Hokusai and Japanese Woodblock Prints

Hokusai booksChristina here. Ever since I lived in Japan, I’ve been drawn to Japanese woodblock prints. They are both simple and beautiful, and the variety of subjects is endless. Mostly they depict nature and/or people and places, and one of the absolute masters of this art was Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849). I think most people are familiar with his most famous print known as The Great Wave, which was actually entitled Under the Wave off Kanagawa. I love how he managed to create such wonderful scenes with just a few brushstrokes and his prints really show the Japanese way of life as it was back then.

HokusaiHe is mostly known for his landscape prints and paintings, but he was also the most amazing illustrator for various types of books. Recently, I was fortunate enough to attend an exhibition at the British Museum in London of some of his preliminary sketches and drawings for one such, a sort of picture encyclopedia that was going to be called The Great Picture Book of Everything. It was extremely interesting to see how he’d gone about creating the prints and where he got his ideas from. Most of the drawings were quite tiny and a little dark, but all were exquisite and showed his sense of humour and incredible imagination.

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New Year, New You?

XmasChampagneHAPPY NEW YEAR!

Christina here. Have you all been busy making new year’s resolutions and starting the year as you mean to go on? Me – not so much.

I think one can safely say I’m a “bah humbug” type person when it comes to new year’s resolutions. In short, I gave up on them years ago because I simply never stuck to them – not even for a week in some cases. So what was the point in making them? I just ended up spending money on expensive gym memberships I was never going to use or a bunch of vegetables I soon ditched in favour of chocolate. Willpower is difficult to summon up!

DarumaThere is one tradition I always follow at New Year though and it’s one I picked up when I lived in Japan. The Japanese celebrate New Year rather than Christmas and one of the things they do is to buy a little papier-mâché figure of Daruma. He is based on Bodhidharma, a monk who lived some time during the 5th or 6th centuries and was supposedly the founder of Zen Buddhism. These Daruma figures represent luck, perseverance, endurance, and the spirit to keep going despite setbacks – what the Japanese call ganbaru, or to do your best.

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All Things Japanese

Red uchikakeChristina here and for today’s post I’m going Japanese! As you may have seen from Anne’s introduction of me (here), I was lucky enough to live in Japan for several years and I fell in love with everything about that country, including its beautiful traditional garments. So when the Victoria & Albert Museum in London put on an exhibition of kimono earlier this year, I just had to go and see it! It was glorious and as we’re now all stuck at home, I thought I’d give you a little taste of what was on display and tell you about these very special robes which featured in one of my very first novels, The Scarlet Kimono.

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Christina Courtenay – The Jade Lioness

CCourtenaysmallNicola here! Today we are welcoming award-winning author Christina Courtenay back to the Word Wench blog to talk about her new book, The Jade Lioness, and the fascinating history behind it. Christina writes romantic historical fiction with exotic and unusual settings and the Jade Lioness is no exception. Set in 17th century Japan, it has been described as "lyrical and fascinating." Here Christina talks haikus and the Japanese festival of Tsukimi or "moon viewing."

"I'm sure we've all paused to stare at the moon of an evening, especially when it's full and perhaps with a benign smiling face visible on its surface (or so we imagine).  It is awe-inspiring and beautiful, and it has been important to human beings as a way of measuring time for millennia.  It makes you feel small and insignificant, filling you with wonder at the unfathomable mysteries of the universe.  This was especially true recently when we had the so called ‘blood moon’, a rare total lunar eclipse, which made everyone excited.  It was an extraordinary sight and one well worth missing some sleep for!

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What is a new year anyway?


The celebration of the New Year is a bit odd, isn't it? It'd make more sense to celebrate the solstice, when something does turn, and at one time, the official year didn't begin in January, but in March. If you want to read about all the variations, check out here.

And why do we pin hopes of change to this one day? Why not on our birthdays? That would make more sense. (I've always thought it would make sense if on our birthday we gave presents to our parents for bringing us into the world. Don't you think?)

The New Year doesn't even happen at the same time, as our global community makes clear. Anne celebrated yesterday. Nicola and I are doing it now, and the American Wenches have 5-8 hours to wait. Really, it's time that drives us crazy, isn't it, if we look at it too closely. No wonder Doctor Who is a Time Lord.

My resolution is to seek joy in my daily lives and to appreciate the simple things, and in that spirit, I offer some pictures of Davy, who went with son #2 to Japan in 2009. 



enjoying the sun and scenery

contemplating different spiritualities

and making new friends.

To start our 2010 pleasures, here's the list of historical TV that people here have enjoyed. Foyle's War
Forsyte Saga
Upstairs Downstairs
Wives and Daughters
Lord Peter Wimsey
Robin of Sherwood
Onedin Line
North and South
Horatio Hornblower
Joan of Arc
Here Come The Brides
The Last King
The First Churchills
Barchester Chronicles
Mayor of Casterbridge
Mapp and Lucia
Anne of Green Gables
I Claudius
House of Mirth
The Aristocrats
Six Wives of Henry VIII
The Scarlet Pimpernel
Brideshead Revisited
The Tudors
Young Victoria
The First Churchills
John Adams
Sherlock Holmes
Into The West
Jeeves and Wooster

Now for the winners. Alas, many of you didn't specify where you are, and I did say one copy of Chalice of Roses would go to North America and one to the rest of the world. However, as it happens, I think it worked out. If not, I'll have to pick again. A promise is a promise.The first pick was Cynthya, and as she was recommending John Adams, I suspect she's from North America.The second was Carol Thompson, and she spelled "favourites" the British way. E-mail me at jo@jobev.com with your addresses. 

Chalice of Roses is out officially in a few days, but it's probably on shelves now in some places. We hope it'll start your year of with great reading pleasure,

All best wishes,