A Meditation on Monotones

In Japan the understanding of what is beautiful is based on aesthetic traditions and principles which often have names, ideals and rules going back centuries. These are basic to daily life, not just high culture or art. For example, when a farmer stooks his rice a certain way because that allows more air to circulate and dry the stalks; inevitably, the end result has an innate and undeniable sculptural quality.

Used with Permission of Glenn Waters www.glennwaters.com

IwakiSan Rice. Used with Permission of Glenn Waters www.glennwaters.com

Palettes of natural elements with subtle gradients of single colours–or monotones–are fundamental in Japan.

Traditional Irori Hearth

Traditional Irori Hearth

These are echoed in the interiors of homes, construction of gardens, in traditional and modern architecture as well as the general appearance of cities and towns.

City Rail Lines

City Rail Lines

Using the quick-click method, monotones comes up at Dictionary.com as “5, sameness of tone or color, sometimes to a boring degree.” That is one nasty non-sequitur leap from the original Greek mono [one] and tonus [tone]. Worse, that flaw in logic is followed by “6, monotonous” and “7, consisting of or characterized by a uniform tone of one colour.”

Kyoto Station Christmas Tree

Kyoto Station Christmas Tree

None of that—if you like to nit-pick when it comes to words or colours as I do—is strictly correct.

Inside View of Roof in a Minka Home

Inside View of Roof in a Minka Home

The Oxford Canadian Dictionary (the fat one you pull from the shelf and leaf through actual paper pages) offers the less biased, dispassionate, and more concise “2, containing only one tone of colour.”

Lotus in Shinobazu Pond, Ueno

Lotus in Shinobazu Pond, Ueno

Without getting too technical, in pigments tone refers to various qualities—which are not at all uniform or boring—of a single colour. These include its perceived coolness or warmth, brightness or dullness, as well as its purity of hue—that is, how close the paint is to the original (say) cadmium red.

Tokyo Sunset from Asakusa

Tokyo Sunset from Asakusa

One of the most delightful aspects of travel through Japan is the way the beauty of monotones causes a place in the heart so often dormant to constrict, a momentary paralyses of the lungs, or a bolt of goose-bump-raising energy to course through the body.

Exterior Wall Boards

Exterior Wall Boards

Often it is possible to maintain a day-long state of bliss simply by looking at the mundane world and noting its magnificence. Heaven here, right before your eyes.

Did you notice?

Bamboo

Bamboo

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