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Reviewed by:
  • Pilgrimages to the Ancient Temples in Nara [Koji junrei] by Watsuji Tetsurō
  • Laura Specker Sullivan
Pilgrimages to the Ancient Temples in Nara [Koji junrei]. By Watsuji Tetsurō. Translated by Hiroshi Nara. Portland, ME: MerwinAsia; [Honolulu]: Distributed by the University of Hawai‘i Press, 2012. Pp. 202.

Pilgrimages to the Ancient Temples in Nara is an English translation of Watsuji Tetsurō’s 和辻哲郎 travel diary of his trip to the ancient temples in Nara, titled in Japanese Koji junrei 古寺巡礼. The book consists of an introduction by the translator, Hiroshi Nara (who has previously translated Iki no kōzō いき」の構造, by Kuki Shūzō 九鬼周造, as The Structure of Detachment: The Aesthetic Vision of Kuki Shūzō, with a Translation of Iki no kōzō [Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2004]), a translator’s note, Watsuji’s own preface to the revised version of Koji junrei, and twenty-four full chapters, with endnotes. In the middle of the book there are also twenty-one color plates with photographs of the architecture, paintings, and sculptures mentioned in the text. When a specific work is mentioned, the figure number of the color plate is noted.

The introduction to the text by Hiroshi Nara presents the details of Watsuji’s life and how the publication of Koji junrei fits into this timeline. It notes pertinent [End Page 821] connections between Koji junrei and Watsuji’s personal and philosophical development, such as how his interest in Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and European travel affected his sense of how one should think about art and history, as well as how the perspective he presents in this book fits into his complicated relationship with Japanese cultural identity and cultural nationalism.

The book itself chronicles Watsuji’s visits to several of the most famous temples in the old capital of Nara, as well as his visit to the National Museum in Nara. Each chapter corresponds roughly to one day in Watsuji’s trip. For much of the book Watsuji is primarily interested in dating and determining the provenance of the artworks that he views, paying particular attention to what he thinks the works reveal about both the possible dissemination of Greek culture through East Asia and the transmission of Buddhism from India through China and to Korea and Japan. He seems very keen to identify the elements of the works that mark them as being influenced by these different cultures, but he doesn’t argue that any one work is the product of a single culture. However, he does seem to think that as Buddhist culture moved east it became more “pure,” and is interested in identifying the aspects of Japanese culture and religion that lend it this purity.

On occasion he also notes his own personal aesthetic experience of a work of art and his sense of its importance in religious and spiritual life. When viewing a work he almost always writes in detail about the different angles from which he contemplated it, which angle seemed to him to be superior, and how the view from that angle made him feel. This aesthetic appreciation is often tied to religious appreciation, although Watsuji doesn’t suggest that all beautiful art must be spiritual in nature.

In addition to aesthetics and art history, Watsuji is also interested in ancient Japanese history and gives detailed accounts of imperial and monastic life in the time periods in which the artworks and buildings in Nara were created. However, what is of most interest in Koji junrei is Watsuji’s personal reflection on his path in life and his idiosyncratic approach to art, which foreshadows much of his philosophical work to come. For this reason, this book will be of primary interest to those who study Japanese philosophy and Watsuji’s philosophical development in particular.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-1898
Print ISSN
0031-8221
Pages
pp. 821-822
Launched on MUSE
2014-09-17
Open Access
No
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