Metal-work. Bronze was introduced into Japan from China via Korea, and the Japanese still call it "the Chinese metal" (Kara kane). But it is the metal in which Japanese art was already winning its brightest laurels over a thousand years ago. The chief forms are the mirror, the temple bell, the gong, the vase (originally intended for the adornment of Buddhist altars), the lantern, and the colossal representation of divine personages. The temple bells at Ōsaka, Kyōto, and Kara count among the largest in the world; but the grandest example of Japanese bronze-casting is the Dai-butsu (literally, "great Buddha") at Kamakura, which dates from the thirteenth century. He who has time should visit this Dai-butsu repeatedly; for, like Niagara, like St. Peter s, and several other of the greatest works of nature and of art, it fails to produce its full effect on a first or even on a second visit; but the impression it produces grows on the beholder each time that he gazes afresh at the calm, intellectual, passionless face, which seems to concentrate in itself the whole philosophy of Buddhism,—the triumph of mind over sense, of eternity over fleeting time, of the enduring majesty of Nirvana over the trivial prattle, the transitory agitations of mundane existence.
Armour is another use to which metal (iron and steel) was put from the very earliest ages. The best examples of iron and steel armour date from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The best swords date from the same time. The ornamental swordhilts, guards, etc., date only from the sixteenth century onwards. The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were the most fruitful epoch for the production of small bronze objects, whose chief raison d'étre is ornament, such as clasps, paper-weights, small figures of animals, mouthpieces for pipes, and vases intend ed for dwelling-rooms,—not for Buddhist altars, as in earlier days. Damascening, or inlaying on metal, has been carried to great perfection, notably of late years, when designs in various metals and alloys on a basis of bronze or iron have been made to reproduce whole landscapes with the minuteness of a painting. Contemporary artists in silver are obtaining delightful results. Hitherto the gold and silver work of the Japanese had been less remarkable than their bronzes. In enamel—especially in what is known as cloisonné enamel—they are beyond all praise. (See also Articles on Armour, Cloisonné, Mirrors, and Swords.)
Books recommended. Brinkley's Japan and China, Vol. VII. Japanese Metallurgy, by Wm. Gowland, in the "Journal of the Society of Chemical Industry." The Art of Casting Bronze in Japan, by the same, in the "Journal of the Society of Arts." The Dolmens and Burial Mounds in Japan, by the same (Society of Antiquaries), all profusely illustrated.—Rein's Industries of Japan, pp. 436 and 488.—Ornamental Arts of Japan, by Audsley. Japan, by C. Dresser.