East Asian Aesthetic Terminology: Japan (Pt. 2).

Ikuta Jinja


(for more terms see East Asian Aesthetic Terminology: Japan Pt. 1)

Kū: “spirituality”, understanding the deeper meaning behind common truth; the first of the three levels of mature spirituality in Tendai Buddhism.

Kū-ka-chū: “The Three Perceptions”; the three levels of spiritual maturity in Tendai Buddhism. See: kū, ka, chū, chikan, kenshō, goshō.

Kurai: dignity, loftiness, quietly/coldly beautiful.

Kusha: One of the six Nara Era schools of Buddhist thought, based on the writings of Vasubandhu that posits that things exist but there is no enduring self or soul.

Ma: absolute timing or space, brimming with potential, pregnant with possibility, a space of profound latent potential. It is interesting to note that the ideogram for ma is a gate with the sun placed in the middle.

Mappō: “Degenerate Dharma” Period: the Buddhist era lasting for 10,000 years after the Counterfeit Dharma (zōbō) period (aprox. 1000 – 11,000 C.E).

Mie: a dramatic Kabuki posture wherein all physical and psychic energies are concentrated in a single instant.

Mingei: “folk art”: the name given to folk arts and crafts by Japanese intellectuals in the early twentieth century which played a part in both national modernization and Korean colonization by the Japanese.

Mitate: “citation”: the practice (in the visual arts) of revealing the hidden aspects of an object through accenting its visible characteristics.

Miyabi: Heian Era aesthetic term signifying subtleties only a connoisseur could appreciate.

Momoyama Jidai: “Momoyama Era”: the Japanese era lasting from 1573-1615 C.E.

Mon koh: “listening to incense” (koh-do), the connoisseurship of incense – collecting, discernment of high quality/rare incense blends; olfactory refinement in its appreciation. (see also: soradaki).

Mono no aware: the sense of aware in a profound aesthetic object.

Mōryōga: “apparition painting” (Ch: wang-liang-hua): using such watered down ink so as to be nearly invisible, implying form/formlessness, a visual state of simultaneous being and non-being, something that seems to “hover” between form and formlessness.

Mui-no-i: something being done by nothing being done (see Ch: wu-wei).

Mujibō: “line of emptiness”: a single straight line, brushed with one’s total spirit and concentration.

Mujo: “impermanence”: the Buddhist concept of impermanence.

Mujo wo kanzuru: contemplating impermanence.

Mukan-no-kan: the sense of ‘no-sense’, no trace of deliberation.

Mumon: without pattern or design; accomplished without hesitancy.

Muromachi Jidai: “Muromachi Period”: the Japanese era lasting from 1392-1573 C. E.

Mu-shin: “no mind”: non-discriminating, egoless mindset.

Mushotoku: “without a fixed salary”: doing without thought of action or end result/reward (see: nishkāma karma).

Myō: 1. the mysterious singularity, the inner state which is beyond the   reach of verbal expression. 2. post-enlightenment playful sense of wonder.

Myôfu: mystical experience: that which is beyond all understanding and enunciation.

Naishō: inner realisation of the Buddhist ground of Being (see: gaiyō).

Nanto kōan: “difficult to pass through”: a single/set of kōan that the student finds difficult.

Nara Jidai: “Nara Period”: the Japanese era lasting from 645 to 794 C. E.

Nen: an intensive mind, single all encompassing thought, or a single unit of such thought.

Nengajō: Japanese New Year card.

Nihon Kanreiroku: a setsuwa written circa. 847 C.E in the same manner as the Nihon ryōiki, accounting incidents associated with Ganjoji Temple.

Nihon Ojogokurakuki: a setsuwa written circa 985-987 C. E by Yoshishige Yasutane, the first record of Japanese saints born into the jōdo (Pure Land).

Nihon ryōiki: “miracle stories of Japan” (Nihonkoku Genpo Zenaku ryōiki): text compiled by the Buddhist monk Kyōkai during the Enryaku Era (782 – 805 C.E) of the effect of karma on both the good and evil. Like the jataka stories of Theravada Buddhism centuries earlier in India, monks used these “true” stories to illustrate their preaching.

Ningen Kokuhō: “Living National Treasure”: a person in Japan who has attained mastery of a Japanese art or cultural tradition and embodies the tradition. Official term is Preserver of Important Intangible Cultural Properties (jūyō mukei bunkazai hojisha).The three categories of the designation are Kakko Nintei: Individual Certification of high mastery, Sōgō Nintei: Collective Certification of two or more who attain mastery as a group, and Hoji Dantai Nintei: Preservation Certification for a large group or organization that have mastered a craft in which individual character is not emphasized.

Nirai-kanai: the “world of roots”, the “world of the source of all life”, the sacred dimension where Shinto gods dwell.

Nokan:  an indeterminate-pitch flute used in Nō theater music.

Notan: “arrangement of dark and light masses”: equivalence of figure and ground in Zen shōdo and sumi-e, a similar feeling in Zen-influenced abstract art (see: GUTAI).

Nyōtaku: paintings created by directing ink covered nude female assistants across a large canvas (see: GUTAI).

Omoi kittaru: “cutting thought” (common Zen term); cutting off the root of delusion, throwing away deliberation without fear of consequence; similar to mushotoku.

Otodama Shinto: cleansing the spirit through sound or music, usually kagura.

Otogizōshi: a genre similar to setsuwa, primarily for entertainment purposes, which preceded the formation of ukiyozōshi.

Ran-i: fully matured state of artistic sense that comes from an intense cultivation of skill; the resultant mind/psychology of the artist.

Reigenki: Buddhist or Shinto miracle story (see: Kasuga-Gongen-genki).

Reiheki: “steep cliff spirit”; stones that are appreciated for their eroded surfaces, sheer vertical lines, and asymmetry (see: suiseki).

Rinki ōhen: “on-the-spot improvisation”: a monk’s ability to spontaneously use his wit and understanding of Zen to respond to the teacher in private kōan studies (dokusan) or in various question-and-answer situations.

Ritsu: One of the six Nara Era schools of Buddhist thought, based on the observation of monastic discipline (Sanskrit: vinaya).

Ryōjusen: The Paradise affiliated with Shaka (Siddartha) Buddha

Ryūkō: 1. Ontological/phenomenal transience. 2. style: standardized aesthetic norm.

Sabi: austere, desolate quality that suggests impermanence of the object, and thus, of all things.

Sanbo-E koto: a setsuwa written circa 984 C. E by Takaoka to promote the virtues of the Buddha and explain the basic tenets of Buddhism.

Sanron: One of the six Nara Era schools of Buddhist thought, based on the writings of Nagarjuna and his idea of emptiness (Sanskrit: śūnyatā).

Sasamegoto: “Whisperings” (1463): text on renga poetry by the Buddhist priest Shinkei (1407-75), who believed that pursuing excellence in poetry was spiritual due to renga’s possibility of expressing profound insight in the nature of the world.

Seido: “living movement”, the transfusion into a work of the subject’s kokoro-mochi.

Seijaku: tranquility.

Seishin tō itsu: concentration of mind and spirit on one thing.

Senu-hima: “interval of not acting”: the empty region or void between the acts of being () and not-being (mu); the mode of perfect ambivalence between being and not-being present in the expert Nō actor as explained by Zeami Motokyo in his work Kyūi Shūdō Shidai, the “Process of Training in the Nine Stages”.

Senu tokoro: the site of undoing, unspeaking: a zone of ma.

Setsuwa: a type of Japanese literature consisting of myths and folk tales, many of which deal with Buddhist themes of karma, virtue, and rebirth, etc., eventually succeeded by the otogizōshi genre.

Sha-i: artistic impression.

Shichidaiji Junraishi Ki: a setsuwa written circa 1140 C.E containing stories associated with seven different Buddhist temples, including the reconstruction of Kōfukuji after it burnt down.

Shikan no myōjōnaru koto: “the luminous tranquility of stillness and insight”.

Shinbutsu shugo: “the overlapping of Buddhism and Shinto”: the various syncretic trends and doctrines in Japanese animistic religion after the arrival of Buddhism.

Shingon: “true word”: a form of esoteric Buddhism founded by Kukai (Kobo Daishi, 774-835) focusing on rituals, mystical syllables, and chants to unify the practitioner with the Mahavairocana Buddha (Dainichi Nyorai), whose “Truth Body” (Sanskrit: dharmakaya; essence, body, speech, and mind) pervades the universe.

Shintai: “permanently occupied”; a ritual site where a god makes his presence felt, a sacred rock or tree used as a kind of spiritual antennae to attract the gods.

Shizen: naturalness.

Shokan: “first barrier”: a ‘beginning’ koan for the Zen initiate to awaken the perception of non-duality.

Shōbō: “True Dharma” Period: the Buddhist era from Siddartha’s enlightenment (satori) on for 500 years (aprox. 550 B.C.E – 10 C.E).

Shōdo: the art of calligraphy.

Shōyōyū: Daoist spirit of carefree wandering in the ‘Tao Te Jing’ and ‘Chuang Tzu’.

Shugyō: religious/aesthetic discipline.

Shū: “seminar/school”: a class in a Buddhist temple (Nara Era) dedicated to the exegesis of a particular scripture. Nara Era temples were structured as Buddhist studies institutes before the naming and establishment of the separate and competing ‘schools’ that arose out of the seminars (particularly with the return arrival of the monk Kukai from China and his founding of esoteric Shingon Buddhism).

Soboku: artless simplicity.

Sokkyō: improvisation.

Sonae-koh: incense for invoking the Buddha’s presence and summoning forth his peaceful world.

Soradaki: “empty burning”; burning incense for mere pleasure, not connoisseurship.

Sui: to behave in a sophisticated manner (Edo era).

Suiseki: the art of aesthetic appreciation of stones (see: reiheki)

Suizen: “blowing Zen”; striving towards enlightenment through playing the shakuhachi.

Sumi-e: ink paintings.

Teisho: the vibrant, non-conceptual presentation of Buddhist law/thought by a Zen master, usually koan related or based.

Tettei-on: the state of ‘absolute sound’ one must enter to become enlightened through suizen.

Tsurezuregusa: “Essays in Idleness”, a famous work of the zuihitsu genre by Kenkō.

Tsū: connoisseurship; a person who is polished and has a sophisticated knowledge of Yoshiwara etiquette (Edo era).

Ukiyozōshi: the Edo Era (1600-1868) “tales of the floating world”, of which Japanese woodblock prints known as ukiyo-e draw their source material.

Ura-byōshi: the ‘silences’ in Noh Theater/nohkan music that are alluded to by notes; an “eighth note” of ma.

Wabi: a quality of rustic simplicity.

Wabicha: the Zen manner of practicing chadō (the Tea Ceremony) as symbolic of the awakened mind.

Wabizumai: “to live simply (without attachments)”; the life of wabi ; the simple life of a Zen acolyte or transcended master.

Yo-haku: ‘blank space’; the non-expressed totality of Nature and human affairs in phenomenal time and space surrounding the positive region of the expressed within the poetic field of haiku poetry.

Yōrishiro: an “occasionally occupied” shintai.

Yūgen: deep, mysterious elegance.

Zazen:  sitting meditation

Zen: the contemplative branch of (originally Chinese) Japanese Buddhism consisting primarily of the Soto and Rinzai faiths.

Zōbō: “Counterfeit Dharma” Period: the Buddhist era lasting from 500 years after Siddartha’s enlightenment (shōbō) on for the next 1000 years (approx. 10 – 1000 C.E).

Zōka-no-makoto: Genuineness of cosmic creativity; counterpart to fūga-no-makoto.

Zuihitsu: “following the brush”, a genre of literature written in a stream-of-consciousness manner, an essay that ranges somewhat formlessly.


One thought on “East Asian Aesthetic Terminology: Japan (Pt. 2).

  1. Thank you very much for such a big list of aesthetic concepts of Japan! I would greatly appreciate adding the English pronunciation of terms. ありがとう

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