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Washin Kai lecture by Ross Henderson
Washin Kai lecture by Ross Henderson
WhenTuesday, Apr. 16, 2019, 7 – 8:30 p.m.
Campus locationKane Hall (KNE)
Campus room210
Event typesLectures/Seminars
Event sponsorsThe Department of Asian Languages and Literature

A Fistful of Incense: Basara and the Medieval Origins of Japanese Maximalism

Event attendance is free and open to the public!  Please register here.

Japan isn’t all Zen monasteries and ink-wash paintings. Anime is raucous, television commercials are absurd, and pop music is often both. Japan’s great modern cultural ambassadors may be Murakami Takashi and Kyari Pamyupamyu, but it’s hard to find their source in Ryōanji’s dry rock garden. Is there an “essential” Japanese culture? In America, as elsewhere, “Japanese aesthetics” usually means clean-lined minimalism, but if you know where to look, there is an equally strong and equally historical vein of maximalism visible all the while. This talk will explore one medieval manifestation of that aspect of Japanese expression: basara 婆娑羅.

During the Nanbokuchō period (1336—1392), Japan was in embroiled in chaos as one military government crumbled and another struggled to form. A new group of landed warriors began asserting their dominance not only of the political and military spheres, but the realm of culture as well. Ostentatious clothing. Wild banquets. Gold. On everything. These warriors turned aristocratic culture on its head, and did so with flair. The name for this aesthetic was basara.

In this talk, I will explore the various definitions of basara, the reasons for its sudden popularity, its counter-intuitive links to the tea ceremony ideal of stark rusticity, and where traces of basara can be found throughout later history, even in the present day.

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