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Analysis of “The Autumn View of Hozu River”

Free analysis essay

“The Autumn View of Hozu River” by Hanabusa Itcho

The culture of Asian countries is fundamentally different from that of the West. It can be explained by geographical, historical, ethnic, and other distinctions. Those differences can be specifically noted in art, which is very dissimilar from the body of work of European or American creators. The distinctions of Asian art include technique, visual shapes, themes, colors, and the paintings stories being told through masterpieces. One of the most talented painters who represent the Japanese school of painting is Hanabusa Itcho (1652-1724). Of all his artworks, the Autumn View of Hozu River possesses an exceptional beauty. The painting was created in 1720 in Japan. In contrast to the bulky canvases of European masters, this painting takes the form of a hanging scroll; the artist used ink and color on silk as his materials. The work portrays the river Hozu in Japan. Nowadays, the river is widely popularity among tourists as well as for rafting, because the area is exclusively beautiful in each season of the year. Moreover, thanks to Itcho, the river will go down in history as one of the most precious sights of Kyoto. The painting, in turn, remains as a living reminder of that sight as well as of the talent of the Japanese painter. The painting is not only dedicated to the appreciation of the beauty of nature, but is a reflection of the changes in social, political, and economic life of Japan during the period the painting was created.

The Painter – Hanabusa Itcho

In the course of his life, Itcho experienced many changes because he lived in a period of reformations. Even the name of painter was changed several times; the original name of the artist was Kano Nobuka. His new name Itcho, taken in 1709, translates as one butterfly (The Samurai Archives: SamuraiWiki, Hanabusa Itcho). Hanabusa Itcho or Itcho was a painter who broke away from the orthodox style of the Kano school (The Editors of Encyclop?dia Britannica), so that he could experiment in art with subjects from regular life. Some of authors works can be classified as belonging to the ukiyo-e school due to the themes of the paintings. The distinct feature of his works is their poetic expression (The Editors of Encyclop?dia Britannica) in some works and satirical overtones in others (The Editors of Encyclop?dia Britannica). What is more, it is important to mention that the artist was exiled in 1698, but prevailed in difficult circumstance by developing various fields of art. These events prompted rumors about the painter to appearing. His followers often not just used the motifs of Itchos works in their own art, but added his name to them. These particular points emphasize the influence of Itchos style and personality on the world at the time.

Generally, the creator is considered a representative of the Edo period. The Edo period, also known as the Tokugawa period, lasted from 1600 to 1868 and is characterized by a rise of modern economic and urban culture structures. This time is likewise recognized as the period of early modern Japan. Artworks of this period can be described as pictures of the floating world (The Samurai Archives: SamuraiWiki, Edo Period). Itcho studied arts in the Kano school, but changed his vision later in life. The overall transformation is clearly seen in his body of work. Kano school teaches to visualize the routine. However, Itcho was interested in deeper expression, so he painted in the ukiyo-e style, which means pictures of the floating world.

The Painting

The Autumn View of Hozu River Essay
The painting is known under several other names, such as True View of Hozu River, Arashimaya, Kyoto, by Hanabusa Itcho and Hozugawa-kudari. The first name emphasizes that Itcho concentrated on expressing a certain image of the north corner of Kyoto and its particular mood and feeling. The second name means boating down the Hozu River, which was popular both at the time the painting was made and nowadays. Wonderful paintings and prints of Japanese landscapes are still catching the eye of art lovers bringing to life the genuine atmosphere of the country. The mood itself is often synonymous with water in all its incarnations, ranging from mist and drizzle to torrents and waterfalls. Such impressions saturate Autumn View of Hozu River which is a real poem put on canvas with brush strokes. It depicts a mountain river which is swiftly winding between high steep cliffs. Two boats are smoothly floating in the foreground leaving the impression of continuous movement and persistent lapping of the waves. There are far away mountains in the background the contours of which are blurred in the mist. Since the artists technique and skills are unrivaled, the picture looks light and transparent. It is a known fact that Japanese painters used a limited number of tools which included paper and ink. Itcho used these skilfully to render the atmosphere of a fresh spring day. Thus, the viewers contemplating the picture can hardly resist the temptation to step on a shaky bridge hanging over a canyon and feel the breeze on their faces.

Hanabusa Itcho is one of the people who allowed others to see the magnificent Japanese landscapes through the prism of their vision. The painting depicts the view of Hozu River, how it flows between the mountains, stretching from one side to the other. The elements of composition of the painting include boats, which follow the stream, trees on the mountains, rocks in the water, and a bridge hanging over a canyon. Itchos The Autumn View of Hozu River does not have defined lines as Kano school teachers and even the measure between the river and the beaches is hardly noticed, which points to the particularly new style Itcho created. The colors range from gray to greenish gray, which gives an impression that the whole artwork is covered with fog. This presentation of landscape creates an impression of being in the place in early morning, when the edges are hardly noticeable and the pastel shades help feel the peace and calmness of the nature.

Looking at the paining, one may fathom how shaky the bridge is. It almost seems possible to smell the foggy air. The water splashes constantly, swaying the boat and breaking the waves against the rocks. The painting is full of poetic spirit; scholars refer to Itchos as the ones that allude to love poems (Mostow et al. 122), and this is exactly what one feels looking at The Autumn View of Hozu River. Moreover, the world of the picture floats not only near the river, but in the style of how the artwork is painted. The manner developed and popularized by Itcho was full of subversive meanings, most likely unintended (Wattles 205) and was often the cause of emotional reaction of society. His works expressed the issues of the seventeenth century by transforming them and bringing them to canvas.

Analysis of the Painting within Historical Perspective

The period of the artwork creation was the time of many transformations in Japan, which were caused by the change of power. The Edo period, which started near 1600, was evoked by the creation of the Tokugawa shogunate and ended with its liquidation and the restoration of the emperors direct power. The name of the period comes from the city Edo, which was the main residence of the shogunate and the politico-administrative center of Japan from the17th until the mid-19 century. The period can be described as relatively stable and peaceful for citizens during 250 years of its existence. It was the rise of samurai and urban cultures, and the time of prohibition of Christianity and contacts with the Western world. Additionally, the population of Japan has grown from 10 to 16 million during this period. Under the governance of Tokugawa, Emperors had to maintain their connections with ancestors and ancient customs, which included appreciating nature, literary practices, and managing estates. Emperors played a significant, powerful, and even symbolic role. However, after the fall of the shogunate, the political influence of Imperial family has become minor. Moreover, Emperors barely even left the palace during the Edo period.

One of the areas that experienced changes in that period was the administrative structure of the state. Ieyasu implemented a new administrative division of provinces into a hundred domains known as han. However, such areas as Kyoto, Edo, Osaka, and Nagasaki were administrated directly by Shoshi-dai in Kyoto and by Machi bugyo in other areas. As for the collection of taxes, the shogunate did it only from their own territories or religious institutions. There were some territories where two or even three authorities overlapped, such as the religious authority and hamamoto. The state under the Tokugawa rule has been characterized as the compound state (The Samurai Archives: SamuraiWiki, Edo Period), emphasizing that it was not centralized under one government unified state with absolute powers. Tokugawa had control over 15% of the archipelago, while the hamamoto held nearly 10%. The rest 75% was under the control of daimyo who were powerful feudal lords. The architectural heritage of Japan has also experienced changes; the shogunate ordered each han to possess only one castle and destroy all others on the territory.

All changes that took place led to the faster development of many fields. For instance, the 17th century of Japan is known for its significant economic development and growth, the reason for which was the growth of funds income into the economic infrastructure of the state. Cities started to grow faster, so Japan had some of the largest urban centers in the world by 1700. For instance, the population of Edo was approximately one million people during that period. Kyoto and Osaka, in turn, increased in population up to 300,000 people, while Nagoya and Kanazawa reached 100,000. In the18th century, Japan was one of the most urbanized societies in the world (The Samurai Archives: SamuraiWiki, Edo Period). Fast economic development, widespread reclamation of land for agricultural purposes (The Samurai Archives: SamuraiWiki, Edo Period), as well as the production intensification in the agricultural sector were the three main trends in the political course of the period. This fast growth was slowed during the Imperial era of Genroku. This period is remembered for the great development of popular culture. Generally, the 18th century in Japan is known for economic stability and cultural maturity.

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As for the art and popular culture of the Edo period, it incurred changes and many aspects that took start in that period are now considered traditional Japanese culture. At the end of the 17th century, there were three establsihed branches of the creative expression. The revival of the Heian culture, which was for aristocrats and cultural society of big cities, provoked the creation of many painting schools and new styles, which, in result, was named Rinpa. It was the period of the development of kabuki and joruri puppet theater, as well as the already mentioned pictures of the floating world. In the 18th century, the Japanese response to the Chinese literary art emerged. It was created by Chinese monks from the church of Manpuku-ji near Kyoto. Monks created a whole new style of paintings known as Bijin-ga (lit. literary paint) or Nanga (the paint of the West school). During the 18th and early 19th centuries, those three very different styles became the basis for most of Japanese painters and craftsmen. The popular phenomenon in culture of this period was massive printing and publishing of the everyday life elements. It was more popular in urbanized areas, where books were produced in thousands, but they soon spread throughout the archipelago. Consequently, it can be seen how the phenomenon of the floating world expressed itself, considering the massive flow of literature within different territories.

This period is likewise known for the growth of the system of education; the level of schooling in Japan was one highest in the world. In addition to governmental schools for samurais, there were public terakoya for peasants. The main disciplines were reading, writing, arithmetic, and the principles of Confucianism. New sciences, such as Japanese studies kokuhaku and Holland studies rangaku, were studied. The first one was concentrated on the uniqueness on Japanese culture, and the second one stimulated the development of western academism. The end of the Edo period prompted the rise of interest in Japanese history, which was influenced by the publication of Nihon gaishi or Unofficial history of feudal Japan by Rai Sanyo. The concept of the ukiyo-e came from the heart of Japan and moved to east, where it reached Edo city. The culture of the floating world is said to evoke an imagined universe of wit, stylishness, and extravagance with overtones of naughtiness, hedonism, and transgression (Asian Education, The Floating World of Edo Japan). People started to look for beautiful elements in simple things and entertainment; the culture become more popular among a wide variety of people, so it becomes easier to get and easier to perceive.

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As can be seen, the period during which the painting was created was marked by changes in almost every aspect of state life. Changes touched the social, economic, political, administrative, and cultural fields. Everything around people was transforming rapidly, which could create the feeling that nothing in the world was certain or lasting. Instead, everything was uncertain and moving. In other words, the world around was floating just as the water did. Therewith, people expressed themselves and their worries through art. This remained true for visual art too as can be seen in the analyzed painting. There are no clear lines and boundaries. Instead, everything is blurred and covered with fog just like peoples lives and future in the period the painting was created. Everything was changing and nobody knew what to expect from the future. Likewise, the audience, when they look at The Autumn View of Hozu River, do not know where did the river flows from and where it will go. They do not know what the fog is hiding, just as the people of Japan in 16th and 17th centuries did not know what the government and the future had in stow for them, People can not know what is behind the mountains; everything is unclear and covered in mystery. The painting portrays the floating world of people questioning their tomorrow.


In conclusion, it is necessary to acknowledge that the innovations Hanabusa Itcho implemented in the world of art. He has changed the perception of painting as a practice in Japan from being formal and straight-forward to more symbolic, figurative, and expressive. Additionally, it is necessary to realize and appreciate the importance of Itcho’s influence on the Japanese visual art as well as the development of the world creative trends of the following centuries. The Autumn View of Hozu River is an example of the changes Itcho brought to the Japanese artistic world, having deviated from formalistic Kano school to a more poetic way of portraying the world. As for the artwork itself, it is a beautiful and delicate combination of ideas and the expression of emotions and feelings. The author underlined both the functional aspect of the river and the visual beauty of the place. Concentrating on beige and ivory tones and unclear shapes and lines gives the picture a romantic mood, dreaminess, and even some magical undertones. Milky colors add to the pictures calmness and help to appreciate the atmosphere of the area more deeply. In his painting, Hanabusa Itcho united three of the four primary elements: air, as one-third part of the painting is dedicated to the skies; water, as the most dynamic and central part of the painting is the Hozu river; the ground of the mountains and river sides. The only element that may seem missing is fire. However, the fire can be understood as the fire in artists eyes, when he saw the view, as well as his desire to put it on paper and history. The chosen color palette expresses the tenderness, which the author feels in relation to the river and the place, which shows his special attitude.


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