–Ukiyo-e and Shinto Energy

Japanese sesame green beans

By Tim Hazell

Many elements of Japanese art run counter to Western aesthetics, including the use of clear areas of separated color in a two-dimensional, flat manner. Writing and painting are considered to belong to the same processes and skills. Deft rendering of line with brush and ink are taught from early childhood.

Ukiyo-e printmakers utilized themes from cityscapes such as Edo (Tokyo) as well as the haunting beauty of Japanese rural tableaus. These artists would also sketch and divert themselves in “tea-rooms,” where conversation flowed, in the company of courtesans. Roughly translated, “ukiyo-e” means “picture of a floating world.” Woodblock prints were a popular means of bringing art reproductions to the masses from about 1660 to 1860.

Four separate trades were required to complete the shimmering sheets of ukiyo-e: the painter who created the design and determined color relationships, the master woodblock cutter, the printer who applied the colors used, and the publisher who financed and orchestrated the marketing. Prints usually told a story composed from daily routines. Hairstyles and fabrics reflected current fashions.

Japanese art flowed into France as trade relations between Europe and Japan reopened, brought about by Commodore Matthew C. Perry in the 1860s. Impressionist and Fauve artists Edgar Degas and Vincent Van Gogh soon fell under the influence of the bold graphic statements of ukiyo-e prints. Their paintings underwent subtle changes as a result of exposure to works by Hokusai (1760-1849) and Hiroshige (1797-1858).

Shinto is the indigenous religion of Japan, co-existing together with Buddhism. Shinto is based upon the celebration of human life and gods manifested as living energy in rocks, promontories, trees, and manmade and natural structures. Traditional beliefs include food restrictions that advocate vegetarianism. Dishes such as soba noodles and fresh vegetable combinations give Japanese cooking its delicacy and health benefits. Here are two recipes with light yet expressive touches that beat the heat!

Japanese Zucchini and Onions


2 tbsp. vegetable oil

1 medium onion, thinly sliced

2 medium zucchini cut into thin strips

2 tbsp. teriyaki sauce

1 tbsp. soy sauce

1 tbsp. toasted sesame seeds

Ground black pepper to taste


Heat the oil in a large wok or skillet. Toss in the onions, and cook five minutes. Add zucchini and continue to cook, stirring, about one minute. Stir in teriyaki sauce, soy sauce, and sesame seeds and fry until zucchini are tender, about five minutes. Add ground black pepper, and serve immediately.

Sesame Green Beans


1 tbsp. vegetable oil

1-1/2 tsp. sesame oil

1 lb. fresh green beans

1 tbsp. soy sauce

1 tbsp. toasted sesame seeds


Heat a large skillet or wok. Add the vegetable and sesame oils. Toss in the whole green beans. Cook until the beans are bright green and slightly browned in spots, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat, and stir in soy sauce. Cover, and let stand about five minutes. Transfer to a serving platter, and sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds.


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