The bright colors and intricately restored details of Fushimi Inari-taisha are not typical. Many of the temples and shrines in Japan are a deep brown from wood that has aged for hundreds if not a thousand years. They have an earthly look, dominated by the wood construction and other natural materials.
The browns are so typical that I was shocked when I saw my first restored structure. I assumed that people, years ago, had a conservative, zen-like, natural aesthetic. The bright vermillion and colored accents looked almost gaudy to me.
I’ve gotten used to this and now appreciate the colors almost as a graphic work of pop-art. Even in our modern and liberated times, you don’t see color like this in our cities. Can you image a house painted in this way? In the United States, I’m sure the neighborhood will be up in arms and will call the subdivision’s environmental control committee to rectify the situation. We all like creativity and uniqueness, of course, but only within narrowly defined parameters.
There’s an assumption, at least by me, that the people back in the history, lead simple, almost monastic lives. But as I’ve studied the past, the opposite seems true. There’s quite a bit of color back then and by contrast, we’ve gotten more homogenized. Even the stereotypically white New England colonials, for example, weren’t that way back in the 1600 and 1700s. They were painted in deep ochres and reds, among other colors.
Those old black and white photos and films give a distorted view of history. There was plenty of color. It’s just us that have collectively forgotten.
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