Clark Center to Showcase ‘The Art of Drinking in Japan’

The Clark Center for Japanese Art and Culture will present “Kanpai: The Art of Drinking in Japan,” featuring works from the collection of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, as well as from Gordon Brodfuehrer, Clark Center board member. The exhibition, which runs February 11 to June 26, is organized by the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA) and curated by Dr. Andreas Marks, head of the Department of Japanese and Korean Art at MIA, and Clo Pazera, Clark Center curatorial assistant.

As in other parts of the world, drinking alcohol is an important and multifarious element of social and cultural life in Japan today. From office workers bonding after work, to the tasting of fine domestic whiskeys, to ceremonial cups shared in a wedding ceremony, fermented drink is a social lubricant, a subject of connoisseurship, a sealer of fate and fortune. According to legend, rice wine was invented by the native gods of Japan, and making offerings of wine to them guarantees their good will. Since the Heian period (794 to 1185), toso, spiced medicinal rice wine, is drunk on New Year’s to chase off impurities and bring long life.

“Eight Drunken Sages,” by Watanabe Nagaku (1767-1813)
“Eight Drunken Sages,” by Watanabe Nagaku (1767-1813)

For many centuries of Japan’s history, cultural emanations swept over from China, which was highly respected. Confucianism, which provided an important ethical framework in Japan, endorsed the pleasures of the flesh in the precept, “eat and drink, man and woman—the greatest human desires reside in them,” as it is stated in the Chinese Book of Rites.

When speaking of drinking alcohol in a historical sense, once speaks of rice wine or sake. For more than 2,000 years, sake has been drunk in Japan and is considered to be its national drink. It is consumed ritually in religious ceremonies and festivals, as well as social events. Sake breweries were established at the Imperial Court in Kyoto towards the end of the first millennium. Today however, beer production is seven times that of sake.

The use of sake supported the rise of a diversity of different kinds of vessels for drinking and serving such as cups, flasks and ewers. A large section of “Kanpai: The Art of Drinking in Japan” showcases such objects created by living ceramic artists, representing many of the important traditional ceramic areas and styles like shino, oribe and karatsu.

The role of drink is also reflected in Japanese painting. Famous drinking parties like the gathering at the Orchid Pavilion in Zhejiang Province, China, in 353, were immortalized in East Asian imagery. Ike Taiga (1723-1776), the celebrated literati painter, painted a hanging scroll of this subject that celebrates the sophistication and gregariousness of literati culture.

The Clark Center for Japanese Art and Culture is located at 15770 Tenth Ave. in Hanford. For more information, call 582-4915 or visit

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