN SUI, which means mountain and water. This Chinese term would indicate that the artists of China considered both mountains and water to be essential to landscape subjects, and the tendency in a Japanese artist to introduce both into his painting is ever noticeable. If he cannot find the water elsewhere he takes it from the heavens in the shape of rain. 


The landscape contains a lofty mountain, rocks, river, road, trees, bridge, man, animal, et cetera. The first requisite in such a composition is that the picture respond to the law of TEN CHI JIN, or heaven, earth and man. This wonderful law of Buddhism is said to pervade the universe and is of widest application to all the art of man. TEN CHI JIN means that whatever is worthy of contemplation must contain a principal subject, its complimentary adjunct,, and auxiliary details. Thus is the work rounded out to its perfection. 

This law of TEN CHI JIN applies not only to painting but to poetry (its elder sister), to architecture, to garden plans, as well as to flower arrangement; in fact, it is a universal, fundamental law of correct construction. p. 52-53

One of the most important principles in the art of Japanese painting – indeed, a fundamental and entirely distinctive characteristic – is that called living movement, SEI DO, or kokoro mochi, it being, so to say, the transfusion into the work of the felt nature of the thing to be painted by the artist. Whatever the subject to be translated – whether river or tree, rock or mountain, bird of flower, fish or animal – the artist at the moment of painting it must feel its very nature, which, by the magic of his art, he transfers into his work to remain forever, affecting all who see it with the same sensations he experienced when executing it. 

This is not an imaginary principle but a strictly enforced law of Japanese painting. The student is incessantly admonished to observe it. p. 77

In Japan the highest compliment to an artist is to say he paints with his soul, his brush following the dictates of his spirit. Japanese painters frequently repeat the precept:

Waga kokoro waga te wo yaku;

Waga te waga kokoro ni ozuru.

Our spirit must make our hand its servitor;

Our hand must respond to each behest of our spirit.

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To express in painting SEI DO: living movement. 

Japanese artist are not bound down to the literal presentation of things seen. They have a canon, called esoragoto, which means literally an invented picture, or a picture into which certain fictions are painted. 

Every painting to be effective must be esoragoto; that is, there must enter therein certain artistic liberties. It should aim not so much to reproduce the exact thing as its sentiment, called kokoro mochi, which is the moving spirit of the scene. It must not be a facsimile. p. 80

There are no people in the world who have a higher idea of the dignity of art than the Japanese and it is a principle with them that every painting worthy of the name should reflect that dignity, should testify to its own worth and thus justly impress with sentiments of admiration those to whom it may be shown. This intrinsic loftiness, elevation of worth is known in their art by the term KI IN. Without this quality the painting, artistically considered and critically judged, must be pronounced a failure. Such picture may be perfect in proportion and design, correct in brush force and faultiness in color scheme, it may have complied with the principles of IN YO, and TEN, CHI, JIN or heaven, earth and man; it may have scrupulously observed all the rules of lines, dots and ledges and yet if KI IN be wanting the painting has failed as a work of true art. What is this subtle something called KI IN? 

In our varied experiences of lief we all have met with noble men and women whose beautiful and elevating characters have impressed us the moment we have been brought into relation with them. The same quality which thus affects us in persons is what the Japanese understand by KI IN in a painting. It is that indefinable something which in every great work suggests elevation of sentiment, nobility of soul. From the earliest times the great art writers of China and Japan have declared that this quality, this manifestation of the spirit, can neither be imparted nor acquired. It must be innate. It is, so to say, a divine seed implanted in the soul by the Creator, there to unfold, expand and blossom, testifying its hidden residence with greater or lesser charm according to the life spent, great principles adhered to and ideals realized. Such is what the Japanese understand by KI IN. It is, I think, akin to what the Romans meant by divinus afflatus – that divine and vital breath, that emanation of the soul, which vivifies and ennobles the work and renders it immortal. p. 83