Thursday, 26 August 2010

Decoding Kyoto: Dots on a circle?!


The 雷雨 (raiu, thunder shower) pattern by Kyo-to-to. Screenshot of an animation shown in the window of the Urban Research Shop in Teramachi Street, Kyoto.


The 雷雨 (raiu) pattern -- applied to an umbrella.


分かった!(read: wakatta, Japanese for "I got it")
I was quite thrilled when I saw the 雷雨 (raiu, thunder shower) pattern by the dyeing and embroidery brand Kyo-to-to for the first time and immediately understood its imagery.

While the jagged lines of the rain obviously resemble lightning flashes, the meaning of the red circle with dots remains mysterious. But it's this feature that actually represents the thunder.

The symbol refers to raijin (雷神), the god of thunder. He is usually portrayed encircled by a set of drums that he beats to make the rumbling thunder sound. A look at the detail of the famous painting by Tawaraya Sotatsu in Kenninji Temple reveals that the red circle with dots is an abstract version of this particular drum kit.



raijin, the god of thunder (detail).


"The Wind and Thunder Gods", fujin and raijin, painting on a folding screen by Tawaraya Sotatsu in Kenninji Temple.


Along with raijin comes fujin (風神), the god of wind. His huge bag is filled with all kinds of wind that he releases at will.

We all have experienced ferocious thunderstorms and the gods of wind and thunder fascinate because they are such an amazing and easily comprehensible allegory of the powerful natural phenomenon.

Legend says that once they both were evil demons, fighting against Buddha. But Buddha managed to convince them to work for the good, and they were added to the 28 attendants of the thousand-armed Kannon Bodhisattva, the god(dess) of mercy. (More about fujin and raijin in Buddhist iconography in the A TO Z PHOTO DICTIONARY OF JAPANESE SCULPTURE & ART and on JAANUS.)

These two guys are really popular in Kyoto. You’ll find fujin and raijin in many variations throughout the city. I hope this post can help you to "decode" them.

Also, Kyo-to-to goods -- with the 雷雨 (raiu) and other patterns -- are available at the Urban Research Shop in Teramachi Street (until August 29, featured here) and at Kyoto Design House.



fujin and raijin on the facade of a pachinko parlor at Shijo Street.


Cute handcrafted version of fujin and raijin.


Stamps -- for your creative take on the fujin and raijin theme (from the Tamaru Inbou stamp shop at Teramachi Street).


Fire prevention poster, depicting the carved wood statue of fujin in Sanjusangendo Temple.

..........
Designs, patterns, objects, details -- Kyoto is full of things with hidden meanings. In this loose series of posts I'm trying to "decode" them.

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